Ninja III: The Domination (1984)

Ninja III: The Domination (1984)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Sam Firstenberg

Starring: Lucinda Dickey, Sho Kosugi, Jordon Bennett, and James Hong

Christie (Dickey) is just going about her day as a worker for Metro Telephone when a dying ninja bestows upon her a magical sword. Suddenly, Christie starts acting very weird and ninja-y, which concerns her new boyfriend, police officer and body hair enthusiast Billy Secord (Bennett). As it turns out, the spirit of the ninja has inhabited Christie’s body, and is now attempting to get revenge on the group of cops that murdered him. Now officially a were-ninja, Christie is taken by Billy to a ninja exorcist, or “Nexorcist” as they are known in the biz, Miyashima (Hong). When the ninja’s old rival, Yamada (Kosugi) shows up, things get really complicated. Will the lovely Christie ever be the same again? Or will her closet be forever filled with black outfits and her purse filled with throwing stars?

Yes, the above description is entirely accurate and is a real movie. Needless to say, we loved it and you gotta see it! This is a Cannon production directed by Cannon mainstay Sam Firstenberg, who that same year would also direct Lucinda Dickey in Breakin’ 2 (1984). And in 1983, he directed Revenge of the Ninja (1983). Interestingly, though this movie is called Ninja 3, technically this is the third in a trilogy: Enter the Ninja (1981), Revenge of the Ninja, and this - even though none of these movies were ever called, simply, “Ninja”. Regardless, Ninja III is interesting, entertaining, and certainly never boring.

The movie is filled with 80’s genius: great outfits, makeup and hair, Christie has an arcade game called Bouncer in her apartment, and in her spare time does aerobics on shag carpeting. Musicians Harpaz and Segal are credited not with just a score, but a “synth score”! It’s all just awesome. And adding to all the ninja action, stunts and inventiveness, the filmmakers added some horror elements inspired by the Nightmare on Elm Street Series, the Exorcist series and even Ghostbusters. They were obviously unafraid to bend the rules of the ninja movie and crossed genres. The result is a completely fresh take on the ninja boom movie which is a joy to watch. 

Right from the get-go, when the ninja finds some ninja gear in a glowing box in a cave near a golf course, you know something great is about to happen. And once the “golf cops” show up - watch out! And we didn’t even really talk about the great Sho Kosugi - but he’s present and accounted for, and does his usual great job.

Filled with cool moments, there’s so much to love about Ninja III. And you’ll never look at V8 juice quite the same way again. In a good way.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Hit List (1989)

Hit List (1989)-* * * *

Directed by: William Lustig

Starring: Jan-Michael Vincent, Leo Rossi, Rip Torn, Charles Napier, Ken Lerner, Frank Pesce, Junior Richard, and Lance Henriksen

Vic Luca (Torn) is a John Gotti-like mob boss who is going to be convicted in court - if his mob underlings can testify. But Luca sends a shoe salesman/psychopathic hit man, Caleek (Henriksen) to kill them so they can’t spill the beans. Purely by chance, Caleek invades the home of innocent man Jack Collins (Vincent), intent on killing him, believing him to be potential informant Frank DeSalvo (Rossi). DeSalvo is being protected before the trial by Tom Mitchum (Napier), an FBI agent on the edge, in a house across the street. When Caleek kidnaps Collins’ son and puts his wife in the hospital - and Luca’s goons cross DeSalvo as well - the two guys create an unlikely partnership to get revenge.

Why is this movie so under-appreciated and unrecognized? If you said to someone “Oh, I watched Hit List last night”, more than likely, they would say, “Huh?” That’s unfortunate, as a movie with the star quality this movie has, directed by William Lustig SHOULD be a well-known “video store classic” as we say. Maybe now that can start to be corrected.

Here we get to see Lance Henriksen as you really want to see him - in a very meaty role as an incredibly brutal bad guy. It’s truly “Lance Unleashed” as he has an evil beret and an evil crossbow/grappling hook/zipline, as well as some nasty martial arts moves.  Leo Rossi is also memorable as DeSalvo, a man who still believes in the codes of honor of the mafia - at least for a while. Vincent mainly just says “Gimme back my son” many times, which, of course, predates Ransom (1996). Rip Torn, who doesn’t often appear in movies like this, puts in an off-kilter, energetic role. Even Charles Napier gets to flex some muscle.

