He’s a firestarter, a twisted firestarter
The lies we’re fed as children—this banquet of untruths we’re forced to gorge upon in the name of shielding us from the harsh realities of the adult world, to keep our adolescent psyches free of stains or scars. I myself was not exempt from this malicious meal. I recall a time in 1991 when I—a mere boy—would wake up every weekday at 6 A.M to sit enraptured by the animated adventures of one James Bond Jr.
For Bond-deprived kids—trapped between 1989’s License to Kill and a Goldeneye we had no idea was yet to come—it was appointment television. Today there isn’t a nostalgic fog thick enough to hide its true face—a face belonging to the father of lies.
Where to even begin. First, this cartoon doesn’t follow a youthful spin on Ian Fleming’s most celebrated creation, nor his offspring, but James Bond’s nephew. Yes we’re supposed to buy that 007, an only child, has a nephew—a jeans and sneakers wearing 16 year-old who says “Bond, James Bond… Jr” in a chirpy English accent. A 16 year-old nephew who despite owning an Aston Martin DB5 that can sprout wings and take flight—and being named after Her Majesty’s most noted cocksman—never fucks, nor ever even attempts to fuck.
And that’s merely an appetizer for a feast of falsehoods.
There’s an elite academy that doesn’t just accept mulleted meatheads named Gordo, but permits them to surf down the banisters on a cafeteria tray. Famed Bond villain Dr. No is literally the color green, while all-time classic henchman Oddjob appears ready to audition for a slot on Yo! MTV Raps. One episode even has to gall to suggest that French pig farmers can be handsome. At that point I said enough with the lies, and instead asked: what are you hiding?
What truths were the adults of 1991 attempting to obscure by casting us down into the gaping pit of deceit that was James Bond Jr.? Was it that they were shielding us from the harsh reality that we’re Never Too Young to Die? Or is it that a corset-wearing Gene Simmons saying “turdy revelers” would have marked our adolescent psyches with a scar that never fades? Both are plausible, but at the the core of it all, they were hiding the ultimate truth—that Bond indeed had a son. A son that was shunned at birth—abandoned, forgotten.
A son that goes by the name Stamos, John Stamos.
Kind of. It’s a pre-Uncle Jesse John Stamos, going by the name Stargrove, Lance Stargrove—the teen hero of 1986’s Never Too Young to Die. We first meet the high school gymnastics superstar as he shows off his new routine, with his very own theme song accompanying every flip and twist. The Kenny Loggins-infringing lyrics firmly establish that Stargrove:
- Will step into the danger zone
- Can fly like you’ve never flown
What it fails to tell us is that this young man has also been lied to—by his own father of all people. Lies in the name of shielding him from a truth it’s assumed he’s incapable of facing. That truth? That his father is none other than James Bond—sort of.
His father is actually Drew Stargrove, played by history’s only one-and-done Bond, George Lazenby—the Australian model who stepped in when a thorny Sean Connery declined to return for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He’s also the one who instead of signing a long-term contract with Bond’s producers, hopped on a sailboat and ghosted. Which explains why, 16 years later, he’s doing an extended cameo in a John Stamos movie.
Lance has been led to believe that his dad is a troubleshooter for an oil company, when in reality he’s a bulletproof umbrella-wielding secret agent who’s managed to get his hands on terrorist Velvet Von Ragnar’s coveted RAM-K. And if you know anything about Ragnar or RAM-K, you know that Drew’s time on this earth—and in this film—is severely limited.
Velvet Von Ragnar, for those who aren’t aware, sits atop a throne in the dam-adjacent ruins of a gladiatorial arena, tossing pills at a band of post-nuke wasteland marauders in need of a post-nuke wasteland to maraud—all while screaming “piss on the world.” Velvet, you see, has plans to use a computer disk referred to as the “RAM-K” to poison America’s water supply with toxic waste. And to what end? Why “for gold, for ransom, for jewels, for money.”
