Cheesy Rider: Masters of Menace (1990)

Dave dusts down his leathers and saddles up with the beer-swilling roadmasters for a star-studded trek across America.

The name Tino Insana rarely rolls off the tongue if you list iconic alumni from the early days of Second City, the fabled comedy hub in downtown Chicago. However, Insana’s role was pivotal, not least as a few years prior to joining the troupe he co-founded the West Compass Trio with close friends Steve Beshekas and John Belushi, which ultimately led to them being spotted performing in the city’s coffee shops by Second City talent scouts. 

Alas, Insana never tasted the same level of success as Belushi, and by 1975 he’d left Chicago to form another ensemble that went out touring clubs and campuses across America, before he eventually settled for a successful voiceover career on shows like Bobby’s World and Darkwing Duck. Appearances in front of the camera were sparse and largely confined to bit parts in his mates’ movies like Neighbors (1981), The Couch Trip (1987) and Who’s Harry Crumb (1989) – though by the end of the ‘80s he’d forged a creative partnership with director Daniel Raskov for the maligned chuckler Wedding Band (1989), which was swiftly bettered by their star-studded sophomore feature, MASTERS OF MENACE.

Well, I ‘say’ bettered – but be under no illusions that this big, dumb caper is exactly that. The Roadmasters motorcycle gang are the scourge of Los Angeles County, and after their latest misdemeanour, they’re placed under probation and ordered to remain within state lines. However, the ink on this decree is barely dry when fellow biker Gyspy (Jim Belushi) manages to kill himself in a freak accident, necessitating an immediate convoy of hogs to transport his body back to his folks in Las Vegas. With Government goon Hoover (Ray Baker) hot on their tail in the hope of finally putting this gang behind bars, it becomes a ribald road trip that’s both farcical and frenetic.

Coming across as an ungainly blend National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980), Masters of Menace is a sweaty, leery, belching comedy whose female characters have as much depth as their implants, while the guys’ BMIs warrants analysis in CinemaScope. And yet, there’s a charm to it all. The men all possess a fallibility that makes them effortlessly likable, not least Insana himself as Horny Hank, while David L. Lander as Squirt manages to channel Michael J. Pollard at his most adorable. Rasche in all his suaveness is a bizarre fit as Buddy, the Roadmasters’ leader – but it’s a perfectly formed piece of the casting jigsaw that brings a grounded order to the otherwise hedonistic mania that surrounds the movie. 

Insana’s Second City buddies show up in extended cameos, with John Candy hauling a soon-to-be -raided Beck’s wagon; George Wendt as a renowned chiropractor; and Dan Aykroyd as the long-lost founder of the Roadmasters, whose life as a stuntman means he’s held in place by a series of pins and metal plates. Ironically, it’s Aykroyd who’s the only petrol-head in the cast, having been obsessed with bikes for much of his life, and even leading John Belushi’s funeral procession on his beloved chopper.

Funded by Cinetel and taking its bow at the Cinetex International Comedy Film Festival in September 1990, Masters of Menace failed to set the world alight: it was released on video in both the UK and America before anonymity got the better of it. 

USA ● 1990 ● Comedy ● 93mins

David Rasche, Catherine Bach, Tino Insana, David Bowe ● Dir. Daniel RaskovWri. Tino Insana, Daniel Raskov (story), Tino Insana (screenplay)

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