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Street Crimes (1992)
Street Crimes is classic 90's video store action fun.
Brian (Farina) is an L.A. cop and Tony (Worth) is his new rookie partner. Tony takes a lot of good-natured ribbing by his buddies on the force, especially Flannigan (Gail) and Happy (Banks) due to the fact that he disdains the use of guns and prefers Martial Arts. That, and the fact that he's a teetotaler who doesn't constantly slam brewski's at the local bar. To add insult to injury, he also loves healthy food.
Almost by chance, Tony and the local "homies" turn an abandoned boxing gym into a community center by staging bouts for everyone to come and see. Little by little, the place gets fixed up and the homies get a true home. Meanwhile, Tony and Brian's daughter Susan (Zehentmayr) strike up a romantic relationship. Susan just happens to be blind, but that doesn't get in the way of their love.
The crime boss of the area, Gerardo (Morris, a dead ringer for Ernie Hudson, not the Rico Suave guy) doesn't like that people are now helping in the community instead of buying his drugs, so naturally his solution is to kidnap Susan and challenge Tony to the big final fight, settling a score from years earlier. Will Tony clean up the streets...and the STREET CRIMES?
PM delivers the quality yet again with Street Crimes, a completely enjoyable outing that really delivers the goods. Dennis Farina is perfectly cast as Brian, and he's as charming as all get-out, whether he's happily chowing down on a burrito with uncommon gusto, busting the baddies, or cheering on his friend and partner in the kickboxing ring. You really care about him and his daughter, and by extension, his partners, especially Tony.
Tony is the kind of young man who takes milk cartons out on patrol and still shouts HI-YA! while he's fighting the baddies. You have to appreciate his youthful enthusiasm. Like any of us, he goes to buy a new car at night right before the dealership closes, and gets involved in thwarting a holdup of said car dealership. He also wears what appear to be acid-washed sweatpants. While on duty. We didn't realize you could acid-wash cotton, but, hey, you learn something new every day.
What's interesting about Street Crimes is that it's a mix of cop drama, straight-up action, Punchfighting, Martial Arts, and clean-up-the-community movie, with a healthy streak of humor in there to leaven it all out. Max Gail provides a lot of the comic relief, but it's running through there subtly, as are the more romantic bits between Tony and Susan.
There's even some social commentary about drugs, child abuse, racism, and community-police relations thrown in for good measure. Somehow, it's all seamless. It never once feels like a mishmash, despite all the disparate elements. That was super impressive, and easily could have gone south. Thankfully, not only does it all hang together, it ensures the viewer never gets bored. You're really invested in what's going on.
Street Crimes is classic 90's video store action fun. It's bright, everything works well, and the time flies by. Stephen Smoke only directed two movies in his career, this and Final Impact (1992) - both in the same year!
Looking back, it is hard to beat 1992. All we can say in closing is that, when Tony is walking to the final fight with Gerardo, and all the local homies suddenly join him out of the steam and smoke of the night, and they're all walking with determination towards their destiny as the John Gonzalez music pumps on the soundtrack, you realize that Street Crimes is nothing less than a triumph.
Bloodfist 2050 (2005)
Bloodfist 2050 is a stain on the series as a whole, and only worthy if you are a completist of Punchfighters
Plot: See Dragon Fire (1993). Or, better yet, see Bloodfist (1989).
Okay, okay, we won't be as lazy as Roger Corman and we'll do our job. Sometime in 2050, Los Angeles is still a hellhole. (It was a hellhole in 2032 in Dragon Fire). Alex Danko (Mullins) travels to L.A. to get to the truth about his murdered brother. In order to get closer to the underground Punchfighting circuit where his brother fought, he gets a trainer and begins fighting in "The Pit" himself. After many bouts, which honestly don't have much to do with his slain brother, he finally figures out the nefarious plan. But will it be too late?
Despite what you might, understandably, be thinking, this is not the 2,050th sequel to Bloodfist. It's only the ninth installment in the series. Noticeably, the great Don "The Dragon" Wilson is nowhere in sight. Perhaps he cottoned on to the fact that this is as junky as all get-out and has a downmarket and cheap look to it.
It all opens with some stock footage from Dune Warriors (1990) and there is some attempt at marrying this with the 2005-shot footage. Some of it looks sped-up, as do some of the fight scenes. It's also highly likely that there are repeated and/or stock shots of crowds as they cheer on the fighters. Edited in to all of this are the Corman specialty, stripping scenes. Between the stock footage, recycled footage, sped-up footage, and stripping footage - and keep in mind this movie is (mercifully) only about 75 minutes, we as viewers aren't left with a whole heck of a lot.
Plotwise, Bloodfist 2050 is the same movie as Dragon Fire. It is a lower-rent version of Dragon Fire. Think about that for a second. When you're a lower-rent version of Dragon Fire, there is a definite problem. Yes, it's post-apocalyptic for no discernible reason. Yes, it's a Punchfighter. Yes, all the exact same plot points are covered. But the question is: why? Instead of Dominick LaBanca, now we have Matt Mullins in the lead role. It's clear he can do Martial Arts - but the attempt to do Hong Kong-style heavily choreographed, heavily stylized, fast fight scenes come off as humorous because they're unnecessarily acrobatic for the cheapjack overall vibe.
Also, Mullins looks like a skinnier Freddie Prinze, Jr. but with Obama-styled ears. To make matters worse, his buddy in the movie, Randy (Meadows) looks exactly like him. At least the buddy role in Dragon Fire was filled by a dude who looked nothing like the main dude. Here they're practically twins. Philippines movie mainstay Joe Mari Avellana did his best as the ring announcer and he resembles Johnny Depp here, strangely enough. The elderly assistant from Dragon Fire is nowhere to be seen. Just another example of how Dragon Fire is better (we never thought we would ever say that...)
Honestly, this is not Cirio's finest hour. He let us off the hook somewhat because the movie is so short, but the whole outing is amazingly dumb and unnecessary. Does Corman think so little of us as viewers that he can just regurgitate the same movie again and again, and we'll just consume this stuff and thank him for it? It would have been nice if we, the loyal viewers of this type of material, were given a little more credit. But, oh well, they can't all be Stick Fighter (1994), I suppose.
Bloodfist 2050 is a stain on the series as a whole, and only worthy if you are a completist of Punchfighters, a completist of the Bloodfist series, or you want to watch something short that's so dumb it's almost funny. Or you want to do an A-B comparison with Dragon Fire. Otherwise, it's probably best to avoid this one, which shouldn't be too tough.
Deadly Addiction (1988)
Jack Vacek is our new hero. He is very, very cool.
John Turner (Vacek) is a COTE (Cop On The Edge, for those that may not know) in L.A. After some drug gangs murdered his wife at some point in the past, he made it his personal mission to clean up the streets and get rid of all the drug pushers. It's not going to be easy, especially when Turner comes up against the evil and seemingly indestructible baddie Turko (Cummins). Meanwhile, he finds time for romance with Sara (Schubert) and to mentor a young boy, Hector (Munoz). Is there anything Jack Vacek - or John Turner - can't do? We urge you to find out today!
A blast of 80's awesomeness, Deadly Addiction (AKA Rock House) is a true gem waiting to be rediscovered. Comparisons to some of our favorites such as L.A. Wars (1994), "Geteven" (1993), and Death Flash (1986) - and, yes, even Samurai Cop (1991) and the almighty Stickfighter (1994) - are completely warranted. We're proud to add this fun and enjoyable film to that vaunted roster.
Jack Vacek is our new hero. He is very, very cool. He has a cool mustache, cool sunglasses, a cool jacket, rides a variety of cool automobiles, and has a wide variety of stylin' shirts. And while he plays by his own rules, his COTE-ness can only be described as happy-go-lucky. His amiable charm comes out whether he's battling a picture-perfect BYC (Washington), shooting and killing baddies, or adopting injured dogs and troubled children. He always knows just what to do and say. He may have just replaced Steve Rally in all of our hearts. And that's not an easy thing to do.
On top of being likable, and even having something of a childlike quality, John Turner (or is it Jack Vacek? It's hard to tell when one ends and the other starts) seems to have modeled his life after Sonny Crockett. He has the same job, a similar attitude, and a similar wardrobe. He even lives on a houseboat like Crockett. But instead of a Ferrari, Turner drives a Shelby Cobra with the license plate BEER RUN. Sure, it may be an odd choice for a policeman, but it's so slick it's hard to deny the charm. Welcome to Miami Vacek. But in L.A.
There's a classic 80's dance club (could it be the same one from Party Line?), and the whole film has a fantastic soundtrack, alternating between the classic sax, the wailing-guitar 'Chase Music', and to a heavy metal tune during a raid on a gang called The Rockers. Much like in the cartoons when it gets so hot the mercury bursts through the top of the thermometer, the awesomeness quotient is getting out of control!
The baddies hang out at a restaurant called Degusta, named for the head crime boss. Would you eat at a place with a name so close to 'disgusting'? Was this on purpose? Who knows? Who cares? Especially since Turner's hangout is a bar/restaurant called The Poopdeck. Apparently it is/was a real place in Hermosa Beach, California. And Vacek trumped Tom Hanks by a year with the 'Turner and Pooch' subplot. Naturally, the whole thing comes to a head at an abandoned factory of some sort. It's hard to tell what they would have made, so we called it the Shootout Factory. We've all seen them before. Get ready to hear that phrase again in future reviews.
Deadly Addiction hammers home all the right notes we love to hear again and again. It's a movie that says "subtlety is for suckers; it's party time". We can get on board with that. It is just so much fun and it's so entertaining, anyone who fails to get any enjoyment out of it should probably be thrown into a volcano.
Schedule your "Vacek-tomy" as soon as possible.
Dragon Fire (1993)
By now, even Don the Dragon was on to better things
Los Angeles in 2032 is, wouldn't you just know it, a hellhole. A man travels from another planet (which is apparently a common occurrence in the future) to earth in order to find out who killed his brother. Laker Powers (LaBanca), whose name was obviously concocted by a huge basketball fan, has to compete in underground Punchfighting matches which somehow get him closer to finding his beloved brother's murderer. Slick (Kisu) becomes his trainer and he works his way through all his opponents in tournament-style bouts. Will he get to the truth about his brother? Or will DRAGON FIRE set his dreams of glory ablaze?
Dragon Fire is a typical Corman-style Punchfighter that, instead of starring Jerry Trimble or Blake Bahner, features one Dominick LaBanca in the lead role. By now, even Don the Dragon was on to better things. In the good old video store days, someone could be plucked from obscurity to be the main star in a movie - see Jay Roberts, Jr., Matt Hannon or Kely McClung for just three examples. LaBanca looks like a cross between Scott Baio and Ken Wahl. He should have been on a 90's sitcom like Blossom, but instead he's punching, punching, and punching some more, as are his many opponents.
As in other Corman actioners, the stars have their fighting credits underneath their names during the opening credits. Strangely, LaBanca doesn't have any specifics under his name, so how are we to know his pedigree and qualifications to appear in Dragon Fire? Nevertheless, the settings are "futurism on a budget" and comparable to the likes of Shredder Orpheus (1990) and Neon City (1991). It's comforting to know that in the future, with all the many entertainment options available, grown men punching each other still remains extremely popular. As do mullets. They always say fashions come back around.
Kisu, not to be confused with Kimo or Beano, is the Van Peebles-esque trainer who quotes Sun Tzu without crediting him. Laker Powers is such a meathead that he doesn't question why Slick is able to continually come up with all these nuggets of philosophy. But all of that pales in comparison to the constant fights. If it's punching - and occasional kicking - you're after, look no further.
One thing about Dragon Fire, it doesn't skimp on the beatings-up. And the steady stream of opponents feature characters that are very Street Fighter II-esque, which makes sense for the time. At least they have unique, individual personalities, unlike some tournament movies. Even though dumbness is readily apparent, and it does get a bit boring despite the modest running time because of the repetition, it's still better than big-budget versions of this type of material like The Quest (1996).
Sure, the acting is stodgy, but who cares? Most of the guys aren't actors, they're fighters. But what's Pamela Pond's excuse? Well, presumably it's all part of the fun. Just like all the screaming, sweating, punching, kicking, and unabashed stupidity. Yet, we wouldn't have it any other way.
So, for yet another Corman outing (which combines numerous strip club scenes which Corman also seemed to like around this time) and the unassailable charisma of a certain Dominick LaBanca, look no further than Dragon Fire.
Codename: Silencer (1995)
The problem is that the movie isn't wacky enough or different enough - it's just kind of standard fare.
Eddie Cook (Davi) and Vinnie Rizzo (Bauer) are not just two of New Orleans's finest, they're also best buddies. But their jobs are about to get a heck of a lot more challenging now that Makato (Chiba) and his partner Sybil (Nielsen) have come to wreak havoc in the Big Easy. Makato is a sly and crafty hitman and expert marksman. We as viewers know this because he has a special assassin hat. Further complicating the lives of Cook and Rizzo is the entrance of their new supervisor, Special Agent Janet Hood (Ambuehl). Will Makoto and Sybil's killing spree ever end?
Body Count is yet another victim of what we call the Lone Tiger Effect. For those who don't know, this is when a movie gets a great cast of B-movie faces together and you think you can't lose as a viewer - and then you do. Perhaps it's a classic case of "too many cooks", but despite the stellar cast, Body Count just doesn't deliver the goods.
That's not to say there aren't some high points - someone walks away from an explosion in slow motion, Davi and Bauer have good chemistry together, and there's a very impressive PM-style car flip/explosion. There should have been more moments like these. Additionally on the plus side we have a competent, classic-90's video store look and some nice New Orleans locations. This includes, almost apropos of nothing, a stereotype Southern Sheriff. But the movie doesn't really hook you in, and the pacing seems off. The police station has a poster for The Terminator (1984) right there in the squad room, so it shows the local cops have a nice sense of décor.
As for the cast (besides the aforementioned fan favorites Davi and Bauer), we have Brigitte Nielsen, who was given a much meatier role in Mission of Justice (1992). It was nice to see that Sonny Chiba was all over the movie and not just in a small role. He got to show off his physical prowess and had a bunch of great outfits to boot. Jan-Michael Vincent had a glorified cameo, and even in a small role appeared a little tipsy. Ambuehl, last seen in Dark Breed (1996) was primarily eye candy despite the fact that the scriptwriters attempted vainly to make her more than that.
The problem is that the movie isn't wacky enough or different enough - it's just kind of standard fare. You'd think the cast could make more out of the material, but even they can't really pull that off. Comparable movies about a Japanese-American crime-ridden culture clash include Red Sun Rising (1994) (better than Body Count) and Double Deception (2001) (actually worse than Body Count).
Featuring the song "All Woman" by Mark Ferrari, Body Count left something to be desired.
Red Line (1995)
Red Line stalls out
Jimmy (McQueen) is an auto mechanic and part-time stick-up man who uses the cars people drop off to speed away in after he finishes his petty heists. Despite the disapproval of his boss, Jerry (DeLuise), Jimmy ends up working for crime boss Keller (Vincent) as a driver.
While doing this, a series of events occurs: He discovers the truth about Tony (Feldman) and Crystal (Strain) - the brother and wife respectively of rival crime boss Mr. Lawrence (Madsen), and he also gains possession of a special Corvette with a surprise inside. Even though Gene (Z'Dar), one of Keller's goons, is on his trail, Jimmy manages to go on the run with Gem (Zal), who is escaping the clutches of her abusive boyfriend Dick (Zito). Is any of this making sense? Or, when it comes to seeing this movie, will you be drawing a RED LINE in the sand?
The Lone Tiger effect, as we call it, seems to be something we can never escape. Any time we see a cast list of this many B-Movie faces, it draws us in and proves impossible to resist. Yet again, sadly, we were disappointed. Despite the star power involved, Red Line just isn't that...well...involving.
One of the bright spots was the brief appearance of Dom DeLuise, who is just too talented to be hemmed in by a dire production like this. The supposed hero, Jimmy, is an unlikable criminal and he's the guy we're supposed to be rooting for? Evidently Chad McQueen thought so, as not only was he the star, he's also credited with stunt driving, casting, and producing. He was really involved with this project, and while, on the whole, it's probably a better movie than Money to Burn (1996) - produced by and starring a lot of the same people - it's not as funny as MTB. But it's about as dumb, so that equation doesn't really work out well in the viewer's favor. Most of Chad's shirts have sleeves this time around, so it looks like our Chad is finally growing up.
Jan-Michael Vincent's grotesque appearance - apparently the result of a real-life car accident - only helps his character, but it's all pretty unpleasant. Chuck Zito's line readings are pure gold, and the presences of Robert Z'Dar and Julie Strain are always welcome. Even Joe Estevez and none other than Ron Jeremy have cameos. Corey Feldman wears a silly jacket and holds his gun sideways. Roxana Zal plays the inexplicably pretty car wash girl. What drew all these people to be in this substandard movie? Maybe director Sjogren has a lot of charisma. Frankly, we're surprised Ian Jacklin isn't involved.
Ron Jeremy plays a gardener whose name is Gardner. So, that's the level of intelligence on display here...but did you expect anything else going in? We, as viewers, have to wait a whopping 63 minutes until we get to Michael Madsen to be in the mix of this broth. But really, there are no surprises on show with Red Line. It's a very long 90 minutes. It's similar to Sjogren's Strip N' Run (2000), also starring Madsen.
There should have been scenes of Chad McQueen beating up the many goons the crime bosses send after him, or some such action setpieces. But aside from some driving stuff and a few mild blow-ups, the action factor is low. Just imagine No Man's Land (1987) but with no Charlie Sheen, nothing really interesting happens, and there are boom mike shadows on the walls. This could have been a really easy fix: make the hero likable and give him goons to fight. Boom. Better movie. But no, sadly, Red Line opts for the stupider road less traveled (that's less-traveled for a reason).
In the end, despite the stellar cast, Red Line stalls out.
A Fight for Honor (1992)
The whole outing has a childlike, naïve charm that's easy to love.
A young Texan girl, who looks to be about high school age, is frustrated by her Tae Kwon Do studies and her three-year record of losing tournaments. Crystal Lundgren (Lundgren) comes from a privileged background and her vapid friends just want to take her mind off fighting tournaments by going out to bars to meet "hunks". Even her mom tries to encourage her underage partying, but Crystal remains reluctant.
Meanwhile, a hardworking kid named Min-Suk Kim (C.K. Kim, not to be confused with the great Y.K. Kim of Miami Connection fame) is bicycling down the road, delivering pizzas for Double Dave's Pizzaworks. A distracted Crystal hits him with her car. While Min-Suk is unhurt, the two end up back at the house of Grandfather (Lee). That's all he's known as. That's even how he introduces himself to Crystal. It turns out he is training Min-Suk and his friend David Lee (Stephen Wong) in Tae Kwon Do.
Crystal is attracted to their approach to training, and after the typical initial resistance, he agrees to train her as well. Now with his three students, including the unlikely Crystal, Grandfather imbues them with enough wisdom and fighting ability to enter the All-Texas Tae Kwon Do Championships. Will Crystal get her chance to FIGHT FOR HONOR?
Grandfather's grasp of the English language is not the best, and he looks like an Asian Tim Conway. You can see why Crystal wants to train with him. Adding to that, her former Sensei resembles Andy Richter and he orders a medium pepperoni pizza for himself during class. He has all the awesome fighting power of Francis Buxton. He's less Zabka and more zoftig.
Anyway, the problem with these Karate Kid Knockoffs, or KKK's as we probably shouldn't call them, is that so much time is spent training, there are minimal goons to fight. And believe you-me, there is a LOT of training in this movie. What fight scenes there are occur when an older set of Karate Goons want to manhandle Crystal. Most of them claim to be her boyfriend, and they believe the surest way to her heart is to hurl a bunch of racial slurs against her Asian friends. After they beat up her friend Dirk (Daron Edwards) (don't we/shouldn't we all have a friend named Dirk?), it's the final straw.
It's easy to see why everyone loves Crystal, as she's attractive and has a stylish penchant for extremely high-waisted pants with a half-shirt. At that point it all equals out. We haven't seen pants this high since Keaton's Cop (1990). Stacy Lundgren had a lot of the movie on her shoulders and she acquits herself well. It's too bad she was only in one other thing in her career, the Hasselhoff TV movie Knight Rider 2000 (1991). We would have liked to see what she did with further acting roles. Importantly, her co-stars C.K. Kim, M.G. Lee, and Stephen Wong are all likable.
The movie as a whole does have that regional vibe, and, for a lot of the actors, this was their one and only role. The "local" feel is certainly here, but in a good way. York Home Video released the film in 1992 (though the Tae Kwon Do Delegation was shot in 1990 and it looks like a Republican or Democratic convention, with huge amounts of people holding signs with the states they are from), so they obviously didn't see a problem with that.
Yes, the pacing is off for most of the movie, and some of the acting and writing are naturally a little clunky, and the wheels really start to fall off towards the end, but the whole outing has a childlike, naïve charm that's easy to love. There are a lot of nice, little moments (Tae Kwon Do, Texas style, involves cowboy hats and horses. Talk about East Meets West!) and the silliness factor is high. Unfortunately, the movie is rare these days, but if you can find it, do check it out.
NOTE: As of this writing, the movie is on YouTube.
Blood Hands (1990)
Any fans of Sean Donahue, lots of punching and kicking, and/or silliness are encouraged to check it out.
A gang of aging ne'er-do-wells decide to get drunk and cause a ruckus at the grocery store. In the midst of their raucous tomfoolery, a fight ensues and the owner of the store dies. The guys, who are, apparently, known in the world of kickboxing, then drive over to fellow kickboxer Steve Callahan (Donahue)'s house. The lead baddie, James Clavell (Hourani) - who evidently is not the author of Shogun - begins assaulting Edward Callahan (Nicholson) and his wife while Steve is off training. This event ends in tragedy. When Steve and his girlfriend Tracy (Landson) come home, they see what the gang of MAP's (Middle-Aged Punks) did and Steve is understandably upset.
Steve's only clue is a medallion given to kickboxing champs in the area, so he goes it alone on his quest for justice after the main investigator on the case is himself attacked by the MAP's. Even Steve's beloved coach, Mr. Gale - who is a dead ringer for Freddy Mercury - isn't safe from the gang's rampage. With revenge on his mind and BLOOD on his HANDS, Steve Callahan must snap into action. With his fists and his feet as his only weaponry, will Steve beat the baddies and win the day? Find out today!
In the U.S., Blood Hands is one of the rarest Teddy Page movies, so we were lucky to see it. It does indeed have that Page-esque silly charm and is certainly entertaining. It's pretty impressive how they were able to make a 90-minute movie of people punching and kicking each other (that's what takes up most of the running time). Thankfully, the noises the punch/kick hits make are enjoyable enough in their own right. It's impossible to describe the sound, but needless to say that in real life a fist or a foot striking another human being doesn't sound like Mario bumping a box with a question mark on it with his head.
So there's lots of action, a great training sequence towards the end, and a cast of Philippines-shot movie regulars such as Jim Gaines, Nick Nicholson, and Ned Hourani, who here is inexplicably credited as Nead Hourani. That's right, NEAD. Could that a typo? In any event, the star of the show is, of course, Sean Donahue, our old buddy from Parole Violators (1994). His classic acting and fighting styles are on display, and you have to love his energy and determination.
Known in Germany as KICKBOX TERMINATOR, which is a fantastic title, Blood Hands is indeed rare but any fans of Teddy Page, Sean Donahue, lots of punching and kicking, and/or silliness are encouraged to check it out.
Karate Wars (1991)
Nothing interesting ever happens.
Jason (Wolf) is in a Karate class taught by Oyama (Rabago). Even though he is the star pupil, he and Oyama seem to have some conflicts based upon a mutually-shared history. This only upsets Oyama further, as he has constant flashbacks of when he killed an opponent in the ring years ago. Jason and his fellow classmates are training for a big tournament called the Karate Wars, and boy do they train.
Something about all this is even affecting the relationship between Jason and his girlfriend Tracy (Jay). While the owner of the rival dojo and token evil Karate master Nakaso (Okamura) is training his charges equally hard, something happens and the so-called Karate Wars are cancelled. Not caring about the huge cash prize, Jason arranges it so that the two rival schools fight it out with no audience and no awards, just a Bloodfight for honor in their own unsanctioned tournament. Will Jason and Oyama patch up their differences? Who will come out victorious in the new, more underground Karate Wars?
We wanted to like Karate Wars (or Bloodfight 3 if you prefer). We really did. But it kept disappointing us at every turn. The movie is incredibly repetitive, with just about every other scene taking place in a bare-bones room that's supposed to be the gym at the school (high school? College? Who can say?) where Jason and his compatriots go to train and train and train. Those are interspersed with Oyama's Black & White flashbacks of his fateful, deadly bout. Over and over and over again. Boredom looms over almost every scene, because there's really only about three scenes shuffled around for 90 minutes or so.
Barely breaking up the monotony are scenes of ham-fisted drama that aren't really based on anything. Those scenes are in conflict with the overall goofy tone of the film (which includes some of our dreaded bathroom humor). It has a ground-zero low-budget look to it and the sound quality is muddy at best. Unfortunately, there's more...
Jason, the hero (?) of the piece - who looks like an attempted hybrid of Tom Cruise, Judd Nelson, and Charlie Sheen - is unlikable. His shining moment is when he throws a hissyfit in the locker room. He's involved with not one, but TWO fights in the same parking lot in the span of about ten minutes. One is with Oyama, who he's constantly whining to. Both fights are very, very dumb. Why not change the location just to spice things up? But no, both are in a dull, drab parking lot.
Even Gerald Okamura and the great noises he makes can't save this wreck. It's just that nothing interesting ever happens. Director David Huey has directed some action heavyweights in his time, including Gary Daniels, Richard Norton, and Olivier Gruner, so he should really know better. For this particular outing, he goes by the nom d'crud David Hue. Why? Was he hiding, or was he trying to sound more Asian?
Anyway, we hate to say this, but Karate Wars is rare for a reason. Whatever you do, do NOT spend 88 Euro for this on Amazon. Sadly, they can't all be winners, and this falls into the loser category.
There's not a lot of substance here - or Karate, for that matter - but the movie isn't awful.
Leo (Daffron) is an overweight college student who runs into a bit of good luck. That's because as he's riding his bike while simultaneously having a snack, a limousine carrying some sort of foreign diplomat cuts Leo off and he falls off the bike. While not really injured, Leo overinflates the situation and the diplomat gives him $10,000 in cash right there on the spot. Leo then takes his buddies on a shopping spree, and then on a vacation to Greece. While in Greece, the boys fall victim to a scammer and lose all their money, so they try a gentle scam of their own - they pretend to be tour guides in order to make enough money to get back home.
Unrelated to pretty much all of this, one day Larry Jones (Williams), who is one of the group of friends, sees an attractive Greek girl being assaulted by some toughs, so he intervenes and beats them up. After saving her, she mentions that the yearly motocross race is coming up, and that could get them the money they need to fly back home. So they all go back to her house to fix up an old, shoddy motorcycle. The guy that wins every year is named Mustafa (Exina).
After Larry bests him, he gets mad and challenges him to a Karate match. He wins that every year, too. Larry gets his girlfriend Betty (Field) and the token family friend/Karate Master Mr. Masura (Goon) to come to Greece to train him. Naturally, it all comes to a head at the final fight, which Larry's father (Warbeck) also attends. Who will be final champion, Larry or Mustafa?
As you may have noticed, there are SIX Karate Warrior movies. This sixth and, to date, final installment in the long-running series was again directed by Fabrizio DeAngelis, using his usual Larry Ludman pseudonym. The above description details the rambling and ramshackle nature of the plot. A bunch of things happen, it all unfolds in due course, but the Karate angle doesn't show up until later, and is just another "thing that happens". We're all surprised when we finally see Larry is even a fighter of some sort. Another element to this is a pleasant, but pointless, Greek travelogue.
There's a lot of ridiculous and silly dialogue, and speaking of silly, the main nemesis of the movie, Mustafa, doesn't inspire much fear. He's thin, waifish, and looks like a more effeminate version of Balki. Karate Warrior 6 came out in 1993, which was the same year as the last season of Perfect Strangers. So it's safe to say that America was in the grip of Balki Fever at the time. DeAngelis, as was his wont, was just capitalizing on it. Balki was from the island of Mypos, which was Greek (?) so it all makes sense. And he fights a guy named Larry, so we finally get to see what we as viewers have been waiting for for so long: Larry vs. Balki.
Fan favorite David Warbeck is in the movie for probably less than a minute, all told, so any Warbeck fans out there, don't go into this expecting him to go around busting any heads. What you do get, however, is one of the friends, Greg (Smith), who looks a lot like the elder Pete on The Adventures of Pete and Pete. In the name department, it's hard to do better than Richard Goon. He plays Masura, and, while training Larry, he calls him, "Larry-san". Larry does something that looks a lot like Daniel's crane move from a certain other movie series.
Finally, it should be noted that the scam the boys fall victim to involves a guy who says they can take a picture with a real live mermaid, and then he steals their pants. That's right, the old mermaid scam. In part, maybe that's why the Karate Warrior series never made it to any home video format in the U.S. after the first one (which was released by Imperial). Maybe someone, somewhere figured American audiences couldn't handle the silliness of volumes 2-6.
Anyway, there's not a lot of substance here - or Karate, for that matter - but the movie isn't awful. It's competently made and there are some funny moments. It just rambles and doesn't have a lot of focus. Are there any Karate Warrior completists out there who have seen all six? If so, write in today.
It's a reasonably fun trifle, but it's not, strictly speaking, an action movie.
Kevin Foster (Sabato Jr.) is the new kid in town. He comes from Oakland to live in Savannah, Georgia with his father John (Warbeck), a police officer. Inexplicably, this makes him the target of ridicule amongst the local bully population, who tease him by not only calling him "cop's son" but also just "cop" (!) - so Kevin goes to the local discotheque, as all Southern teens were doing in 1990. He enters the "Rock Competition", by which the European filmmakers must have meant "Dance Competition". Naturally, Kevin wins, but that's when all his troubles start.
A love triangle develops between Kevin, who likes Kim (Hendrix), and Connie (Field), who likes Kevin. Kevin's interest in Kim, as well as his superior dancing abilities, really tees off the head bully and Karate champ, Jeff Hunter (Parker). Jeff gets really mad when Kevin bests him at a truck race through the "Tunnel of Death", so Jeff and his goons beat up Kevin several times. Eventually, Kevin wises up and begins training with his father's friend Billy (Chan), an older Asian gentleman who long ago swore off using his Martial Arts abilities but who now really wants Kevin to get revenge against Jeff Hunter. The two boys set up a final showdown at the local dojo. Who will be victorious?
Our old buddy Larry Ludman serves up a cross between Footloose (1984) and The Karate Kid (1984), but notice that both of those movies are from the great year of 1984. Today's movie in question came out in 1990, and, for better or worse, times had changed. Maybe that's why this never got any kind of a release in America. Anyway, it should be noted that there is no rock and very, very little Karate in Karate Rock. It's maybe 85% Footloose and 15% Karate Kid. The box art, great as it is, is very misleading. It's not the Martial Arts version of Body Rock (1984) that we were hoping for. But, in all fairness, even Sabato would have a hard time filling the shoes of Chilly D.
Sabato wears an oversized white cardigan and rents videos from a store called Video One. There was a Hard To Kill (1990) poster in the window, so presumably that's what he was renting. In the same strip mall is the dojo with two names. It reads "Korean Karate", and then, as if to correct itself, "Savannah Tae Kwon Do". It's easy to see why Kevin has such a crush on Kim. She has a fantastic sideways ponytail and wears triangular earrings. On the other side of the equation, Jeff Hunter has rockin' after-market pink windshield wipers on his 4x4. It's going to be a tough choice for her.
The Yaz-like synth disco score is by Donald Brent, who only has one other music scoring credit, another Fabrizio DeAngelis movie called Breakfast With Dracula (1993). That's a shame, as we would like to look forward to more scores by him. As far as we can tell, neither score has been released on CD or vinyl to date. Speaking of sound, when the characters talk - in any setting - it sounds like they're speaking into microphones with both the echo and reverb turned up. This unnatural circumstance leads to a lot of funny mishearings, such as when Kevin's Black friend is introduced as "Chocolate Chip". Sadly, his name isn't Chocolate Chip, or even just Chip. Even still, the classic nerd, Mortimer (Smith), almost steals the movie. Maybe this is because we get such minimal Warbeck.
In the end, Karate Rock is a teen movie, and not the shirt-ripping fight-fest the box art seems to indicate that it is. Kevin doesn't even start training until the movie is almost over. Perhaps the most interesting things about Karate Rock, seen from today's perspective, of course, are its time-capsule points of interest. And also the fact that what you see here is what a bunch of European adults thought American teens were like. It's a reasonably fun trifle, but it's not, strictly speaking, an action movie.
Sniper: Ultimate Kill (2017)
The movie itself isn't bad, we can't really recommend it unless you're a die-hard Sniper fan.
Our longtime friend Thomas Beckett (Berenger, of course) is now working for the DEA in Colombia. He's down there because a drug lord named Jesus Morales (Juan Calero) is causing all sorts of havoc and mayhem by employing a sniper named El Diablo (Felipe Calero) to eliminate his enemies using the latest in high tech sniping technology. Beckett's son Brandon (Collins), who is also an expert sniper (as you may remember if you've seen the latest spate of Sniper films) also travels to Colombia to try and take down Jesus Morales and El Diablo. Working with local agent Kate Estrada (Garcia) as well as John Samson (Lando), and, of course, Miller (Zane), will the power of everyone involved be enough to stop the sniper-on-sniper violence?
Here's a question: why are there SEVEN Sniper movies to date? No, really. We demand answers. I want someone to explain to me why these stories need to be told over and over again. That, really is the main problem with this, the latest installment in the Sniper saga. It's not a bad movie. It's really not. It's competently made, and delivers pretty much what you'd expect of a DTV Sniper movie from 2017. But that's just it - I think it's fair to say that this series has overstayed its welcome at this point, and even the movie at its best can't overcome that.
While it was nice to see both Berenger and Zane back together, they mostly stayed in an office capacity while young sniper Brandon got in on the action. Not to tempt any filmmakers out there who may be considering a Sniper 8, but we had an idea for what this movie should've been. The evil sniper puts Brandon in the hospital, so Berenger and Zane have to go back into the field even though they're getting on in years, to put their combined skills together to get revenge and show they're still the ultimate snipers. Well, the offer is on the table. Get in touch if you're interested.
While Brandon is called "the best", and he still calls his own father "Master Guns", the problem is that Chad Michael Collins is still bland and faceless. You don't know what he looks like even when you're looking right at him. That aside, we do get some "bullet time" for a new generation, and there is a good amount of violence and nudity - probably because the filmmakers have to compete with big-budget Hollywood product like Shooter (2007) and Sicario (2015). Sometimes it tries to be overly slick, but not as bad as some other DTV outings we've seen.
We assume there has to be an audience for this, otherwise they wouldn't keep making them. We applaud fan favorites Berenger and Zane for still even wanting to be involved. While, as we said, the movie itself isn't bad, we can't really recommend it unless you're a die-hard Sniper fan. We suspect there's only so much sniping a human being can reasonably stand.
Sniper: Ghost Shooter (2016)
Things would pick up a bit in the subsequent installment, but we tend to think there isn't a lot of ammo left in the chamber.
Brandon Beckett (Collins) and Richard Miller (Zane) return yet again for another look through the reticule, this time tasked with protecting a gas pipeline in Turkey and Eastern Europe from terrorists. When Beckett mouths off to his superior officer, he's sent to the high reaches of the Caucasus Mountains so he can go snipe in the snow. It's there he links up with some local snipers who want to join the fight against the baddies. Meanwhile, Colonel (that's all he's credited as) (Haysbert) is running things from behind the scenes. Will the team all get along? Will they fight against one more evil sniper? Who will make it to the next sequel? Find out today...?
So here we are on the sixth and, as of this writing, penultimate film in the inexplicably lengthy Sniper film series. Honestly, we're running out of things to say. We're trying hard not to be repetitive. I mean, we're trying hard not to be repetitive. But obviously we're putting more effort into that endeavor than the makers of the Sniper series are. We're now at Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street levels in the sequel sweepstakes. Who knew?
Sure, Ghost Shooter commits a couple of the seven deadly DTV sins we're always railing against, such as the fact that there's no one strong, central villain, there is an over-reliance on CGI, such as in the computerized blood, smoke, missiles and, in an especially ridiculous moment, a CGI helicopter, and there are many scenes in darkness where no lights are turned on or, evidently, even considered to be important.
The plot is weak and character development is nil. Chad Michael Collins is, you guessed it, still bland and faceless. All that being said, the movie isn't a total trainwreck; Billy Zane, as usual, enlivens the proceedings, seemingly effortlessly. Dennis Haysbert's presence is also not just welcome, but desperately needed to give life to what we're seeing onscreen. Dominic Mafham isn't in it that much but he adds something to the scenes he's in. The locations are picturesque, and we get references to current events when our heroes fight ISIS. There's even a nod to the old school with a couple of guard tower falls.
It should be noted that the main bone of contention as it relates to all the conflict and action is called the Gazsnab Pumping Station. A lot of people get shot over something with such a funny name.
Of course, there's a lot of shooting and sniping action (with all the military jargon that would imply), but without any suspense or character development, it gets boring fast. Things would pick up a bit in the subsequent installment, but we tend to think there isn't a lot of ammo left in the chamber.
Fatal Secret (1990)
Here is another great example of Mats doing what he does best.
As is usually the case, everyone is after "the disk". Yes, yet another floppy disk containing top secret information is highly sought-after. The CIA, the KGB, and a nefarious drug dealer named Michael LeWinter (Carradine) all want the disk. Thankfully, a special agent of some sort named Kim Brown (Lunden) is on the case. Teaming up with John Mitchell (presumably not the British prog rock guitarist) (Hellquist), the two of them single-handedly embark on a mission to get the disk the right people...but who are they? And can they be trusted? In the meantime, many battles ensue. Who will uncover the FATAL SECRET?
If you were to stop some random Americans on the street and ask them what they think of when they hear the word "Sweden", you might get answers such as Abba, Ikea, a certain Chef from the Muppets, or perhaps you may get some mutterings about meatballs. The more informed among them may mention some sort of bikini team or something about death metal. What you won't hear them say, sadly, is anything about the great Mats Helge or his contributions to Swedish cinema. To be fair, some of his works were exported to the U.S. and some weren't, but the wider public at large should know that Swedish filmmaking doesn't start and end with Ingmar Bergman.
We're constantly championing Helge's work, and we're not about to stop now. In Fatal Secret, the Helge stock company that appeared in his prior films come back to all shoot at each other one more time. There is a lot of gun-shooting in this particular outing, but the best scene involves a fight between Helge regular and Kurt Russell lookalike Hellquist and a really unfortunate dude in an attic with a bare lightbulb. You'll know it when you see it.
David Carradine comes back as well, and while his triumph for Helge was Animal Protector, here he puts his usual screen presence into his relatively small role as the smooth yet shady LeWinter. Of course, the Kenny Rogers Guy - Frederick Offrein - is back too, because it couldn't be a Helge movie without him. Interestingly, the actors aren't the only collaborators that came back to work with him. Anders Nilsson, who worked behind the scenes for Helge in many different capacities over the years, was seemingly promoted and is credited as co-director here.
Once again, the film was done under the aegis of the SWEDISH ACTION FILM FORCE, which is the first credit we see on screen. Shortly thereafter, we see characters in a room with an American flag in the background looking at a briefcase filled with American dollars. Just how this squares with the Swedish Action Film Force is all part of the puzzling fun, as are the myriad accents just about everyone on screen speaks with (with the exception of Carradine, of course).
But the important thing to know is that there's a character named Angelo who looks like a malevolent Yakov Smirnoff. And, as in prior Helge outings, there's a "greatest hits" during the end credits, so you can see all your favorite parts again. Not Jackie Chan-style outtakes, but sitcom-style replays of what you previously saw. He probably figured to get the most bang out of his buck that way. We're certainly not complaining. Plus, the pumping 80's music by Dough (Yes, Dough) Anderzon plays over it all, so if you're really pressed for time, you can just skip to the end credits.
While we wouldn't say to run right to this movie if you've never seen any of Mats Helge's other works before, if you've seen and loved The Ninja Mission (1984), Russian Terminator (1989), or Animal Protector (1989), and want more, here is another great example of Mats doing what he does best.
Animal Protector (1989)
Animal Protector is a solid winner all around from the inimitable Helge!
Somewhere off the coast of Sweden is a secret American military base run by the sinister Col. Whitlock (Carradine). Using underlings such as Carter (Offrein) and Johnson (Earle), among others, Whitlock uses his iron-fist tactics to ensure the base continues its dark experiments. Sadly, they are doing testing on all sorts of animals to create biological weapons. When a trio of female animal rights activists called the ANIMAL PROTECTORs, led by Carrie (Lunden), but including Helen (Ostrom) and Tina (Anderson), sneak their way onto the base in order to free the helpless animals - as do a meatheaded CIA agent named John Santino (Hellquist) and another good guy named Lomax (Hudden) - all hell is going to break loose on the island.
Animal Protector is further proof that the work of Mats Helge comprised Sweden's greatest cinematic exports of the 1980's. We're constantly championing him because he continues to deliver the goods for film after film. Frankly, we like his style. Even the choice of title is unorthodox: of all things, Animal Protector, in the singular, even when there's a group of so-called "Animal Protectors", among a myriad of other characters. Why? Perhaps it's to pique our interest. And it totally worked, just like everything else in this remarkable film.
This time around, none other than David Carradine joins the fray, and a team up between him and Offrein (who we've called "Kenny Rogers" in the past because he looks exactly like Kenny Rogers) is as magical as you'd think it might be. When not bewildered by a blur of different accents during the dialogue scenes, Animal Protector provides near non-stop shooting, blow- ups, or some type of action. The dance club fight/shootout was a particular highlight, but there are many. What puts that one a cut above the rest are Lomax's hypnotic pants. Which sounds like a movie title in its own right.
One of the action scenes late in the movie is re-used in a solarized, stylized fashion for the opening credits sequence, ensuring something is blowing up or being shot at all times. There's even a bit of Punchfighting in the beginning to get us all hooked in to the proceedings. Yes, it does have an overall feeling of being totally ridiculous, but it also has a ton of heart. While obviously shot with the international market in mind, it also retains a special "Made in Sweden" feeling, with a lot of handcrafted charm. That in combination with the non-stop action produces a gem.
Nowhere is that better exemplified than in the character of Santino, portrayed by Swedish National Treasure A.R. Hellquist. As if all the wild n' wacky goings-on weren't enough, along comes an oiled-up meathead to just put things over the top. Just like in Helge's Russian Terminator (1989) (hey, if a formula works, it works). Some say he slightly resembles Kurt Russell. He takes his shirt off and keeps it off for no reason that we can discern. Even in the cold Swedish night when you can see everyone's breath, Hellquist's shirt is nowhere to be seen. Fantastic.
Featuring music by Dough Anderzon (surely his name is Doug Anderson and this is a typo...come on, Dough? But it's all part of the fun) and featuring an incredibly catchy tune by Dag Unenge and Peter Ahs called Face To Face, Animal Protector is a solid winner all around from the inimitable Helge.
The Mad Bunch (1989)
The Mad Bunch is pure Helge and is well worth seeking out.
Professor Foxwood (Carradine) is a man who wears glasses and is a "peace researcher", whatever that is. This Professional Peacenik gets a dose of the violent world around him when he is kidnapped by some baddies. His wife Melinda (Arnesen) isn't sure of the best way to rescue her beloved husband, but with both the CIA and KGB involved, things get complicated fast. So she settles on the natural way to solve this problem - she hires THE BAD PACK to retrieve him. Who are The Bad Pack, you ask? They appear to be a non-professional bunch of "heroes for hire" who, instead of playing cards or going bowling together, form an unofficial group of mercenaries. They're going to have their hands full with this mission, as nothing is what it appears to be, especially with the mysterious Jason Cartland (Offrein) involved. Will they bring Foxwood back alive? Or will something get in their way? Find out today...
Not to be confused with The Wild Pair (1987) or The Bad Pack (1997), The Mad Bunch is another peek into the wacky world of our favorite Swedish writer/director Mats Helge. It all kicks off with a killer opening, as the words SWEDISH ACTION FILM FORCE appear on the screen as our Mad Bunch load their guns and do other things to show they are ready for (Swedish) action! One of the Bunch has a jacket that says Attention This Isn't The Exercise written from the shoulder to the elbow of said jacket. What can you say, on top of being mad, they've got style as well.
Mats (Carlzen), Moose (Ellgren), Tom (Melin), Billy (Hudden), and, of course, Eddie (Hellquist) are THE MAD BUNCH. It was a pleasure to see A.R. Hellquist again, as we are fans of his Kurt Russell-esque performance in Helge's Animal Protector (1989). Frederick Offrein, who seems to be in every Helge movie, is here as well. We never fail to mention that he looks exactly like Kenny Rogers. That's probably because every time we see him, no matter what movie or what role, he looks exactly like Kenny Rogers. He's a smoother, classier Kenny this time around, which shows his range. To see him is to love him.
As for David Carradine, he's not really in it that much. Our guess is that he went to Sweden to film Animal Protector in '89 and stayed on for this glorified cameo because he was already there. It was the golden year of 1989, so why not get the most out of Carradine? In the audio department, we have to say that this movie is really a treat for the ears. Not only do we get catchy tunes by Helge mainstay Dough Anderzon - including some classic 80's sax - but we also get a mélange of accents by pretty much all the characters. In addition, the sound effects are great. Whoever did them - everything from jumping on the sand of a beach to a neck snap - they were clearly done with gusto. Kudos to whoever masterminded these sounds.
A movie highlight comes when The Mad Bunch are training on a beach, and a young boy who looks to be about eleven years old comes to join the fray. It's scenes like this that set the movie apart from its competitors (along with every other stylistic choice by Helge). That's why it's especially surprising that this movie, along with most of the rest of Helge's output, never received a VHS release in America back in the video store days. It's a real shame, as I believe U.S. cult film fans would have eaten it up. Well, at least we can all enjoy his work today, and that's what really matters. While it might not exactly scale the majestic heights of The Ninja Mission (1984) or Russian Terminator (1989), The Mad Bunch is pure Helge and is well worth seeking out.
Mu Sa Do (2002)
Flat and Dull
Suk (Suk Woo Nam as himself?) was not named after this movie. Rather, he is the best fighter on the underground Punchfighting scene in "Vegas". Whenever the corrupt bosses who run the fights need a win, they call in Suk. A reporter for a TV station named SVS (are we sure it's not the CBC?) named Chase Somete - and because the audio quality of this movie is so bad, it sounds like everyone is calling her Jason X - brings along her cameraman, the lovable Andre (Simpson) and the prissy and annoying soundman Jimmy Olsen (presumably no relation to the Daily Planet reporter) (Wadden), and off the three of them go to initiate their investigative reportage about Suk. However, the three get more than they bargained for as they go deeper and deeper into the shady world of Punchfighting. With the help of a local fish salesman named Gill (get it?) (Amoroso), will Chase and her compadres get to the truth about Suk and the Las Vegas underground fight scene?
Las Vegas Warrior is a dreary outing that has about as much fun and excitement as an overcast Canadian winter. Just because a movie has the words "Las" and/or "Vegas" in the title, it does not necessarily mean said movie was shot there. It could be Canadian, for instance. To be fair, this also goes by the name Fightclub Warrior, although that title has its own problems. But why not call it "New Brunswick Warrior" or something like that and stay true to your Canadian roots?
Anyway, this movie makes the similarly-themed The Circuit (2002) look like a masterpiece. In addition to the aforementioned poor sound quality, we also have equally dingy, video camera-esque picture quality. The whole thing is extremely low-rent and the rock-bottom budget is evident in every scene. Not that the latter is in itself a bad thing, but director Baron seemingly didn't know how to use what she had to her advantage.
For example, most of the characters (except for the jovial Andre) are whiny. This includes our heroes Chase and Suk. For no reason whatsoever, there are these two-second flashes in between some random scenes. Maybe they thought they would liven things up or make it seem hip and cool. Irritating the already-tired eyes of the viewers is not cool, people. These unnecessary flashes were also used in The Circuit. Coincidence? Well, probably. But it's not a good sign of confidence in the strength of your movie.
Plotwise, there's no big, final villain. No one to build up to. No Matthias Hues, Ralf Moeller, or Wolf Larson for Suk to fight. Just...nobody. The soundtrack to all this is almost as whiny as the characters themselves. Early 2000's-style crud-rock by bands called Dog Eat Dogma, Universal Freak, and Les Respectables pollute our ears the entire time. To be fair yet again, the other music on the soundtrack is credited to a Ferocious LeFonque. This may be a character on RuPaul's Drag Race, but we're too busy watching Las Vegas Warrior to know for sure.
Another problem is that this movie needed a name. ANY name. In our review for Expert Weapon, we lamented the dearth of Joe Estevez in that film. If we may quote ourselves, "When your movie NEEDS MORE JOE ESTEVEZ, you have a problem." To update that for today's proceedings, we would say forget more Joe Estevez, when your movie needs any Joe Estevez, you've got a problem. Hell, get any Estevez. Get Phil Estevez. Get anybody! Just...help!
In the end, the low budget of Las Vegas Warrior could have been transcended with a better script, more exciting and diverse fight scenes, and less amateurish technical qualities. Unfortunately, none of that happens, and the result is flat and dull.
Dragon Hunt (1990)
The Macs are back! Finally!
Seemingly continuing on right after the end of Twin Dragon Encounter (1986), Dragon Hunt sees the malevolent Jake (B. Bob) and his merry band of thugs, The People's Private Army (perhaps an oxymoron there?) pursuing their obsession with The Twin Dragons (Michael "Mic" McNamara and Martin McNamara). Angered at the twins' forcing him to now have a metal hand, Jake is more off the deep end than ever before. He recruits mercenaries and soldiers of fortune from far and wide and offers them 200,000 Canadian dollars if they can kill the twins. This Game becomes Most Dangerous when the twins are indeed kidnapped and caged, but then set free in the wilderness so they can be hunted by everyone from ninjas to overalls-wearing good-ole-boys. Of course, using their awesome Martial Arts and survival skills, the twins proceed to turn the tables on their pursuers and the hunters become the DRAGON HUNT-ed, eh?
The Macs are back! Finally! The McNamaras upped their game for this sequel to the jewel that is Twin Dragon Encounter. The cast is bigger (and "better trained" according to Jake), more diverse, and with bigger action setpieces such as machine-gun shootouts, blow-ups and even an attempted helicopter explosion. Consistent with this expansion, the movie is also even more disjointed and insane than its predecessor, with nutty narration by B. Bob as Jake, including much singing. He does a rousing rendition of "The Teddy Bears Picnic" that really adds a lot to the soundtrack.
Speaking of the soundtrack, what would a sequel to Twin Dragon Encounter be without more catchy, rockin' tunes by Billy Butt? Not only does he contribute a title song (with lyrics that reference happenings in the plot; we love when movies have those) but two new songs, "Survivor" and "Makes a Man Cry". The song "Faces" from the first movie returns, but we think it's an all-new re-recording.
The whole thing is wonderfully silly and you can't help but enjoy it. It even gets AIP-esque at times, and while the movie was released in 1990, it has a copyright date of 1989 and surely has the '89 spirit we're constantly talking about. They really did a lot with their low budget and we respect that. The first credit we see after the last scene is, and we quote, "This Film Was In No Way Assisted by Telefilm Canada Or the Ontario Film Development Corporation". So not only did they assert their true independence with the making of this movie, they went out of their way to give the finger to the powers that be! You don't see that anymore, and it should be applauded and treasured.
However, the downside to that is that this is the lesser-seen of the two classic McNamara movies. It got no U.S. distribution on VHS because Vidmark passed. We're really not sure why, seeing as they saw fit to release the first one, but maybe this was just too out there for them. Or maybe new management or something stupid like that. But it did come out on Cineplex Odeon Video in Canada, and a few French and German territories, but that's about it (except for rare television screenings, but we're talking about physical releases). In many ways an improvement upon its predecessor, at the very least it's just as good and worth seeing.
Reasonable people may differ on which is the better McMovie, but one thing is certain: all the charm remains intact in this sequel, and it's best to just see them both.
Code Name: Wolverine (1996)
To be honest, there isn't a ton of action in Wolverine. What action there is, of course, is more than welcome.
Harry Gordini (Sabato Jr.), his wife Monica (Lind), and their nine-year-old son Joey (of course his name is Joey)(Cox) travel from L.A. to Rome for a little family vacation. Unfortunately, in the worst case of "mistaken suitcase" ever, some evil, drug-dealing baddies led by Adolfo Jones (Quinn) end up getting the Gordinis' suitcase filled with Joey's extensive collection of diving gear, while the innocent family gets a case filled with $200 million dollars' worth of a new street drug. Jones really wants the suitcase back and is willing to go to any measures to get it. Meanwhile, Special Agent John Baines (Brooks) and the FBI/police are hot on the trail of the gang. Who will find the Gordini family first - the cops or the baddies?
However, before that question is even considered, it is revealed that Gordini is no mild-mannered college professor. He is a Navy Cross-decorated Navy SEAL with the code name Wolverine. He was dubbed that by his compatriots because he is "the best" and trained to be an ultimate killing machine who stubbornly refuses to give up stalking his prey. When Monica and Joey are kidnapped (and in the case of Joey, more than once!), the tables are turned - who will reach the baddies first, Gordini or Baines? And just when you're figuring that one out, you realize that there are several more twists and turns to go! Will Adolfo Jones or Agent Baines bring out the worst - or possibly best - in the man known as WOLVERINE?
Wolverine is a watchable, competent, and coherent outing that is quite TV movie-esque, which makes sense, as this was a pilot for a potential series. It could have worked well in syndication. Unfortunately, it was made before the golden age of television - i.e., now - and our current proliferation of cable channels that could have housed it, complete with all the violence and nudity the writers could have wished for. So, yes, the violence is pretty tamped down; there is some shooting and some neck snaps that are more funny than brutal. But they managed to squeeze out as much action as they could under the extremely limiting circumstances.
To be honest, there isn't a ton of action in Wolverine. What action there is, of course, is more than welcome. But it's a pretty entertaining movie in its own right and the cast carries it off well. We've got Antonio Sabato Jr. on board, naturally, and he's shown time and again he can be a heroic lead we can all get behind. Traci Lind as his wife makes a good match for him, and, plotwise, as we the viewers get to know more about her character, things start to make sense (no spoilers here). There has to be a little kid named Joey, so one of those is here of course. He's more interested in playing one of those zero-graphics hand-held video games from Tiger Electronics than seeing the amazing sights of Rome or, really, doing anything else. But then when he finally gets to go diving, well...we won't say what happens, but let's just say the baddies pull out their ultimate weapon.
Richard Brooks was another welcome face, as were some of the European actors, but it does seem hard to believe someone would go way out of their way to track down Wolverine. (Unlike in real life, where he would go way out of his way to track you down). If you see the DVD cheap somewhere, sure, pick it up, but don't expect anything other than something decent. Just decent, that's it. It's not bad by any stretch, but it won't blow you away, either.
Maybe if Wolverine was unchained from TV censorship, that might have happened. But as it is, it's just good, no more, no less. Some 90's tech on display and some people sounding like they're calling our hero "Gordita" aren't going to change that.
In other words, it's no Thrill (1996), but what can be?
Active Stealth (1999)
It's pretty much the dictionary definition of shelf filler.
When an evil Mexican drug lord (is there any other kind?) named Salvatore (Lala) and his henchman Morgan (Funk) take a member of our U.S. military hostage, we bring in the best men we have available to go on the rescue mission. Of course, that includes Captain "Murph" Murphy (Baldwin), a sullen and somewhat belligerent man who is haunted by his past. His wife Gina (Whirry) is supportive, but along with Chiccio (Vennera), Lt. Reb Carter (Abell), and "Hollywood" Andrews - because he wants to make it in Hollywood after his military career is over - (Robinson), the boys snap into action and use the awesome new stealth bomber for said mission. They even get help from "Special Guest" Andrew Stevens as Jack Stevens. Whoa. While south of the border, they make friends with a peasant woman and her young son as they find out Salvatore wants to "El Presidente" himself all the way to the top. Paralleling that back home, Captain Reynolds (Williamson) just may be part of conspiracy that also goes to the top.
Here we go again...if Stealth Fighter (1999), Desert Thunder (1999), Crash Dive (1996), its sequel Counter Measures (1999), Agent Red (2000), Air Rage (2001), and all the other Fred Olen Ray or Jim Wynorski-styled plane slogs from the late 90's/early 2000's weren't enough for you, well, here's another one. Not only does this not add anything to the genre, it actually takes away entertaining elements from the other ones. For example, there's no precocious kid like a Sarah Dampf to at least make us chuckle here. We do get an Italian stereotype in Chiccio, but it's just not the same.
It's not the "borrowed" footage from other movies that bothers us. We're used to that by now. It's the fact that this is a plane slog crossed with an El Presidente slog, two of our least favorite slogs. Just simply stitching them together does not a good movie make. It even knocks off one of our favorites, Commando (1985), with Lala and Funk taking on the Dan Hedaya and Vernon G. Wells roles respectively. There is a ton of groan-inducing dialogue, from the constant military jargon (a lot of which is inaccurate, from what we've been able to ascertain), to the noticeably-more-obvious-than-usual homosexual references when our heroes are trying to "bond". It all will make you long for the glory of Delta Force Commando II: Priority Red One (1990).
And speaking of Fred Williamson, the star of the aforementioned film, let's face it, this movie is unworthy of his talents. He's not in it that much, but it even manages to tamp down and tame The Hammer. Not good. Daniel Baldwin puts in a perfunctory performance but seems more interested whenever there's dialogue involving chili (there's more than you might think). While casting Terry Funk as one of the baddies was a good idea, we would have liked to have seen Shannon Whirry in more than just the clichéd "worried wife" role. She should have taken a rocket launcher down to Mexico to blow up Salvatore. Then we'd be talking.
Sure, there's a bunch of mindless shooting, and some helicopters "blow up" (is this stuff even real anymore?) but it's very, very hard - if not impossible - to care. The Top Gun video game for Nintendo was more entertaining and well-made than this. It's pretty much the dictionary definition of shelf filler. The Stealth may be active but your brain cells will be inactive if you witness this muck.
An underground classic!
John Lambert (McClung) is a Himbo cop with an attitude. After his beloved partner is killed during a drug raid, Lambert turns in his badge and gun and walks away from the force. He turns to his now-deceased partner's sister, Luella (Meneses) and old buddy Mule (Mitchum), to help him fight the baddies in his own way. It turns out that a drug lord named Dirk Riley (Johnson) has put a contract out on Lambert and Luella, so they're constantly on the run together even as Lambert uses his awesome Martial Arts moves on many, many goons. During all this, the LAPD is trailing Lambert's comings and goings. Naturally, it all ends in the time-honored Final Warehouse Fight. Also everybody calls Lambert "Stickman" because he's good at fighting with sticks, apparently.
Kely McClung - not to be confused with Edie McClurg - is our new personal hero. This is because Stickfighter is a certified classic of that silly/stupid/dumb/awesome/funny/classic-90's type of movie that is hilarious, totally entertaining, and cliché-ridden in the best possible way. It has that great semi-pro feel complete with awkward staging, dialogue, and editing. Most of the actors appear to be non-actors, including our hero. He tries hard to be the classic wisecracking 90's cop we all love and enjoy but he doesn't have the timing to pull it off. Hilarity ensues.
In the grand tradition of L.A. Wars (1994), Geteven (1993), Parole Violators (1994), The Crime Killer (1985), and even Night of the Kickfighters (1988), Stickfighter can proudly claim its rightful place in the pantheon of wonderfully weird one-offs that are brain-damaged brothers of their more well-known action contemporaries. In other words, the Alamo Drafthouse needs to find a print of this post-haste. The audiences will eat it up.
There is, more or less, non-stop action, and the pretexts for said action scenes are almost as great as the action scenes themselves. Guitar wails on the soundtrack accompany most of what we see. Many of McClung's ingenious fighting moves have to be seen to be believed. Somewhere in the midst of all this absurdity appears Jim Mitchum, who boasts a series of fascinating shirts. He plays a Vietnam vet/strip club bartender who is buddies with Lambert. He was probably happy to be there.
Interestingly, the first company logo we see before the movie begins is not PM or AIP, or something else, but none other than Pan Am Airlines. Of all the potential projects that Pan Am could have put its corporate muscle behind, why did they choose Stickfighter? And couldn't they have given it a bigger budget? But the ultimate question remains: Did Stickfighter ever play as the in-flight movie on any Pan Am flights? Of course, Pan Am doesn't exist anymore. Sure, you could blame Stickfighter, but I'd rather have Stickfighter.
Featuring quick cameos from Nils Allen Stewart and Arsenio "Sonny" Trinidad, we believe Stickfighter is nothing less than an underground classic. If you want to laugh and have a great time while suspended in a state of stupendousness, for the love of all that is good we're begging you to watch STICKFIGHTER!
Militia was a pleasant surprise.
Ethan Carter (Cain) is an ATF agent with an attitude. During a raid on the compound of the so-called MILITIA group Brotherhood of Liberty, Carter manages to shoot and wound its leader, William Fain (Forrest). Fain ends up going to prison, and most of the compound, including the majority of its inhabitants, are torched. Years later, Carter is chosen to go on a very special mission. He must go undercover as a member of Brotherhood of Liberty, and to accompany him, none other than Fain gets a get out of jail free card. The two unlikely allies have to find some missing anthrax because some baddies are going to attach it to a missile and launch it. Carter doesn't want to work with ATF newbie Julie Sanders (Beals), but it's going to take all they've got to stop arch-baddie George Armstrong Montgomery (Keach)...or is there a wider conspiracy afoot?
Militia was a pleasant surprise. Maybe it's because we were expecting the worst when we went in, but we thought it was entertaining and likely the best Wynorski movie we've reviewed to date. Now, that's not to say a lot of the elements he consistently uses aren't here, including recycled footage from Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), American Ninja 2 (1987), Delta Force 2 (1990), and Terminator 2 (1991). Hell, why didn't he just call the movie Militia 2? But the dialogue is pretty snappy, the pace is quick, and it's somewhat fun to play "spot the footage". It's interpolated into the movie better at some times than at others, but Militia still has other strong points to boast...
It has a fine cast of character actors and they all do their jobs well. Fan favorite Dean Cain turns on the charm and the witty repartee as he goes into action as the fairly belligerent ATF agent, and Jennifer Beals as his sidekick provides him a worthy foil. Frederic Forrest gives Cain even more to worry about as the conflicted militia member with his political beliefs, and Jeff Kober is on hand as one of his fellow militia-ists. The centerpiece of them all is the great Stacy Keach, of course, and while he was excellent as the talk radio host-turned-aspiring-world-dominator, it's the type of role Keach could do in his sleep. Our guess is he didn't feel too challenged by the part. But it's almost always a joy to see him in action.
Honorable mention should go to one Michael Cavanaugh, who played Donaman, as he stood out in that role. The only puzzling thing in the cast department is the nothing role of Brett Butler, who has a mere cameo as a bartender. But since there was a lot of machine gun shooting, rockets being launched, and at least one exploding helicopter around her, perhaps she was attempting to show us the true meaning of "Grace Under Fire"!
One of the great things about DTV movies is that they can be cranked out relatively quickly, so they can stay on the pulse of what's happening in real life. Fascinatingly, Militia, with all its talk of terrorism and governmental weakness and botchings, came out before 9/11. Also, there are references to incidents like Waco and Ruby Ridge so it can stay relevant and "ripped from the headlines". And if all that doesn't float your boat, you can always check out the local country store featured in the film, which advertises such things as "cash for roadkill" and something called "peppered cowboy jerky". Figuring out what that is just may be the ultimate mystery of the movie.
Militia must be the best - or one of the best - DTV action movies to come out in the otherwise rather dreary year of 2000. As long as you keep your perspective while doing so, we say check it out.
Exit Wounds (2001)
Exit Wounds is a career highlight for Seagal.
Orin Boyd (Mr. Seagal) is a Detroit cop who doesn't play by the rules, is a lone wolf, doesn't like authority, and all that stuff. Even though his valiant efforts saved the life of the Vice President, because he cut through all the departmental red tape, he must be punished for that. So he gets transferred to a much more "urban" police precinct. While the department is headed by the well-intentioned Annette Mulcahy (Hennessy), Boyd uncovers a cadre of corrupt cops under her command. However, besides putting a stop to the corruption, Boyd has to deal with having to attend anger management classes. It's here he meets local TV host Henry Wayne (Arnold). Finally, Boyd has to contend with Latrell Walker (DMX) and his partner Trish (Mendes) - not to mention their compatriot T.K. (Anderson) - in the quest for justice. Who will suffer the most EXIT WOUNDS?
EXIT WOUNDS is an enjoyable, fast-paced, and professionally-made Seagal outing. Its mix of action and comedy is palatable, and the production values are high. Sadly, this was one of the last times Seagal would go to the movie theater. Within the next couple of years, he became stranded on DTV island. Since this was before that, the violence never gets too brutal (at least it's not sadistic) and Seagal even gets to exercise his comic timing.
Most of the comedy, however, is left to Tom Arnold and Anthony Anderson, with generally good results. After the movie ends, and during the credits, there is a scene with just the two of them riffing off one another, and it's one of the better scenes in the movie. Director Bartkowiak just sat them in chairs next to each other and let them rip. Smart idea. One of the other strengths of 'Wounds is its cast. Perhaps realizing that by 2001, Seagal couldn't carry a movie all by himself, the movie got loaded up with great people and familiar faces.
For instance, Boyd, for all intents and purposes, gets both a WYC (White Yelling Chief) AND a BYC (Black Yelling Chief) in the forms of McGill and Duke, respectively. It's always nice to see them both. And lest we forget DMX, who acquits himself admirably. In many scenes, DMX is onscreen while DMX music is playing in the background. That's DMX on top of DMX. He even gets to act alongside one of his fellow Ruff Ryders in a few scenes. At least Drag-On got to go to the theater once in his life. Somehow Jill Hennessy looks better and younger here than she did in Law & Order. And, finally, there's fan favorite Michael Jai White. The fight between Seagal and White should have been longer and better. That was a minor disappointment, but apparently the fight wasn't planned and was more or less improvised on the set. Bearing that in mind, it's not that bad, but it still left something to be desired.
Bartkowiak also directed the very similar Romeo Must Die (2000) and Cradle 2 the Grave (2003). Though he was born in 1950 in Poland, somehow he really understands the American "urban" experience. Or at least his Hollywood bosses think he does. Perhaps he is just homies with DMX. You gotta love DMX-fu. Bartkowiak keeps things moving well, and while there are some very silly moments during the fight scenes (not the least of which include speed-ups/slow-downs and wirework), all in all it's pretty enjoyable stuff. The energy level remains high (Tom Arnold alone is like a one-man generator) and the audience remains entertained, and isn't that the important thing? Plus it has one of the best exploding helicopter scenes we've seen to date.
In the end, Exit Wounds is a career highlight for Seagal. Outside of his initial "three-word" trilogy, this is probably one of his best movies.
Karate Raider (1995)
Karate Raider remains one of the rarest Marchini's!
Jake Turner (Marchini) is in Colombia Punchfighting for money and generally looking for a new assignment. His old buddy Bill Digger (Estevez) contacts him about a missing government agent, Jennifer Boyden (Gaunt). It affects both of them personally because she's the daughter of their old Marine Sergeant. Digger has already sent another soldier to try and find her, a man named Edwards (Rogers). But Edwards was captured by the evil super-criminal Pike (Meyer). When even Digger falls into the hands of Pike, Jake Turner now has to save him, Edwards, and Jennifer. He certainly has his work cut out for him. Can Jake save the hostages and finally defeat Pike? Find out today!
Sadly, Karate Raider was Ron Marchini's last film role. But it's the first credit ever for Joe Carnahan, who wrote the movie with Marchini. Carnahan went on to direct Narc (2002) and become a big name in Hollywood. So, circle of life. It's also the only role for one Shelly Gaunt, who played Jennifer. But it's probably just as well. It's pretty surprising, given Marchini's off-screen status as a Martial Artist, and the penchant for Punchfighting movies at the time, that he never made an out-and-out movie about Punchfighting. Karate Raider is as close as we'll get, with one scene. Then his film career ended, in our opinion, prematurely. But judging from Marchini's vest and fedora, as well as the musical score, and the title of the movie, it seems this was his answer to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). While no one is going to mistake Marchini for Harrison Ford, there are still moments to be savored here.
On the cliche radar is the fact that Digger gets Turner for this mission because "he's the best". And you have to love a baddie that not only wears a tracksuit for the entire movie, but his eyepatch looks homemade from black construction paper. That sort of craftsmanship was truly Pike's peak. Worth noting is the preponderance of great yells and screams in this movie. It's not known whether these were written into the script by Carnahan and Marchini, but it seems in most of the fight scenes, at least one person does an extended (too long?) bellow of "Aaaaaaaaggggghhhhh......AAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!" And this yelling is going on when there's no bickering between the unlikable Jennifer and Marchini, or the shooting of baddies. So the formula seems to be kicking-punching-shooting-bickering-yelling, so it's no surprise that the movie slumps at times, but utter absurdities like the helicopter/raft chase and Marchini's completely unnecessary and amazingly wooden narration keep things afloat. Much like Jake Turner's badass raft. (Yes, he has a badass raft. You got a problem with that?)
Also in the "Huh?" department is a brief sit-down role from Burt Ward. His front-and-center placement on some box art doesn't exactly match his screen time. But I can see why the distributors did that. We can't count the times We've been in a video store, just browsing, and we picked up a video that we've never heard of before and yelled "BURT WARD's in this? Sold!" Or maybe we were just confusing him with Burt Young. Nevertheless, the presence of Ward is really, in actuality, just a testament to how much Marchini must have loved the old Batman TV show - let's not forget Adam West is in Omega Cop (1990).
Karate Raider remains one of the rarest Marchini's - to date it has only been released on VHS in the Netherlands, just like Jungle Wolf (1986). He must have an amazing fanbase in that part of the world. Regardless, it makes a decent enough capper to his screen career, but we have to say, we were left wanting more. Mr. Marchini, it's never too late to come back.
Best just to avoid this movie and move on with your life.
When Ambassador Clarence Rodman (Scott) - who probably isn't related to basketballer/honorary North Korean Dennis Rodman - is on a speeding train somewhere in Kenya, things start to look bad. Little does he, or anyone else, know that super-evil terrorist mastermind Jafari Bin Kasim (Caprari) is on the loose. So, naturally, the DELTA FORCE is sent in. Let by Captain Kennedy (Thomas) and Sgt. Johnson (Jensen), the boys get involved in endless firefights and bombings in and around Kenya. When certain people are held prisoner by Jafari - who probably isn't related to the bad guy from Aladdin - Kennedy wants answers, but he's not getting any info from the military brass. After a wave of suicide bombings in America, the DELTA FORCE decides to go back to Africa to save their missing compatriots. Will they hit their mark? Or will it just be a bunch of RANDOM FIRE?
OPERATION DELTA FORCE 5: RANDOM FIRE is a cross between a generic and characterless Nu Image modern-day war actioner and a movie that can predict the future. Sure, there are the endless, repetitive shooting/blow up scenes we've all come to expect, but let's keep in mind this has a copyright date of 1999 and was released in 2000 - and it features a terrorist using a plane to crash into something as a weapon of war, there are many sleeper cells and suicide bombings, and there is a Boston bombing. All pre-9/11. So, pretty impressive for a DTV war movie with nothing else to distinguish it.
The audience knows Jafari Bin Kasim is evil because:
- He has a ponytail
- He looks like Al Pacino after a night of binge drinking
- His name is Jafari Bin Kasim
- He pronounces the word "missiles" as "misSYLes"
...among other rather obvious clues. The movie needed more Jafari. And even during the Jafari we did get, most of Jafari's face is obscured by bizarre and unneeded close ups while he's looking through binoculars and singing "Glory, Glory Hallelujah" as the signal to ignite his suicide bombers. While he was onscreen, at least there was some mild tension and/or lack of boredom. But the filmmakers must have thought audiences would be okay without him.
In classic B-movie fashion, all the people we see look like other people. Is that Anthony Michael Hall? No, it's Trae Thomas. Is that the guy from Seinfeld? No, that's...someone else. Is that Todd Jensen? No, that's...Todd Jensen. After seeing many movies with him, we're still not sure what he looks like.
While there are a lot of war clichés, there are also plenty of things action movies used to have back in the good old days: exploding helicopters, guard tower falls, guard tower explosions, repeated footage, borrowed footage, and stuff like that. But it's not enough to make the movie interesting or worthwhile. Some characterization might have helped. Just a thought.
However, our favorite character comes along towards the end of the movie. We don't think he has a name, but we could be wrong. He's a guy shooting a machine gun out of a helicopter. The top half of his face is obscured by his helmet visor. He displays no emotion whatsoever, never says anything, and never changes his body position or his gun position. He's just an unsmiling, seemingly random guy with a gun who can't be bothered to do anything else. It was pretty funny...if you ever see this movie, lord help you, you will recognize him based on our description, we're sure.
Oh yeah, one more thing. Please allow us to quote from the back of the TVA Films (Canada) DVD box. It says, in part, after attempting to describe the plot for a few sentences: "The inquiry is interrupted when news arrives that the three men left behind are now being held prisoner in Angola by terrorist Osama Bin Laden." Wait a minute. Are they allowed to do that? We were led to believe old Osama himself would make an appearance in this movie. So, naturally, like any sane individual, we purchased the DVD at the library store for two dollars. It could just be that the box-writer was confused by the actual baddie's name, Jafari Bin Kasim, but the only similarity is the "Bin"...which is exactly where this godforsaken DVD should rightfully go.
We kid, of course, but no Osamas are to be found. The main selling point is a sham. That's classic exploitation for ya. Well, anyway, best just to avoid this movie and move on with your life.