Oh, and I forgot—Velvet is an intersex villain/ess played by Gene Simmons, who at one point bumps and grinds onstage at a punk club called The Incinerator while singing a little number that goes something like “It takes a man like me, to be a woman like me.” Her/his weapon of choice? An alarmingly phallic press-on nail dubbed “The Finger.” The representation on hand is toxic, but this is a toxic piece of work, one strictly for the “turdy revelers” amongst us, and should be viewed as such. To enforce my morals here would be tantamount to handing out iPhones to an uncontacted tribe. We must simply observe from the shadows, never giving in to the temptation to interfere.
Lance, however, does interfere—with Velvet’s plans, that is. He uses his gymnastics to battle a global terrorist organization, all while coming to terms with his dad’s double life, and sleeping with pop Stargrove’s former partner/lover played by pop singer Vanity. Yes, the same Vanity from Vanity 6 and the humanoid ape-creature sex movie Tanya’s Island. Here she doesn’t seduce any ape-creatures—just Stamos—but she does tell a guy named Pyramid to “eat shit,” before shoving him face-first into an actual pile of shit.
It may be the only film where the phrase “eat shit” is followed by someone literally eating shit. It’s just that kind of film. One where Freddy Krueger plays a hacker, where John Stamos asks a drag queen for a “lube job,” where a bubblegum bugging device is placed inside an iron seahorse, where Uncle Jesse gets flogged, and where we’re forced to ask ourselves who has the freakier tongue—Gene Simmons or Vanity. Perhaps it’s less a movie, and more a gift beamed down from the gods.
Or it feels that way, at least. In actuality it’s the brainchild of producer/director/actor/screenwriter/talent manager/playwright/VFX artist/record executive Steven Paul, who holds a Guinness World Record for “Youngest Producer.” Coming off a Vonnegut adaptation that starred Jerry Lewis with a malformed skull, he envisioned Never Too Young to Die as a “Son of Bond” franchise. That spark of inspiration led to him toiling over a script with brother Stuart, before handing it—and presumably a suitcase full of cash—over to veteran wordsmith Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Like many of the greats, Semple held the craft of screenwriting in complete contempt, and would wittily left-hand assignments—peppering them with oddball details and lines such as “Flash, Flash, I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the world.” He’s probably best known for being behind the tongue-in-cheek approach of the 1960’s Batman TV series. In Never Too Young to Die lore, his uncredited once-over gave us all things Velvet Von Ragnar, likely the idea of a bubblegum bugging device, and in my dreams Simmons uttering “my little turdballs.”
Yet all of the above would’ve been meaningless if it hadn’t been filtered through the lens of Gill Bettman, the director of Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55” music video. You may recall it as being the song where Sammy Hagar simply cannot and will not drive 55 mph. I’m not one to subscribe to the auteur theory, as film is most often a collaborative medium—the finished product the result of several individual voices converging into one cohesive piece. But watching Never Too Young to Die alongside the “I Can’t Drive 55” video is a revelatory experience. It makes a strong case that Bettman is—if not wholly responsible—the one whose voice can heard over the disparate howls.
These howls were rendered silent upon the film’s release. Never Too Young to Die vanished after scraping together a paltry $129,000 at the box office, crushing any hopes of a “Son of Bond” franchise. Stamos would go on to star in Full House while occasionally playing drums on “Kokomo”; Vanity would feature alongside Carl Weathers in Action Jackson, smoke near-legendary amounts of crack, and become a born-again Christian; Bettman would again become enchanted by the sweet sounds of Hagar, directing the documentary The Long Road to Cabo; and Gene Simmons would famously be responsible for a half-naked woman beating me with a stiletto heel at a Kiss concert. As well as this.
As for Steven Paul, he never could let his “Son of Bond” idea go. In 1992 he’d deliver The Double 0 Kid straight to the shelves of your local video store. Starring Corey Haim, the tagline was: “His Weapons: A Super Soaker and a Joystick. His Mission: To Save the World… Before Dinner!” A generation of children living in the aftermath of the lies told by James Bond Jr collectively declared “No more”—a generation who now welcomes the return of Bond’s one true son, ready to embrace the firstborn who was unjustly shunned at birth. And in his ear, through tears engineered by decades of pain, they’ll whisper: “Stargrove.”