But, by far, the two best things about Hit List are 1. This movie is really politically incorrect - it was made in a time before PC stuff existed and it’s really beautiful to watch. Thank God things like this were preserved for posterity. and 2. the scene in the Photon arcade. (For those that don’t know, Photon was a competitor to Laser Tag, and in some places was replaced by Q-Zar, where kids run around with laser guns and shoot each other). Another awesome preservation.

In all, Hit List is an enjoyable film with a nice pace with a lot of familiar faces. What’s not to like?

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Twin Dragon Encounter (1986)

Twin Dragon Encounter (1986)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Paul Dunlop

Starring: Michael McNamara, Martin McNamara, and B.Bob

Now here’s a gem! Michael and Martin McNamara here play...Michael and Martin McNamara, two martial arts instructors on the mean streets of Canada. Tired of having to break up brawls in the park where middle-aged white men threaten to harm dogs if they’re not left alone, the two identical twins leave the big city for a week’s vacation on Twin Island, their own property in rural Pointe Au Baril, Canada. Once there, the men and their girlfriends have a grand old time swimming, boating, and avoiding bears by sleeping in a treehouse. We even get to see the twins’ prankster side. But there is a gang of “weekend warriors” trying to spoil their fun. A group called “The People’s Private Army”, led by the evil Jake (B.Bob, who else) is constantly terrorizing the couples. Eventually, the baddies kidnap the girls and the Twin Dragons must use every tool at their disposal and a fleet of vehicles hidden under leaves and twigs to rescue them. Will they be successful?

Yes, this is one of THOSE movies. You’ve heard of non-acting, now get prepared for non-directing as well. Sure, this is one notch above a home movie, but they got it released on Vidmark, and it presumably got distributed all over the world. You see, it’s not about budget or experienced actors and technicians, it’s about heart and soul. The McNamaras, and the project they built for themselves here, has that DIY spirit and they really achieved something here.

It should be noted that there is an on-screen crawl a la Star Wars to let us know we’re in for an epic experience (there’s also a brief post-movie crawl as well), and in it, among other claims, it is said that the McNamaras, and I quote, “know the meaning of life”. Far from being an exaggeration, and a weird one at that, the answer is clearly Billy Butt, the musician behind the oft-repeated tunes in this movie, “The Right to Fight” and “Faces”. These rockin’ and catchy songs, not to mention the artist’s name, must have some connection to the meaning of life.

The twins resemble Frank Zappa and have thick Canadian accents. They wear Karate outfits as daily wear, and there are many shots of their martial arts studio in Ontario, as well as their vans, emblazoned with the name, address and phone number of said studio.  Their fighting style is not bad at all, but most of the fight scenes have bizarre slow motion and wacky sound effects. Just check out the roadside diner fight, it’s really...one of a kind. 

The movie is 79 minutes long, and that includes 9 minutes of recap of what they felt were the best scenes, as well as some additional credits. That includes a credit letting us know the true independence of this movie. Kids could look up to the McNamaras, and surely in Canada, they do. The Vidmark box makes all kinds of hyperbolic claims about the classic status of this movie, and they seem to have pasted the heads of the two brothers on other people’s bodies.  But will this movie ever make it to DVD?

For a hilarious great time, check out martial arts Canada-style and Encounter this winner tonight!

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


CyberTracker (1994)

CyberTracker (1994)-* * *

Directed by: Richard Pepin

Starring: Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Richard Norton, John Aprea, Stacie Foster, Joseph Ruskin, and Steve Burton

In the Los Angeles of the future, crime is rampant. So to help clear up the overly clogged judicial system, Senator Dilly (Aprea) institutes the American Computerized Judicial System. This basically consists of a robot, or android, or cyborg, or whatever (actually called a Tracker), that metes out justice right there on the spot, which means he’s just going to shoot you. Dilly’s bodyguards are Phillips (Wilson) and Ross (Norton). An underground movement of anti-robot revolutionaries springs up named the Union for Human Rights, who protest all of Dilly’s ideas and plans. When Phillips falls in with this crew, Ross feels he knows too much and the former co-workers become mortal enemies on opposite sides of the issues. What will become the nature of justice in America? Find out by letting CyberTracker tell you today!

Here we have a cross between R.O.T.O.R (1988)., American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (1993), Abraxas (1990), and Future Force (1989), along with fellow PM vehicle Hologram Man (1995) and more mainstream fare such as Universal Soldier (1992), The Terminator (1984), Terminator 2 (1991) and Robocop (1987). But since it’s a PM, it has all the high-quality explosions and action/stunt setpieces they’re known for. And the movie as a whole is well-shot, in the PM style. So that prevents it from being your average sci-fi slog. But, falling into a common trap of low-budget future movies, everything is written in “future font”, so you KNOW you’re in the future. Just see David Heavener’s Twisted Justice (1990) for further proof.

That being said, the film drags once Phillips gets involved with the Union for Human Rights, but this is quickly corrected by the final fight between fan-favorites Richard Norton and Don the Dragon. Together at last, it’s really a fan’s dream to see them together. Their final fight is certainly worth seeing. Both Norton and Wilson show their prowess well in this movie, and it’s always fun to see that the many goons all think they can take down Don the Dragon.

As the bodyguard of Senator Silly...er...I mean DILLY, Wilson looks especially like Lou Diamond Phillips here. And his character’s name is Phillips? Could that possibly be a coincidence?

While the bald “judge jury and executioner” of the Tracker is a bit too ROTOR-y for its own good, it was played by Jim Maniaci of Timebomb (1991) and Cartel (1990) fame. Of the protestors, whose big gripe is that “Computers don’t have hearts”, Art Camacho appears. Wait until these people get a load of Apple. Hey-Oh! (to quote Ed McMahon). In another weird parallel, Phillips has a computerized companion in his apartment with a female voice named Agnes 1000. This is a lot like what Ed Marinaro has in The Protector (1999).

CyberTracker is a good chance to see two of the DTV genre’s leading lights in an offering by one of the top companies. Does it fulfill all the promise that description holds? Maybe not entirely, but you should probably see this anyway.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Rage and Honor II: Hostile Takeover (1993)

Rage and Honor II: Hostile Takeover (1993)-* * *

Directed by: Guy Norris

Starring: Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Patrick Muldoon, Ron Vreeken, Frans Tumbuan, and Tanaka

Rothrock and Norton reprise their roles as Kris Fairchild and Preston Michaels in this sequel that is superior to the original film.

Kris is now a CIA agent who is sent to Jakarta to go undercover in a bank to investigate the money laundering of Gerald Andrews (Soucy).  Meanwhile, Preston works in a run-down bar and does a lot of boxing on the side. For some unknown reason, he takes on a spoiled, unlikable, arrogant student, Tommy Andrews, the son of Gerald. As it turns out, Gerald is working closely with nefarious gangster Buntao (Tumbuan). There’s also a cache of diamonds at stake in the ensuing gangster wars, with Kris and Preston caught in the middle. They’ll have to use their teamwork and fighting skills to get out of this mess...

Rothrock and Norton are always pleasant to watch, both individually and together. There are some nice fights in this film, and, as always, you can actually see the action with no stupid tricks or fast cuts. There was some cool inventiveness as well, as Norton beat up a baddie with a raw fish, leading to perhaps the first “fish-fighting” scene in recent memory.  For as awesome as Rothrock and Norton are, Patrick Muldoon is as lame. Well, his character as a preppy jerk is pretty effective. Maybe it’s not Muldoon, it’s Tommy Andrews who the audience will not like. Buntao is more likable.

Also we have Ron Vreeken as the classic heavy/bodyguard, the man they call “Blondie”. I guess they couldn’t get Matthias Hues. Vreeken was last seen in the Norton vehicles Deathfight (1994) and Under the Gun (1995), so they must be buddies. He was also seen in Hurricane Smith (1992).

Director Guy Norris, presumably no relation to the Norris family that produced Chuck, Aaron and Mike, primarily is known for his stunt work, having been the stunt coordinator on countless films, including Day of the Panther (1988) and the aforementioned Hurricane Smith. It was a wise choice to put him in the director’s chair because he understands action and delivers plenty of it to the audience, leading to the rare improvement for a sequel.

You can rarely go wrong with Rothrock and/or Norton, as this golden-age-of-the-video-store action movie amply proves.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Gymkata (1985)

Gymkata (1985)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Robert Clouse

Starring: Kurt Thomas, Richard Norton, Tetchie Agbayani, Buck Kartalian, Conan Lee, and John Barrett

More like GEMkata! Here’s an excellent example of something that only could have happened in the 80’s - further proof that the 80’s rule!

When the U.S. government singles out the tiny European country of Parmistan for a secret site needed for the nuclear secrets of the Star Wars program, they think all will go smoothly. Instead, the throwbacks of this country have a yearly Most Dangerous Game-like game called...well...The Game. The Feds need someone who can infiltrate the country and not just set up the Nuke sites, but actually WIN The Game as well. So naturally they pick the only man on earth suited for the job: an Olympic gymnast named Jonathan Cabot (Thomas)!

Adding to his Olympic skills, he is trained in the fighting arts by a number of trainers. But it’s going to take all his skill and cunning to beat the sinister Zamir (Norton), the leader of The Game and a ruthless assassin. Jonathan also must protect The Princess Rubali (Agbayani of Norton vehicle Deathfight  fame) from Zamir, who is going to marry her in a royal ceremony without her permission. It’s all spearheaded by The Khan of Parmistan (isn’t that a kind of cheese?) (the great Buck Kartalian). Can Jonathan Cabot flip, flop and fly to freedom?

It’s pretty easy math to do: Gymnastics + Karate = GYMKATA! (Presumably the writers felt “gymkarate” didn’t leave much to the imagination). It’s such a great idea. We’re happy it was actually made. What’s hilarious about this newfangled fighting style, and the way Kurt Thomas executes it, is that there are so many unnecessary moves. Never mind the fact that there is Olympic gymnastics equipment in the middle of nowhere that just appears. Sure, Kurt Thomas doesn’t have much of a personality, but he’s not annoying, and his sweaters and mullet are cool.

Richard Norton, a Comeuppance Reviews hero, is great as the bearded, rat-tailed Zamir (who we think might be a master of the pan flute). Not only is the overall concept of the movie imaginative and different, it had the power of Warner Brothers behind it, so it actually had something of a budget and distribution. 

Just check out the bombastic, awesome score by Alfi Kabiljo. His booming music helps sell the Gymkata concept and paste over some of the dodgier aspects of the plot and acting. We’re glad director Robert Clouse felt the greatness of Gymkata needed a worthy score. Speaking of Clouse, he was probably trying to do with Kurt Thomas what he “did” with Bruce Lee. Do you think it worked?

And we got this far without even mentioning the infamous “Town Of the Crazies”! We spend a lot of time there as viewers, so be ready. It comes complete with what every town should have, a pommel horse in the town square. Will it be used? Also watch out for Punchfighting legend John Barrett as a competitor, and Conan Lee of Armed Response (1986) fame. Not to mention the funny ninjas (the movie was shot in Yugoslavia, so we can only assume they are Yugo-Ninjas, perhaps a cinematic first).

There’s an excellent, inexpensive DVD from WB out there that contains the excellent trailer. You must own it. There’s no excuse for not seeing Gymkata.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Armed Response (1986)

Armed Response (1986)-* * *

Directed by: Fred Olen Ray

Starring: David Carradine, Lee Van Cleef, Mako, Brent Huff, Lois Hamilton, Ross Hagen, Michael Berryman, and Dick Miller

Jim Roth (Carradine) is a Vietnam veteran, family man, and owner of a bar. His father Burt (Van Cleef) hangs out there, as do other brothers Tommy (Huff) and Clay (Goss). It’s a close family, as Jim’s wife Sara (Hamilton) and young daughter Lauren (Chodan) also stop by on occasion. But the Roth family is about to encounter some trouble in the form of Yakuza boss Akira Tanaka (Mako), who desperately wants a valuable statue and will stop at nothing to get it, mainly because he will use it as a bargaining chip to prevent a Chinatown mob war with the Tongs. 

When Clay stupidly gets involved with Tanaka (and his evil bodyguard F.C. (Berryman), it sets off a chain of events where various members of the Roth family get in trouble - and Jim, who suffers from Vietnam flashbacks and nightmares, must team up with his, and I quote, “pappy”, Burt, to go back into an American-Asian war by gearing up to blow away the Yakuza. Add into this mix the slimy Cory Thorton (Hagen), as well as other various and sundry unsavory characters, and there’s going to have to be an ARMED RESPONSE!

The prolific Fred Olen Ray followed this movie up with Cyclone (1987), and you can identify this period of his long career, as the two films share many traits. They’re both fast-paced actioners loaded with B-movie stars about underworld characters trying to get a certain item, with one torture scene. They also both have that 80’s vibe and plenty of memorable music on the soundtrack.

It’s truly a case of “spot the stars” as almost every character in the movie is a B-film name. It would be impossible to go into detail about each and every one, but Lee Van Cleef is memorable as the dad we all want. He gets all the best lines in the movie. Why he’s supposed to be David Carradine’s - as well as Brent Huff’s - FATHER is kind of weird, but it adds to the fun. Carradine puts more energy into his performance than he did in Future Force (1989), but that’s not saying much. And the daughter, Dah-Ve Chodan, can proudly stand in the pantheon of cute and precocious daughters alongside Lauren Levy, Sarah Dampf and Lisa Boynton. Mako brings his memorable voice and evil walking stick along and is menacing as the baddie. And it’s nice to see Michael Berryman in an action movie.

From the funny opening, to the prerequisite barfight, to the fact that the Vietnam flashbacks provide added action bits, as well as some depth of characterization, to the stuntwork (featuring all the car chases and shootouts you would expect), and the fairly short running time, Armed Response certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome.

The “older” action stars Carradine and Van Cleef show that you don’t have to be a young punk to beat the baddies, and there’s a nice message of family togetherness and even some Reagan-era patriotism, which we always like seeing.

Armed Response is a nice little flick that’s certainly worth checking out.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Quiet Cool (1986)

Quiet Cool (1986)-* * *

Directed by: Clay Borris

Starring: James Remar, Adam Coleman Howard, Daphne Ashbrook, Jared Martin, Joe Sagal, Chris Mulkey, and Nick Cassavetes

Joe Dylanne (Remar) is an NYC cop on the edge who always gets his man. One day, he gets a call from his former girlfriend Katy (Ashbrook), asking for his help. It seems some of her relatives have disappeared and she wants Joe to investigate. He agrees, and he travels to a very, very rural town called Babylon somewhere in the Northwest (the movie doesn’t specifically say what state, but it was filmed in California). It turns out that evil marijuana growers and dealers are taking over the town, and Katy’s family ran afoul of them. The only survivor was Josh (Adam Coleman Howard). Now the city cop with the bad attitude and the rural survivalist boy must team up in order to get revenge on the baddies, led by Prior (Martin) and Valence (Cassavetes).

Quiet Cool is a highly entertaining and solid film that deserves more attention. God bless the 80’s, when movies like this were being made by the boatload. The only problem is, the quality was coming so thick and fast back then, it was hard to keep up and a lot of movies that should get more recognition fell through the cracks. That’s yet another reason why video stores are so important. Quiet Cool is one of those movies. It’s 80’s awesomeness through and through, from its sax-drenched soundtrack to its Western-style ending.

Remar is perfect as Dylanne, the guy that doesn’t go anywhere - ANYWHERE - without his motorcycle. He plays the country mouse/city mouse role but with an edge. He’s a law and order kind of guy, but realizes that these villains are ruthless and evil, and this is now the law of the jungle, or at least forest. His conversion to the ways of revenge will have you cheering. Howard as the boy who shows a surprising aptitude for killing people is a worthy foil. Cassavetes as Valence strongly resembles Elvis.

It’s important to remember that back in the 80’s, pot dealing was thought of as a much more serious threat than it is today. Now all the pot stuff you see is played for dumb laughs, so, when viewing Quiet Cool through 21st century eyes, you might say “what’s the big deal”, but that’s incorrect. You have to think back to Nancy Reagan and “Just Say No”. Here, the pot dealers are EVIL and that’s perfectly valid. In many ways, Quiet Cool resembles The Devastator (1985), but it had the power of the burgeoning New Line behind it, so it just has a more professional look.

Naturally, there is a title song, and this one’s very impressive. It’s rockin’, it says the name of the film, and is unbelievably catchy. “Quiet Cool” (the song) by Joe Lamont should have been a huge hit on the charts. Quiet Cool (the movie) has some good violence, and doesn’t waste a minute of your time. With a schedule-friendly running time of less than 80 minutes, there’s no excuse for not checking out this fine film.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Kill Squad (1982)

Kill Squad (1982)-* * * *

Directed by: Patrick G. Donahue

Starring: Jeff Risk, Jean Glaude, Gary Fung, Marc Sabin, Jerry Johnson, Francisco Ramirez, Bill Cambra, and Cameron Mitchell

When ne’er do-wells from a rival electronics company (!) rape his wife and put him in a wheelchair, Joseph Lawrence (presumably not the guy who says “Whoa!” from the show Blossom), (Risk), assembles a multi-racial “Kill Squad” to find the culprits and get revenge. He calls on his old Vietnam buddies Larry (Glaude), Tommy (Fung), Arthur (Sabin), K.C. (Johnson), Pete (Francisco Ramirez of Omega Cop, 1990 fame), and Alan (Bill Cambra). Each bring their own special skills and talents to the table. It turns out they’re on the hunt for the notorious Dutch (Mitchell). As if this mission wasn’t dangerous enough, a mysterious assassin seems to turn up everywhere they go and is attempting to pick them off one by one. Will this particular “Kill Squad” be effective?

This very enjoyable gem contains plenty of funny and memorable nuggets that will surely satisfy anyone who loves the “cheap and cheerful” drive-in action/martial arts style. Sure, the punches and kicks don’t technically connect, and the non-actors are...well...not actors, but who cares? The clothes, the music, the decor, and the overall style is very fun and you really get into the spirit. The great thing about movies in general is how they preserve on film the styles of the time, and there is even a scene which shows a movie poster for a long-forgotten adult film called Passion Procession. If not for Kill Squad, we wouldn’t be bringing that movie - or at least its title - up here today.

One of the best sequences of the film is when the squad is being assembled. With a simple “Joseph needs you”, every guy simply drops whatever they’re doing in their life and without any questions or comments, agrees to go along for the ride. This despite knowing all the (Jeff) Risks. The movie gets better as it goes along, and one of the best things about Kill Squad is not only the constant fights, but that EVERYBODY fights! Random people at parties, armies of used car salesmen, everybody! Somehow, in the wacky world of Kill Squad, every single person on earth knows Martial Arts and is more than willing to use it. And everything inbetween the fights serves the fight - no matter how absurd. That’s one of the glorious things about this movie - it’s willing to do anything, including breaking the rules, to satisfy the audience. God bless them.

As stated earlier, the music, which is by Joseph Conlan, stands out, as does the violence. Everything is cranked up here, and the effect is winning. Fan favorite Cam Mitchell appears as the bad guy, and it would have been nice if he had more screen time. That’s really the only mild issue we could find with this great movie. It would make an excellent double feature with Death Machines (1976).

Assemble the squad and watch this movie tonight!

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Assassin (1970)

Assassin (1970)-* * *

Directed by: Yukio Noda

Starring: Sonny Chiba and Jiro Chiba

Hayata  is an undercover cop assigned to infiltrate not one, but two rival Yakuza gangs - the Natsui Company and the Seiwa gang. Both gangs are vying for control of the typical things - drugs, territory, etc. Things get complicated when Hayata gets into a relationship with a young schoolteacher, the daughter of a fellow officer who was slain by one of the gangs. And when Hayata’s brother Ishiguro (real-life brother Jiro Chiba) becomes entangled as well, things get really crazy. Will Hayata get out of this mess?

Assassin is a typically colorful Japanese outing that throws a lot at the viewer - everything from wacky comedy, to romance, to James Bond-style heroics, to violence and even psychedelics very much of the era. For some strange reason, all these highly comic book-y antics all work in the context of this movie and the results are very enjoyable indeed.  There is a lot of technical inventiveness going on behind the camera which helps propel the movie along, and the clothing the characters wear is excellent and maintains the viewers’ interest on that alone.

Assassin is every bit as good as a movie by Seijun Suzuki, but will this film be coming out on the much-vaunted “Criterion Collection” like some of Suzuki’s movies? Not likely. This exposes the Criterion people as hypocritical snobs, as if I needed to do so.  In the 80’s, this movie came out on CBS-Fox Home Video, in a very cool medium-big box with a slide-out tape holder. This release is riddled with inaccuracies: for example, it says the movie came out in 1977 and was directed by a “Tachiichi Sakimori” - wrong on both counts - and, believe it or not, the tape goes back and forth with its dubbing (which is of course of the silly, loud and dumb variety) - some scenes are dubbed and others are not. It practically goes back and forth throughout the whole movie. It’s not done for effect, perhaps it was laziness or lack of caring? We’ll perhaps never know, but there is a region 2 DVD release of this film, let’s hope they corrected this. Also some of the credits are misspelled (“Playwritting", anybody?)

Director Yukio Noda has another movie out on US DVD called Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs (1974), which is also a crazy one and continues his love for torture sequences.  He worked with Chiba a lot, perhaps most famously on Golgo 13 (1977).

No one can take on the bad guys and look as cool and stylish as Sonny Chiba while doing it, and here is a prime example. Dripping with 70’s style, those who like Chiba (are there people out there who don’t?) will find plenty to sink their teeth into here.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


American Justice (1986)

American Justice (1986)-* *

AKA: Jackals

Directed by: Gary Grillo

Starring: Gerald McRaney, Jack Lucarelli, Jameson Parker, Jeannie Wilson, and Wilford Brimley

Joe Case (Lucarelli) is a man from California who comes to visit a small Arizona border community. As an out-of-towner, he witnesses violence, corruption and murder at the hands of the local cops and sheriff. The main antagonist is Jake Wheeler (McRaney), a belligerent racist who has no problem dealing with the Mexican border-crossers...one way or another. Sheriff Mitchell (Brimley) also has an uneasy relationship with Wheeler, a loose cannon. Joe teams up with Dave Buchanon (Parker), one of the good cops, in an attempt to right the situation and bring Jake to justice. But will it be AMERICAN JUSTICE?

Plenty of movies in the 80’s dealt with the subject of the U.S./Mexico border - even on this site alone we have Border Cop (1979), Border Heat (1990) (AKA Deadly Stranger) and now American Justice. THIS particular border movie isn’t really an action movie per se, it’s more of a downbeat, serious drama with some violence/thriller elements. The movie’s attempt at seriousness isn’t a bad thing at all, but the storyline is simplistic, and not a lot happens around it. The movie is almost airy, if that makes any sense. The odd, slow pace isn’t conducive to anything cohesive that will stick in your mind, and the movie becomes forgettable.

Except for a few violent bits, it feels like a TV movie, which isn’t surprising, as that’s the medium director Gary Grillo spent most of his career in. Add to that the presences of McRaney and Parker, known for the show Simon and Simon. Of course, McRaney is also known as “TV’s Major Dad” as well. McRaney is well cast here and acquits himself well, and Wilford Brimley is a bright spot, adding what meat he possibly can to his small role, but there should have been MORE. More plot, more character development, more action, more suspense, more twists, more SOMETHING.

While the VHS in the U.S. was released on one of our favorite labels, Lightning, the tagline used, “Justice from the barrel of a gun”, is sadly not lived up to. It makes you think a bigger, grander movie is forthcoming. Additionally, the box states the running time at 79 minutes, but it’s really 92. Why they did this is unknown. Did they think video store patrons might rent it because it’s not a big drain on their time? If so, it may have backfired, as people want to get as much for their money as they can, and they may have thought a meager 79 minutes is not worth the investment of a video rental. These are the things that keep you up at night. Or at least us.

While not a BAD movie by any means, American Justice isn’t a great one either. File this one under “missed opportunity”.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Private Wars (1993)

Private Wars (1993)-* * *1\2

Directed by: John Weidner

Starring: Steve Railsback, Dan Tullis Jr., Michael Champion, Holly Floria, Vince Murdocco Michael Delano, James Lew, and Stuart Whitman

Jack Manning (Railsback) is a cop who works the seedy streets of Hollywood. Because he plays by his own rules, he is kicked off the force for insubordination. After eight years, he has hit the skids and has become a raging alcoholic. He's also a private investigator. When the local 'hood starts being terrorized by the local hoods, Manning's old cop buddy Mo (Tullis Jr.) seeks his services. It turns out these aren't random street assaults, but a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. The top being the prerequisite evil land developer Winters (Whitman). He's sending the aforementioned punks to drive out the locals because he wants the property. But can Manning clean up the community - and his own life - before it's too late?

Private Wars is pure PM enjoyability at its finest. It has all the classic PM stuntwork we all know and  love - whether the action scene in question has to be there or not. At the flimsiest setup, action ensues. You gotta love it. And the fact that it's all spearheaded by Steve Railsback makes it all the more interesting. Whether oddly cast as an action hero or not, try to imagine Anthony Perkins as a "I'm gonna clean up this town" - style sheriff who drinks heavily and inexplicably has almost superhuman fighting abilities and you might get the picture. 

Throw in a huge dose of The Annihilators (1985) and you have a comic-booky staple of the Fighting Back (1982)-style "Take the Neighborhood Back!" movie that was so prevalent at the time. And while Ronnie is the love interest with the Christina Applegate-like good looks, special marks must go to Dan Tullis Jr. as Mo. His wonderful performance steals the movie. It should also be noted that Michael Delano and Vince Murdocco are on board as well, which adds to the fun.

But the baddies are great too. Especially James Lew as Winters' bodyguard. But the street punks are so great - they strut around town with their boomboxes against their ear (I guess iPods have eliminated this practice) and listen to NWA-like rap music.

It's important to point out that there is a large dose of humor in Private Wars, as exemplified by the "mercenary casting" scene. You'll know it when you see it. It's definitely a highlight of not only this movie, but of the whole PM canon that we've seen to date. What's great is that, whether by accident or design, this movie is so outrageously unrealistic it's hilarious and a genuine treat to watch.

Private Wars deserves better recognition. It's entertaining, funny, and a good time will be had by all who see it. Who could ask for more?

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Frame Up (1991)

Frame Up (1991)-* *1\2

Directed by: Paul Leder

Starring: Wings Hauser, Bobby Di Cicco, Heather Fairfield, Robert Picardo, Tom Hodges, Frances Fisher, and Dick Sargent

Something is rotten in the small town of Orton Creek, California. Some fraternity punks, during a particularly mean-spirited initiation, kill a young pledge. The evil leader of these sadistic ne’er-do-wells is one Don Curran (Hodges). Fearing for their futures, they pin the murder on traveling salesman Frank Govers (Picardo). Govers gets wind of what’s going on and, because of some misdeeds in his past, takes his young girlfriend Lee Ann (Fairfield) and they go on the run.

Meanwhile, Sheriff Ralph Baker is on the case. Hoping to escape the noise of Los Angeles, he moves with his young daughter to Orton Creek. He runs into trouble when he realizes the town is under the control of land developer Will Curran (Sargent) - a man just as evil as the aforementioned Don, his jerk of a son. Seeking justice, Ralph teams up with fellow law enforcement officer and love interest Jo (Westlake) and they attempt to get to the bottom of the whole sordid mess. But will they do it?

Wings puts in a strong, likable performance and has good screen presence here. Frame-up is not really an action movie, it’s more of a drama. It’s decent, even if it seems a bit “made for TV” at times. Apparently it warranted a sequel at one point in time, but it was never really released. I guess we’ll never know the continuing saga of Ralph Baker. Sidebar: Does Wings really look like a guy named “Ralph”?

You really hate the frat boys (except for the token “weak link” kid that wants to tell all to the authorities – you know these guys go in for some hard core hazing when they force the pledge to eat a lizard. Eat a lizard! And it’s alive. Next thing we know, the kid is inexplicably covered in feathers and running down a hill. I know. We don’t get it either.  But as they warned, he may never become a “true bro”.

As far as Dick Sargent is concerned, perhaps he, in 1991, really wanted to shed his “Bewitched” image, so we are treated to the sight of seeing this classic 50’s TV star wearing acid-washed jeans and cursing like a sailor. But he gives a nice “boo-hiss” bad guy performance.

The Robert Picardo subplot is pretty influenced by the Peckinpah film The Getaway (1972), and he and co-star Heather Fairfield do a nice job, especially Fairfield.

Overall, Frame Up is decently entertaining and Wings fans will want to seek it out for his solid performance and the fact that this is one of his lesser-known vehicles. 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty