Dragon Fire (1993)

Dragon Fire (1993)- * *

Directed by: Rick Jacobson

Starring: Dominick LaBanca, Pamela Bond, and Kisu

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.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Body Count (1995)

Body Count (1995)- * *

AKA: Codename: The Silencer

Directed by: Talun Hsu

Starring: Robert Davi, Steven Bauer, Sonny Chiba, Brigitte Nielsen, Cindy Ambuehl, and Jan-Michael Vincent

“It’s the 90’s!” – Eddie Cook

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 d├ęcor.

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.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty