Lethal Force (2002)

Lethal Force (2002)-*

Directed by: James Dalthorp

Starring: Richard Tyson, Steven Owsley, Michelle Stafford, Willie Gault, and Robert Vaughn

Thomas Carruth (Tyson) is a Texas cop who laments the “old days” when law enforcement didn’t have so much red tape involved and there were less confining rules. So he goes rogue, becoming the judge, jury and executioner all on his own terms. Apparently this doesn’t sit right with go-getting attorney Renee Alexander (Stafford), who approaches fellow lawyer J.B. Thornton (Owsley) about building a case against Carruth. Even with the help of Eddie Mills (Gault), catching Carruth is not going to be easy. So they slowly, meticulously do it anyway. Will they catch this Carruthless character? Can they fight through the Carruption? Find out today! (Actually, don’t...)

You’d think a Direct-to-Video movie starring Richard Tyson and Robert Vaughn called Lethal Force would be a surefire winner. However, it’s not very lethal and has minimal force. However, that’s the Corman-released title (others were Cottonmouth and Silent Justice) - and it seems to be a cynically misleading ploy to get suckers like us to think this is an action movie. It’s actually a TV-style drama about two lawyers building their case against someone. It’s nothing you wouldn’t see on an episode of Law & Order - and it would probably be done better on a Law & Order episode. The main problem is, by far the best and most interesting character is Carruth, and there are huge stretches where he’s nowhere in sight. And they could have made him a lot more evil. The non-Carruth scenes have no edge or bite to them.

Carruth is a good role for Tyson, and we were wishing he would come back in a better movie. Incidentally, he resembles a cross between Martin Kove and Steven Bauer. Amazingly, this movie came out in 2002, but it looks like it’s from 1992. And seeing as how we were on Robert Vaughn watch, we noted how he doesn’t appear until 69 minutes into the movie. At that point it’s just a salvage job and it’s far beyond the powers of any actor to save the wreckage, but it seems Vaughn at least tried his best.

Sadly, Lethal Force is a dull, uninvolving legal drama that was cruelly mis-marketed as some kind of action movie. If you ever see this movie in any store, don’t take the bait. (Ty paid fifty cents at The Salvation Army for this on VHS - and that’s exactly where it’s going back). Let us act as guinea pigs for you. If you’re expecting action, avoid Lethal Force.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Strike Force (1981)

Strike Force (1981)-* * *

Directed by: Charlie Piceni

Starring: Robert Stack, Dorian Harewood, Richard Romanus, Trisha Noble, Billy Drago, and Michael Goodwin

Captain Frank Murphy (Stack), Sgt. Paul Strobber (Harewood), Lt. Charlie Gunzer (Romanus), Sgt. Mark Osborne (Goodwin) and Sgt. Rosie Johnson (Noble) aren’t just any old L.A. cops. Together they take on the toughest crimes as an elite unit known as the Strike Force!

Strike Force was an hour-long police procedural drama TV show that ran on ABC from 1981-82 and produced 19 episodes in total. Active home video decided to put out what seems to be the first two episodes edited together, and then release it to the burgeoning video store market that was hungry for boxes to fill its shelves. The plot this time around concerns a disturbed man that’s going around town with an axe decapitating people on Tuesdays. But the Strike Force must find out the link between the victims in time to save the next one on the murderer’s list. Can they do it?

The 80’s were an amazing time - not only were shows like this being produced, but startup video companies were more than willing to release them into video stores all across the land (and beyond). Similar to what Vidmark did with Fortune Dane (1986). Just take some episodes of a show and put ‘em on video and see what happens. Even if the show was off the air, there was no intention of getting back on the air (like what happened with Family Guy) - it’s all about video store product for video store product’s sake. In that sense it’s very unpretentious and that’s very appealing.

About twenty years before The Shield had it’s Strike Team, Robert Stack had his Strike Force. Stack plays a divorced guy who lives in a sloppy house with his dog and appears to be feeding it a brand of dog food called “Doggone It”. The generation of actors that includes Robert Stack, Peter Graves, Clint Eastwood  and Chuck Connors will never be seen again. Now it’s just prissy, effeminate man-children like Leonardo DiCaprio. Thus, Strike Force will, if nothing else, remind you of a better time. Fans of shows like Adam-12 and Mannix will certainly appreciate what’s going on here, and the music of the show reinforces its strong A-Team vibe as well. This VHS tape in particular will appeal most to people nostalgic for this era or this show in particular.

Being part of the Strike Force, the team gets to go undercover all together, dressing up as chefs or a construction crew to get the job done (during the restaurant sequence, watch out for a young Billy Drago playing, what else, a bad guy - maybe his one shot in Strike Force typecast him for life. The show’s influence is still carrying on today; maybe it’s more powerful and influential than anyone realizes). It also recalls back to a time before political correctness. For example, Noble wears a shirt that says “Junk Food Is Good For You!” - this probably wouldn’t be allowed today. But the worst thing you could really say about Strike Force is that it gets a bit “standard” at times, but maybe that’s because there have been a lot of shows like it in the intervening years.

Released in an Active home video big-box, the only “Unsolved Mystery” here is why this show isn’t as well-known today as it should be.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Battle Force (1978)

Battle Force (1978)-* *

AKA: The Biggest Battle

Directed by: Umberto Lenzi

Starring: Helmut Berger, Samantha Eggar, Edwige Fenech, Ray Lovelock, Stacy Keach, Henry Fonda, and Orson Welles as The Narrator

Set during 1942-43 during the prime years of World War II, Battle Force tells many separate tales, but the main two concern Maj. Mannfred Roland (Keach), a Nazi who has fallen in love with a Jewish actress, Annelise Ackermann (Eggar). The fate of their relationship is in limbo as Roland fights in North Africa and can’t be at home in Germany to protect her from the evil Nazis (by comparison, he’s a “good” Nazi). The other story tells the tale of Gen. Foster of the U.S. Army (Fonda). His son John (Lovelock) is something of a screw-up who can’t please his demanding father. So he follows in his footsteps and enlists in the Army. The whole film is narrated by Orson Welles and features a lot of stock footage of the war. Will this truly be “The Biggest Battle” of them all?

When we originally came across the Continental big-box VHS of this movie, how could we resist it: it’s called Battle Force, and the tagline screams “THE MOST AWESOME BATTLE EVER SEEN!” Plus look at the cast. It’s insane. And we didn’t even have room to mention Orson Welles as the Narrator . How could it lose, right? Well...it’s not that this movie is bad, really, but it’s extremely stodgy and old-fashioned. It seems like the type of Sunday afternoon programmer your grandparents might watch to while away a rainy day. Yes, there is some war action, including some shooting and explosions (giving credit where credit is due, they’re some quality blow-ups), but somehow it’s not really enough. There are way too many cooks in this broth. There’s a ridiculous amount of characters, plus the stock footage and narration, and the result is pretty much a jumble. Which, unfortunately, is not terribly engaging to the audience.

We generally love Umberto Lenzi. We think he’s great, but his war movie output (that we’ve seen, anyway) doesn’t seem to rival his poliziotteschi work like Violent Protection (1976) or his classic exploitation horror stuff like Cannibal Ferox (1981), Eaten Alive (1980) or Nightmare City (1980) - not to mention his excellent giallo period of the 1970’s. I wonder what Henry Fonda would think if he knew he was working under the demented genius who created the above titles? Regardless, a direct parallel can be made here: just as the equally-staid WWII drama The Second Victory (1987) is put out by AIP, who is normally known for much wilder and more entertaining fare, so is the case here with the rest of Umberto Lenzi’s work. Why both AIP and Lenzi decided to “go boring” for their WWII jaunts is an interesting coincidence indeed.

The movie is well-directed by Lenzi, and it is ambitious and expansive, but there’s no humor whatsoever, and it all comes off as flat and uninvolving. It’s all well and good to play “spot the star” but that’s not really a coherent way to make a movie. Perhaps sensing this, we must quote the writer of the back of the VHS box. At the very end of a multi-paragraph description, the final pitch to rent or buy this movie to a potential buyer or renter is this: “Fans of tank warfare will appreciate the large numbers of tanks and other armored vehicles employed in the well-choreographed battle sequences. The military hardware in the film is quite elaborate, including a “Big Bertha” railroad gun.” And that’s it. That’s the capper. It seems this movie would be the perfect Christmas gift to that member of your family who inevitably is a “fan of tank warfare”. And just the words “Big Bertha” are enough to pique our interest.

In the end, it seems only die-hard fans of any of the personalities involved with this project would get much out of Battle Force.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Elimination Force (1977)

Elimination Force (1977)- * * *

Directed by: Domenico Paolella

Starring: Marcel Bozzuffi and Vittorio Mezzogiorno

Protection rackets are running wild in the streets of Italy. The poor shopkeepers are fed up, but feel they are powerless against the muscle of the ever-increasing criminal gangs. The baddie of all baddies, a psychopath named Valli (Mezzogiorno) is not only the king fish all the cops want to catch, but is also a vicious killer and even a “phone bomber”, a guy who exacts payment by placing bombs in telephones, so when someone calls your business - kaboom. But Valli has met his match in the take-no-guff police commissioner Grifi (Bozzuffi). Grifi wants to clean up the streets, so, noticing that he and his force are not dealing with ordinary criminals, they come up with an extraordinary solution. Saying “simple cops can’t beat ‘em - we need commandos”, Grifi forms the Stunt Squad, a highly trained band of law enforcement that ride super-fast motorbikes and shoot to kill. But will it be enough to stop Valli? Find out today!

We here at Comeuppance Reviews absolutely love the 1970’s Italian Poliziotteschi movement, and this seems to be one of its lesser-seen titles. We can’t seem to get enough of movies of this place and time, and apparently they were borne out of a real-life crime epidemic in the Italy of the day. The locations, the fashions, and the music all gel together with the violent plots and the result is addictive viewing. The power-team of writer Dardano Sacchetti, director Domenico Paolella, and the score by Stelvio Cipriani provide a solidly entertaining addition to the genre.

Director Paolella seems to be concentrating on certain aspects not always associated with these types of Italian crime films - for instance suspenseful setups and varying uses of pace. At one moment, it seems slow, but then it speeds up, almost like the dynamics of the music of Cipriani. Plus this movie has one of the coolest training sequences we’ve seen in some time: in order to properly train his guys to become the Stunt Squad, they have to practice hitting targets with their guns while zooming on their motorbikes, and to somehow fit collaring criminals into their wheelie-popping schedule. Naturally, there are some great chase sequences, among other fine moments. Probably our only complaint about this movie is that it could have used more Stunt Squad. There are some pretty lengthy sections without them. But that’s a minor quibble for this enjoyable movie.

The film was released on VHS in North America on the cleverly-named label Lettuce Entertain You. Not only is this lettuce Canadian, but it’s thought that it might be a bootleg (or at the least, grey-market) tape. That might help explain the fuzzy, washed-out, poor quality of the VHS. While we recommend this movie, we don’t recommend this tape. Sad, it does the film a disservice, but it’s a testament to the film that it can overcome these shortcomings and still manage to entertain. But on the upside, the dubbing does give us gems like “You have to start combing Bologna to find Valli”. While they’re clearly talking about the region in Italy, it’s not every day you hear the words “combing Bologna” said. Or done for that matter. It just sounds funny.

Perhaps the reason why Elimination Force hasn’t joined the top tier of Poliziotteschi titles is because more people don’t know about it, because of its unfortunate release on Lettuce Entertain You. Hopefully that will start to change, and if we’re lucky, a DVD release will correct the record.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Deadly Heroes (1993)

Deadly Heroes (1993)-* *

Directed by: Menahem Golan

Starring: Michael Pare, Jan-Michael Vincent, Dean Bloch, Claudette Mink, and Billy Drago

American hero Brad Cartowski (Pare) is vacationing in Athens with his wife Marcy (Mink) and young son Paul (Dean Bloch) when a band of terrorists storms the airport, hijacks a plane and takes everyone hostage. They demand the release of their imprisoned leader, Jose Maria Carlos (Drago), who’s not just a terrorist, but also a creepy pervert. The USA actually gives in to their demands and Carlos is released. The terrorists then get away - but Marcy Cartowski is left behind with them. Carlos “falls in love” with her instantly and holds her captive in his mansion.

Meanwhile, Brad teams up with hard-nosed fellow ex-Navy SEAL Cody Grant (Vincent) to hunt down Carlos and his terrorist gang and save his wife. Will these heroes be as deadly as promised?

This movie is an exercise in silly, implausible action that’s a lot of fun to watch, but it overstays its welcome at a punishing 104 minutes. The movie, in the second half, becomes repetitive, seemingly for no other reason than to needlessly extend the running time. Perhaps this was an attempt to seem more like a Hollywood movie, which are usually longer than DTV product. This was a mistake, because had Deadly Heroes been a tight 80 minutes, it could have joined the pantheon of greats (at least as far as silly action movies are concerned), joining such movies as American Kickboxer 2 (1993) and Night of the Kickfighters (1988). But a lot of the sense of fun dissipates towards the end.

The terrorists with the plastic guns at the airport, the fact that Jan-Michael Vincent wears sunglasses almost the whole time, stock footage, funny, glaring continuity inconsistencies, and the stellar performance by one Dean Bloch as the young Cartowski (sadly his only screen performance to date) would seem to indicate a laugh-out-loud good time. Also the utterly ridiculous “stylized” face paint Pare and Vincent wear and the appearance of “mini-subs” (don’t ask) contribute to the wackiness.  Indeed, these are all good things, but the overlong nature of this odd duck of a movie (even the title hints that something is a little off-kilter) doesn’t help matters.

Naturally, there is the torture scene with Pare, who’s at his wooden best, and the supposedly tough Vincent, who barks all his lines, seems a bit confused.  Drago, whose expertise is playing baddies, really goes to town here as the evil terrorist/murderer/molester/kidnapper/hijacker/rapist. We always say a good action movie needs a strong bad guy, and, well...here you go.

While on the plus side it’s great to see Pare, Vincent and Drago all in a movie together, and there are some standout moments of unintentional comedy, some missteps along the way make this a mixed bag.

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, Cool Target! 

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


American Samurai (1992)

American Samurai (1992)-* *

Directed by: Sam Firstenberg

Starring: David Bradley, Mark Dacascos, Valerie Trapp, Rex Ryon, and John Fujioka

When Drew Collins (Bradley) was just a child, he was in a plane that crashed in Japan. Like what would happen to anyone in that situation, he was then raised in the ways of the Samurai by a Japanese Master, Sanga (Fujoika). After reaching the highest levels of Samurai school, Master Sanga bestows upon him the treasured family sword. However, his son from birth, Kenjiro Sanga (Dacascos) feels anger, betrayal and resentment about that fact. So much so, he joins the Yakuza. Later on, Drew becomes a reporter in L.A. He ends up traveling to Istanbul with Janet (Trapp) for an assignment - at first they don’t get along and then they end up in a relationship! - but naturally Drew gets roped into illegal, underground “live blade fighting”, and guess who the reigning champ is - none other than Kenjiro. So now the two half-brothers must face off in the ultimate duel to the death: the honor of the Samurai vs. the evil of the Yakuza. Who will slice and dice their way to the truth?

In American Ninjas 3, 4, and 5, David Bradley was the American Ninja. Now, he’s the American Samurai. We know Cannon recycles plot ideas all the time, but come on. A transparent word change from one well-known aspect of Japanese culture to another is pretty obvious. But what this movie really is, is practically a remake of Bloodsport. Even the DVD touts the fact that “It’s Bloodsport with blades!”  There’s even an amazing facsimile of that movie's Donald Gibb character in Harrison (Ryon).  But there are plenty of meatheads with weapons on display, and many of them seem to take on well-known personas. For example, there’s a guy who’s strongly reminiscent of Conan the Barbarian (1982), and Harrison resembles Indiana Jones (and his name is Harrison...coincidence?). The situation is sort of a cross between Ring of Steel (1994), Best of the Best 2 (1993), and Bloodsport (1988).

Dacascos puts in an energetic performance as the angry brother, and Trapp is decent as your classic reporter who bickers with Collins and then inevitably falls in love with him. She even calls him “Samurai Hunk.” Ugh. But a lesser-known fan favorite gets a pretty decent “slice” of the action here - Ron Vreeken, of Hurricane Smith (1992), Rage and Honor II (1993), Deathfight (1994), and Under the Gun (1995) fame. He looks extra-meatheady, and we mean that as a compliment (?), but then again, it’s hard not to when you wear a wrestling singlet for the entirety of the movie and you have long blonde hair. But it is nice of the “Arena” captors to provide their fighters with their own weight room.

Sadly, American Samurai is the victim of overly-PC editing. By that we mean, in days gone by, during the death and dismemberment scenes (which are undoubtedly the highlights) they would either show the blood or perhaps gore, or release the movie in two versions: cut or uncut. In the PC 90’s, they just released a jaggedly cut version. The Swedish DVD is uncut, but extremely hard to find. It’s a real shame. In the DVD era, American fans should be given what they want. There’s no excuse for it, and the only “cuts” we should be seeing are the ones administered by David Bradley and Ron Vreeken!

Perhaps interestingly, “American Samurai” is an alternate title for Paper Bullets (2000), and “American Samurai 2” is what the Jerry Trimble outing Live By the Fist (1993) is called in Germany. It all gets very confusing, but all you really need to remember is that this American Samurai is yet another underground fighting movie that is okay, not bad, but could have used a tad bit more originality.

Also check out write-ups from our buddies The Video Vacuum and DTVC

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


American Yakuza (1993)

American Yakuza (1993)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Frank A. Cappello

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Ryo Ishibashi, Anzu Lawson, Michael Nouri, John Fujioka, and Robert Forster

"Land of the rising gun."

David Brandt (Mortensen) is an FBI agent assigned to go deep undercover to infiltrate the Yakuza. He poses as an ex-con named Nick Davis and begins working in the warehouse of Isshin Tendo (Fujioka). When the main rivals to the Tendo gang, the Italian Mafia under the command of Dino Campanela (Nouri), stage a raid on the warehouse, Brandt saves Sawamoto (Ishibashi) from certain death. Sawamoto takes a liking to “Nick” and takes him under his wing. However, when Brandt’s boss, Littman (Forster) informs him that the Campanela clan is going to wipe out the Tendo gang, and to stay out of it, Brandt gets angry, firstly because he’s fallen in love with Yuko (Lawson), and secondly because he’s come to actually respect the culture and customs of the Japanese, which has blurred his judgment to the fact that he’s dealing with criminals. So during the final firefight between the two gangs, Brandt makes his final stand...what will it be?

American Yakuza is classier-than-usual fare and recommended viewing. It’s shot very well, the acting is top-notch, there’s intelligence behind the writing, and it’s directed with a mixture of grit and an artistic streak that is very hard to pull off, but here wins over the audience.

It’s definitely more of a gangster drama than an action movie, but there are some spectacular action scenes that make you wish there was room in the plot to fit in a few more. But it is somewhat unfair to demand “More Action!” because this isn’t strictly an action movie. It’s a well-thought-out, underrated affair that more people should see.

It’s funny, Robert Forster plays pretty much the exact same role here as he does in Scanner Cop II (it even looks like it‘s shot in the same room), and Michael Nouri plays almost the same role as he does in Overkill (1996). If they were items on a computer, it’s easy to imagine the director dragging and dropping them from their respective movies into this one. That’s not meant to be an insult, Forster does his usual professional job and Nouri seems in his element. It’s actually one of the better Nouri performances we can remember. Viggo Mortensen made this movie before he was even really a big name, and he achieves the complex task of making you understand his emotions and motivations as he pulls off his double life. He should get more credit for that. As he gets swept up in the Yakuza lifestyle, he still tries to make a contrast between his American culture, and their Yakuza one, by preferring good old American whisky to their Sake.

Because American Yakuza combines visual flair with an engaging plot, you really can’t lose. Interestingly enough, this would make a great double feature with American Dragons (1998). They are both high quality movies with some similarities. We give high marks to American Yakuza.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1990)

American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1990)-*1\2

Directed by: Cedric Sundstrom

Starring: Michael Dudikoff, David Bradley, Dwayne Alexander, Robin Stille, and James Booth

“I told you last time it was the last time.”

 When the evil Mulgrew (Booth) and his Japanese “Red Faction Army” (actually a bunch of ninjas) plan to take over the world, Sean Davidson (Bradley) snaps into action to stop their nefarious plan. Even though he’s working with compatriots Carl (Alexandre) and local doctor Sarah (Stille), Mulgrew still seems to have the upper hand. To get out of this jam, they call in the REAL American Ninja, Joe Armstrong (Dudikoff). He was off working in the peace corps (funny, that doesn’t sound like the Joe Armstrong we know and love), but you know what they say, if you want something done right...call in the American Ninja. Now with the power of Armstrong on their side, they can’t lose...or can they?

At this point, the American Ninja franchise was on life support. Part 3 was a slog, so Cannon must have figured, let’s get the same director and do it again. Bad idea. It feels more like a Nu-Image movie, and the fact that Avi Lerner and some other future Nu-Image people were working behind the camera shows this must have been their training ground, which is unfortunate, but explains a lot. 

One of the things they did right was get James Booth as the main baddie. Recall that this is none other than Limehouse Willie himself. But since Cannon recycles plots all the time, what they should have done is dispense with all the nonsense herein (like extra characters named Pongo and the pseudo-Mad Max trappings and all that) and do a remake of Pray For Death (1985), but with Dudikoff in the Sho Kosugi role. Then we’d have something. But by now it was the 90’s, and things were on the downswing. This movie feels like a cash-in with very little, if any heart behind it. Even Dudikoff doesn’t show up until 44 minutes into the movie, and he was probably prodded into it.

The connection between Davidson and Armstrong in the movie is done with the most slender thread imaginable, to the point of it being laughable: “they’re friends”, we’re told. Okay. How come we never heard about this so-called “friendship” before? Just this one throwaway utterance is supposed to explain why Armstrong would come to Lesotho, Africa and save the day. We’ve heard of bad writing, but that’s just childishly pathetic. 

And it’s bad enough that Steve James isn’t in this movie - the supposed main star is David Bradley, who has so little screen presence, he’s more like a blank face than an actual actor. If he didn’t have eyes, a nose and a mouth, and instead just had a big question mark on his face, no one would notice. Plus he makes a lot of silly noises when fighting, and he’s almost certainly wearing “guyliner” in some scenes, which is not manly. Did Cannon REALLY THINK Bradley was better than Dudikoff? It shows that maybe this series deserved to go down the tubes, because of poor decision making.

In the action department, there are some decent battles, a bit of jungle action in the beginning, and maybe a couple of exploding guard towers/falls and possibly a heli as well. Plus there’s the Prerequisite Torture, but it’s really hard to care about the characters, except for Dudikoff. There’s the time-honored ninja training camp, featuring the al-Qaida monkey bars, and Mortal Kombat-style obstacles.  

But on the bright side, at one point, in order to change clothes from his street gear to full-blown ninja, Dudikoff jumps into what can only be described as a “Ninja Hole”. When he jumps in, he’s classic Dudikoff. A split second later when he jumps out, he’s all Ninja’d out. We liked the Ninja Hole. Maybe it’s near the Ninja Cave from Cannon’s Ninja III: The Domination (1984). If there are spots on earth where people can instantaneously turn into ninjas, we want to know about them.

As happened with American Ninja 3, not to mention a lot of other movies, the song here is better than the movie. Eddie Ray Wolfe’s “Fight Fire With Fire” is great and should have featured in the movie itself, not just the credits. Chalk it up to another bad decision. In all truth, there is very little “Annihilation” in this movie. Despite the presence of Dudikoff, we’re sorry to report this is a dud.

Also check out reviews from our buddies, The Video Vaccum and DTVC! 

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989)

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989)-* *

Directed by: Cedric Sundstrom

Starring: David Bradley, Steve James, Marjoe Gortner, and Michele Chan

Sean Davidson (Bradley) is an American Ninja! When his master is kidnapped, he travels to a remote Caribbean island to try to find him. It even may have been perpetrated by baddies he remembers from his childhood. Along the way, he teams up with Curtis Jackson (James, reprising his role from the first two films) and Dexter (Klisser), the classic “annoying” character of the 80’s. Because a sinister baddie known as “The Cobra” (Gortner) is manufacturing a germ that would wipe out mankind, our trio of heroes must stop him, and his goons. For no explained reason, his goons are ninjas in blue outfits. Eventually a female ninja, or, “ninjette” as Jackson calls her, Chan Lee (Chan) joins their ranks. Will they be able to stop the Cobra?

The main problem with American Ninja 3 is that there are a bunch of little moments that are cool, but the movie as a whole is weak. For every underwater ninja fight and cool technique, there’s a ton of material that’s just very, very dumb. We realize you don’t go into a movie like this expecting too much intelligence, but come on. This is one of those “I’m losing brain cells” movies. David Bradley doesn’t really help the situation. It’s hard to replace Dudikoff, but Bradley has no screen presence or personality. Dudikoff’s hair engages you more than Bradley’s performance.

But the real insult is that they didn’t make Steve James the new American Ninja. James, having put in his time in the first two installments, should have risen to the rank of “American Ninja”. Plus he’s a better actor than Bradley and much, much more likable. Plus, he wears a sleeveless shirt that says “Shalom, Y’all” (when he’s not shirtless or wearing a leather vest with no shirt). Also, they call him “Powerhouse Jackson”. Powerhouse should have gotten his own movie. Maybe he could find his long lost brother Action.

It seems Cannon recycles plots fairly often and the plot here might seem very familiar. Perhaps a cross between American Ninja 2 (1987) and American Samurai (1992). But at the risk of seeming ridiculous, the ninjas here seem tacked on. The Cobra’s goons don’t have to be ninjas, and it’s never explained why they are. It’s funny that The Cobra works at what you might call “Terrorist Labs, Inc.” where he works to develop the technology of terrorism, but why ninjas have to be dragged into this seems like a clear attempt to keep the 80’s Ninja Boom going. But by ‘89 it seems to have been on the wane. So that might explain why we see things like a ninja just sitting in the passenger seat of a car. It just seems so pedestrian. A few short years earlier this same passenger ninja might be disappearing in a puff of smoke or climbing quickly up a tree (which are the main modes of transportation for ninjas, not cars).

As sometimes happens, the end credits song is the best part of the movie. “The Cobra Strikes” by George S. Clinton and Lisa Kauppi is great, not to mention very catchy. It was a shame they didn’t use it in the movie, such as during a montage. American Ninja 3 signals the beginning of the end, creatively speaking, for the franchise.

Also check out our buddies, The Video Vaccum and DTVC's reviews! 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Sakura Killers (1987)

Sakura Killers (1987)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Wang Yu and Dusty Nelson

Starring: Chuck Connors, Cara Casey, George Nichols, and Mike Kelly

 There’s a very important Beta tape out there with scientific information that could either save the world, or destroy it, so it’s very important that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. When the tape is stolen by ninjas, The Colonel (Connors) (did you expect a last name attached to that?) sends his two best men, Sonny (Kelly) and Dennis (Nichols) to Taiwan to investigate. It seems a certain Sakura, or Cherry Blossom, emblem is attached to the theft of the tape. Along the way, the two Americans train to learn the ways of the ninja, which will come in handy if they must fight to get the tape back. Will they succeed?

Sakura Killers is one of the most fun and enjoyable 80’s Ninja Boom movies we’ve seen to date. The level of nonsensicality on display here is hard to articulate, you just have to see it for yourself. The presence of the great Chuck Connors (or “Conners” as they spell it in the credits) adds so much. Seemingly from the Robert Stack/Peter Graves/Charles Napier school, The Colonel, as we’re informed on the back of the Key video box, is, and we quote, “A ninja-buster”. Presumably the meaning of The Colonel being a ninja-buster is, he can just kill ninjas on his golf range and not give it a second thought. Connors wears the same Brooklyn jacket he wears in Terror Squad (1988), but this time he has a matching hat. In what we think is a semi-sequel to this movie, White Phantom (1987), Bo Svenson plays The Colonel. Svenson’s good, but by that time, he has a last name, and it’s just not the same. Watch Sakura Killers to see Connors as the original The Colonel.

Plus, in trying to get information on the Sakura case on the computer with his associate Karen (Cara Casey, in sadly her only credited movie role to date), the computer states that the perps are “possibly Oriental”. This may be what prompts The Colonel to say derisively, “Computers. And I thought they were supposed to make life easier.” Besides predicting the future, this must mean he prefers to do his ninja-busting mano-a-mano. But helping him is one of the biggest meatheads ever, George Nichols as Dennis. We’re surprised they didn’t name him Ox (or perhaps Moose). But he does have a wicked sense of style. It all adds to the silly, funny vibe of Sakura Killers.

The movie has an outstanding opening, and it’s hard to maintain that throughout the whole movie, but it comes pretty close. Plus there are plenty of 80’s standbys such as cassette tapes, the aforementioned Beta tapes, the old-school computers, and it wouldn’t be an 80’s movie without some aerobics. Add some insane ninja action and Chuck Connors being surly into this mix and you have a real gem.

We loved Sakura Killers and we’re very confident anyone out there with a sense of humor will too.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


The Big Fall (1997)

The Big Fall (1997)-* * *

Directed by: C. Thomas Howell

Starring: C. Thomas Howell, Jeff Kober, Kathy Griffin, Sophie Ward, Sam Seder, and Titus Welliver

Blaise Rybeck (Howell) is an L.A. private eye in true Raymond Chandler/Mickey Spillane/Dashiell Hammett style. Working with his assistants Gary Snider (Seder) and Sally (Griffin), Blaise generally gets into all sorts of scrapes tailing dames while smoking cigars and drinking cocktails in his fedora and trench coat. One day, a classic femme fatale walks into his office, Emma Roussell (Ward) and before long Blaise is trapped in a web of intrigue surrounding a mysterious flight school and a crew of bungee jumpers led by the thuggish Moe (Welliver). Of course, the main antagonist is Johnny “Axe” Roosevelt (Kober), and it’s going to be quite the clash once he and Blaise face off.

It’s great that PM gave C.Thomas Howell a chance to direct, as the resulting film is a pleasantly different one for their canon. Howell is cooler-than-cool in his P.I. mode, and his talent really shines both in front of and behind the camera. Howell and PM did a really interesting thing here - Blaise and his crew wear 1940’s-style clothing and his office has that same kind of decor, and there is plenty of great old-timey lingo and jazz music as well, but it works as an unexplained anachronism, as the movie is set in the present day, with cell phones and other trappings of modern life somehow intermingling with this Film Noir style. We thought that was really cool.

Of course, even though this film is different in many ways, perhaps PM thought their fans would be confused if there weren’t blow-ups, car chases, car flips, beatings, shootings and the like, so they’re all present and accounted for. For some reason the annoying Kathy Griffin is here as Sally, perhaps continuing the role she played on Seinfeld? Sophie Ward is very Gwyneth Paltrow-like as the eye candy, and the underrated Jeff Kober could be the brother of Willem Dafoe. Speaking of underrated, Titus Welliver almost steals the movie as Moe. He really should be more well-known, as he is a talented actor.

The movie is a well-written and executed mystery thriller where yesterday meets today, and the personality of C.Thomas Howell is the glue that holds it all together and makes it work. The Big Fall is recommended.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Intent To Kill (1992)

Intent To Kill (1992)-* * *

Directed by: Charles T. Kanganis

Starring: Traci Lords, Angelo Tiffe, Scott Patterson, Michael Foley, Vinnie Curto, and Yaphet Kotto

Vickie Stewart (Lords) is a beautiful female cop on the edge in this PM outing. When a drug deal goes wrong (you mean they can go wrong?), Colombian thug Salvador (Tiffe) must get millions of dollars worth of drugs to his ruthless boss, The Mooch (Curto), or Salvador will meet a gruesome end. So Salvador is going all over the seedy sides of L.A. trying to collect all he can. The only thing stopping him is Vickie, who is determined to bring down the Colombian drug empire. To do this, she must go pretty rogue, but not all the way rogue. Meanwhile, she must deal with her philandering boyfriend Al (Patterson), a fellow cop, as well as her boss Captain Jackson (Kotto)., who is always on her case.

It was nice to see Traci Lords as a tough cop on the edge. She even teaches classes to other women in street self-defense. The sleaze factor comes in with some of the seamier sides of Hollywood with hookers and such (Vickie must go undercover as a hooker at one point). Vickie is a cool character and it would have been nice to see that developed more, maybe in a follow-up movie, or a movie that doesn’t fluctuate so much...

What we mean by that is, Intent to Kill goes back and forth between decent and very dumb, and there seems to be a lot of padding and plot elements that aren’t related and/or make no sense.  But luckily there are car chases with rockin’ guitar solos behind them, blow-ups, shooting, funny moments and lots of cliches. And of course Traci Lords getting into all sorts of dangerous situations (keep in mind it must have been in her post-porn industry contract that she do no nudity or sex scenes to try to distance herself from her past...just a theory)...and Yaphet Kotto pops up as the BYC with, and we quote, “one month left ‘til retirement” ! It is a shame that he’s retiring, as every day, generic newspaper headlines appear such as “Drugs Rule Streets”.

And as far as her love interest is concerned, Officer Tom Martin, he’s a kickboxing man that’s some sort of cross between Gary Daniels and Richard Norton, but not anywhere near as likable or interesting as those two. This Gary Norton (or Richard Daniels) guy is Michael Foley, and he was actually in Karate Cop (1991), so there you go.

Intent to Kill was released on the budget-priced EP speed tape released by Video Treasures/MNTEX, and the quality is not good. We’re guessing this was a posthumous release because it’s not included in some reference guides. Why this didn’t come out on PM’s own label, we do not know. It even has a shot from another movie on the cover (we believe it was taken from a Gary Daniels film). The director of this movie, Charles Kanganis, should have complained. After all, the previous year he directed Traci in A Time To Die (1991), and the packaging was much better, it even had a red plastic VHS.

Featuring the inspirational tune “Stand Tall” by Lost Art, Intent to Kill is reasonably entertaining, but not a premier PM.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The Man From Hong Kong (1975)

The Man From Hong Kong (1975)-* * * *

Directed by: Brian Trenchard-Smith

Starring: Jimmy Wang Yu, George Lazenby, Rebecca Grilling, Hugh Bryne, and Grant Page

The biggest criminal in Australia is one Jack Wilton (Lazenby). He has his hands in everything: drug running, gun running, prostitution, and he even cheats when he practices Kung-Fu. Inspector Fang Sing Leng (Yu), of the Hong Kong Special Branch, has traveled to Australia to take him down. Working with the local police, Fang infuriates them because he has no rules and is a one-man wrecking crew. All of Wilton’s forces are after Fang - but can any force on earth stop THE MAN FROM HONG KONG?

Wow. They truly don’t make ‘em like this anymore. What a shame. Starting from the great opening sequence with no dialogue, on through the exciting climax, The Man From Hong Kong delivers the goods and then some. The plot is perfectly simple, enough so that the movie can be packed with interesting locations, cool music, exciting stunts, tons of Martial Arts and car-chase setpieces, and still have likable characters as well. Not only is it well-shot, it’s all directed and edited with verve and energy. We salute the great Brian Trenchard-Smith, who, despite anything else he will ever do, will be a legend for this movie and Stunt Rock (1980).

The movie is rife with 70’s style - just check out Lazenby’s “’stache-fu”, and his baddie pad (not to be confused with a bachelor pad). Also we get an excellent knock-down, drag-out fight between Yu and the great Grant Page which is as enjoyable as everything else in this superb movie. And there’s still time for some romance, as represented by the beautiful Rebecca Gilling as Angelica. On top of that, there’s some humor, mostly represented by Hugh Byrne and his great hair as cop Morrie Grosse. Because it was the 70’s, the stunts are real, and there’s no political correctness. It’s all just a perfect cocktail of pure, enjoyable entertainment. It’s just comforting to know there are writer/directors out there that GET IT. That understand great audience-pleasing tactics.

Everyone here is at their best, and of course it doesn’t skimp on the action. Sammo Hung is even on board, no doubt due to the fact that this movie was co-produced by Raymond Chow and Golden Harvest. It’s filled with “yes!” moments, which we believe we’ve mentioned before, where as a viewer, when something so cool happens, you just have to yell out, “yes!”.

Everything is done right in this awesome film, and the 2-disc Australian DVD pays this great movie a nice tribute. If you can find it, it seems to be the ultimate way to own this classic. Shockingly, this movie was not released on VHS in the U.S. until Tai Seng did a quiet, under-the-radar release in 2001. Because it didn’t receive a golden-age VHS release on, say, Vestron, Paragon, Lightning, or a label like that, the movie’s cult stature grew, but mainly in other territories around the world. With the advent of DVD, this can be rectified, and all can now see this fine film.

Featuring the ultra-catchy, legendary song “Sky High” by the great band Jigsaw, The Man From Hong Kong is a must-see.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty