Comrades In Arms (1992)

Comrades In Arms (1992)-* * *

Directed by: J. Christian Ingvordsen

Starring: Rick Washburn, Lyle Alzado,  J. Christian Ingvordsen, John Weiner, Steven Kaman, and Lance Henriksen

"Unlikely Allies. Unbeatable Force."

Khaleel (Weiner) is a terrorist, drug trafficker, and America-hater that’s causing so much trouble, CIA director Reed (Henriksen), and his Russian associates decide that taking him down is going to take the teamwork of the U.S. and the Russians. Recruited to execute the mission is Delta Force Commanding Officer Frank “Bone” White (Ingvordsen). Naturally, he’s a cool dude with a bad attitude. His Russian counterpart is Spetsnaz officer Kotshov (Kaman). He’s a ruthless, “Kill ‘em All” type. But, for the good of both their countries, they must learn to get along and trust each other. With tensions rising, will they be able to take down Khaleel - before they kill each other first?

Comrades In Arms is a military shoot-em-up with a pretty serious tone. It starts off with some hi-tech (for the time) green night vision and “thermo” vision (as in, when a character says, “we’re switchin’ to thermo!”), and plenty of technical combat lingo. Even though the concept of the U.S. and the Russians working together may remind you of Red Heat (1988), or maybe even Red Scorpion (1988), or possibly some other “Red” movies, the idea that, at this point in time, that they would both have to go into the field of combat together and rely on each other, is pretty forward-thinking. This is a war movie for a new kind of war - the war on terror - with all the technology that would entail, and Comrades In Arms probably will receive little to no credit for being one of the first (maybe the first?) movie to deal with this kind of war in the modern age.

But it still carries over some much-loved cliches from the past, seeing as how the Russians are gruff and emotionless, and Frank White (presumably not the same Frank White from King of New York  from two years earlier), is called a “loose cannon” by his superiors. And it just wouldn’t be complete without the climax in an abandoned warehouse. Similar to how Robert Z’Dar in The Final Sanction (1990) played a Russian, here Lyle Alzado does the same. Despite the fact that Alzado is top-billed, he’s only in it for a scant few minutes. Remember, back in the 80’s, Alzado was a name. A movie about cold war ideals with Lyle Alzado is certainly a product of its time, but as said earlier, it’s more forward-thinking than you might think.

Steven Kaman co-wrote, co-produced, co-stars, and shot the movie, and probably had a grand old time with Ingvordsen, as they seemed to have given themselves the two leads in the movie. Kaman is responsible for utter dreck like Soul Of The Avenger (1997) and Total Force (1997), so luckily he did not direct this movie. Lance Henriksen gives gravity to his relatively small role, and he brightens the film. Keep in mind a big portion of this movie is mindless shooting, with plenty of machine guns and rocket launchers. So there is a bit of filler. Also it should be noted that Bone has a team of equally coolly-nicknamed warriors: Top Kick, Spook Show, Thor, Bigfoot, Ironman and Cowboy.  They’re fighting Khaleel and his guys in Colombia, and some of this may remind you of Delta Force 2 (1990). As far as John Weiner is concerned, who plays Khaleel, he does a great job of being evil. We don’t know much about him, except for the fact that he was in Cyber Vengeance (1997). We’ll have to keep an eye out for him.

In all, Comrades In Arms is a reasonably good way to spend 90 minutes.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Decoy (1995)

Decoy (1995)-*1\2

Directed by: Vittorio Rambaldi

Starring: Peter Weller, Robert Patrick, Charlotte Lewis, Darlene Vogel, Peter Breck, and Vladmir Kulich

Travis (Patrick), a former government op, is hired by his old commanding officer, Wellington (Breck) to protect his daughter, Diana (Vogel of Ring Of Steel fame) for a temporary amount of time because bad guys are after him and his family. Travis agrees to the job, but only if he can bring in his buddy Baxter (Weller) to help out. Even though Baxter is a nutty guy, Wellington reluctantly agrees. What then follows is Travis, Baxter and Diana moving from place to place in the woods, as Katya (Lewis), Daniel (Kulich) and other baddies try killing them using various means, but usually shooting. Most of the rest of the movie is this cat-and-mouse game, but there are a few twists every now and again to try to keep the viewers’ interest. Who is the real DECOY?

Sure, Decoy may have some bigger names, like Robert Patrick and Peter Weller, and it may be shot well using picturesque Canadian locations (shot in Regina and La Ronge, Saskatchewan), but don’t be fooled: this is just as dumb and run-of-the-mill as many other DTV productions out there. It was clearly trying to be more upper crust and be almost theater-quality, but ultimately doesn’t get there and is a disappointment.

There are some cool killings, and the baddies have these futuristic wrist rockets that they use on their enemies, but that’s really the only noteworthy invention here. And that doesn’t a good movie make. There are some utterly stupid, time-wasting “romantic” elements between Baxter and Diana for a while, which don’t need to be there. Diana is the cliched “complaining woman dragged along into an adventure” we’ve seen so many times before. On the other end of the female spectrum is Charlotte Lewis, looking amazing with her outfits and high-powered weaponry. It’s quite a change from her role in Men of War (1994). Robert Patrick puts in a personable enough performance, but it’s hard not to compare this to the awesome Zero Tolerance (1994), which is Patrick at his absolute best. Weller puts in a “quirky” performance, with his pseudo-philosophical dialogue, and he’s always good, but Decoy as a whole is mediocre, with tons of “pew-pew” gunfighting scenes that don’t really add much.

Also on board as one of the baddies is Vladimir Kulich, who has played the “Eurotrash Bad Guy” in such movies as Crackerjack (1994), Red Scorpion 2 (1995), and Breach Of Trust (1995). We’re definitely getting used to seeing him. There’s also the prerequisite torture scene, but this time the movie opens with it and gets it out of the way. But the problem with Decoy is every time it starts to get good, it pulls back. It’s almost like the movie has a fear of success.

Decoy is ultimately wasteful with what resources it has, and it never rises above your standard action premise.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Saigon Commandos (1988)

Saigon Commandos (1988)-* *

Directed by: Clark Henderson

Starring: Richard Young, P.J. Soles, Joonee Gamboa, Willie Williams, Pen Medina and Joe Mari Avellana

A murderer known as the “Hollow Point Killer” is running around the streets of Saigon in 1970. Sgt. Mark Stryker (Young) is a member of the 716th MP Battalion, and he and his fellow MP’s are tasked with stopping the seemingly-senseless killings. Along for the ride is AP reporter Jean Lassiter (Soles). As all of this is going on, there is political revolution in the streets. A group called The Association For Good Government (which seems to be a pretty reasonable name) is headed by the revolutionary Tri (Gamboa). However, Tri just happens to be in cahoots with the evil drug lord/gangster Quy (Medina). Why would they try to make the USA look bad and pin the murders on an American? Why would they depend on each other for their own ends? All questions will be answered by the SAIGON COMMANDOS...

By this point in our movie-watching careers, we’ve probably spent more time watching Vietnam movies than some active-duty soldiers actually spent in Vietnam. But this one is a little different as it’s not strictly a jungle slog, it’s more a story about the MP’s and their police work, on the city streets of Saigon. So in that sense it’s a different take on the subject matter. However, Saigon Commandos still comes out as a standard-issue Corman ‘Nam movie that easily could have been directed by Cirio Santiago.

Even though Richard Young was in the far-superior Final Mission (1984), and of course the movie at hand today, we still don’t know what he looks like. Such are his undistinguished features and lack of personality. But he does team up with his great Final Mission co-star Jack S. Daniels. Also onboard is mainstay Joe Mari Avellana (who co-wrote Final Mission), Willie Williams (again of Final Mission, as well as Savage Justice), as well as Cris Aguilar and Louie Del Castillo, who both have been in plenty of movies of this type. On the other hand, it’s nice to see P.J. Soles, who doesn’t often appear in this style of  film, but we felt wasn’t used to her full potential here, playing the cliched reporter role. Unfortunately, we’re a long way from “Always On My Mind”.

The movie has unnecessary narration, but still lacks character development. The action on show is pretty minimal, there are some standard machine-gun shooting scenes and a few chases. This is nothing a better pace and less talking, not to mention more (and better) action scenes wouldn’t solve. Plus the main hero needs to be stronger, and the main villain needs to be more delineated as well. Those are major sins in an action movie. Putting a few rockin’ guitar solos behind what action there is, while welcome, can’t paint over the movie’s deeper deficiencies. So as it stands now, Saigon Commandos is not engaging and falls under the heading of “Box Art Is Better Than The Movie”. (Thank you to Jack J from When The Vietnam Raged In The Philippines for the box art below)

As far as this being yet another movie where the hero is named “Stryker”, we thought that would be a recipe for success. Sadly, it was a disappointment. But we had an idea for a movie called “SuperStryker” (or maybe “Striker” with an I, we haven’t decided yet), where all the action stars who have ever portrayed a character named “Stryker” get together and raise hell in the jungle. We imagine it would star Wings Hauser, Richard Norton, Richard Young, and maybe even Frank Zagarino. (Sure, no one actually called him “Striker” in “Striker”, but hey, he's clearly Striker in all of our hearts. Plus we’ll get that little kid from Hostage who uttered the immortal line “Mommy, where’s Striker?”). Don’t you wish your name was Stryker?

As far as the political scenes, people have homemade banners that say “Our country is a sewer”. This doesn’t exactly help people who read the sign know what they WANT, but they do seem to love statements of fact concerning their destitute situation. The plotline closely follows the “El Presidente” model we’ve discussed many times. But instead of a South America-set actioner, this might be the first Asian “El Presidente” we’ve yet come across. But there is a band in the movie called the “Eurasia Band” who do covers of “House of the Rising Sun” and “Midnight Special”, so that’s a bridge between cultures.

Released by the great Media label, sadly, despite all it has going for it, Saigon Commandos was a letdown.

Comeuppance Review by Brett and Ty


Dragons Forever (1988)

Dragons Forever (1988)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Sammo Hung and Corey Yuen

Starring: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Wah Yuen, Deanne Yip, Pauline Yeung, and Benny "The Jet" Urquidez

Notorious gangster and all-around bad guy Hua (Yuen) is using his chemical factory, Hua Chemical Works, as a front for a drug operation. Because his factory has made him a rich, white-collar businessman, no one can touch him. When a woman, Catherine (Yip) complains that the waste from his factory is polluting her beloved fishpond, she initially gets the brush-off from Hua. But when Hua’s lawyer Johnny Lung (Chan) decides to defect to the good guys because he falls in love with Catherine’s cousin Nancy (Yeung), all hell breaks loose. Uniting with buddies Luke (Hung) and Timothy (Biao), the triumphant trifecta take on the takers in a no-holds-barred brawl (is there any other kind?)

Sammo Hung chalks up another winner for his storied career in this lovable outing. Once again, the movie is filled with energy, humor, and action. This time around, he introduces some romantic comedy elements, so for our money, the previous “Three Brothers” film, Wheels On Meals (1984), is a bit better, but it’s entirely subjective, of course.  There’s plenty of expertly done slapstick on show as well, and if Wheels On Meals had our heroes as the Three Musketeers, here they’re reminiscent of the Three Stooges. It’s all very well-shot and well-staged, and the ending certainly doesn’t skimp on the action.

Thanks in part to the newly-added presence of co-director/production supervisor Corey Yuen, the Martial Arts have that kinetic, bone-breaking edge that we’ve all become so addicted to. It’s perfectly suited to counterbalance the romantic comedy elements. Benny The Jet also returns from 'Meals, and, as stated earlier, the final fight in the warehouse is awesome, with stellar fight choreography and tons of engaging moments.

If you have Netflix Streaming, that’s a good way to view this movie, as it’s nicely letterboxed and subtitled. Hopefully the Three Brothers will reunite, as 1988, the year of this movie, was their last film together to date. It would be amazing to see them all together in a movie that comes to the theater. Dragons Forever is a movie that will appeal to die-hard Martial Arts film fans, as well as newbies just getting into the genre. Quality stuff.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Mercenary II: Thick and Thin (1999)

Mercenary II: Thick and Thin (1999)-*

Directed by: Phillipe Mora

Starring: Olivier Gruner, Robert Townsend, Nicolas Turturro, Sam Bottoms, and Claudia Christian

“If stupidity was a cereal, we’d be on the box.” - Pizza Man

Carl “Hawk” May (Gruner) is a mercenary. Nicholas Turturro and Sam Bottoms (brothers of John and Timothy, respectively), play his two comrades-in-arms. It appears this time, a very rich woman, Patricia Van Lier (Christian) has paid the gang to retrieve her accountant, Charlie Love (Townsend), who has been taken hostage by rebels in the jungles of South America. Hawk goes deep into the foliage to find him, while the others stay behind and contact him via radio. Hawk does indeed find Charlie, and the two are the original odd couple: Hawk is serious and straight-faced, while Charlie is a joker. They must navigate all manner of traps, pitfalls and killer bad guys as they attempt to exit the jungle alive. But will Hawk snap at having to be subjected to Charlie’s antics the whole time?

Unfortunately, Mercenary II is just not very good. Even though it has reasonably high production values, and a decent cast, those two positives are smothered by a paint-by-numbers script which is nothing more than your standard jungle slog we’ve seen so many times before. Nicholas Turturro plays the “comedy irritant”, the Joe Pesci-like Italian guy (with the code name “Pizza Man”) who never shuts up and has an annoying nasal voice. How did he get into the Mercenary business anyway? Robert Townsend tries to liven up the proceedings with wacky dances, faces, and one-liners, but it’s not enough to make the movie as a whole very interesting or engaging. Gruner is decent as the stone-faced Hawk, but the sheer stupidity of the whole venture is overwhelming.

The movie doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. One moment it’s a military-style shoot ‘em up, the next it’s a goofy comedy with Townsend mugging it up for the camera. This mix of serious and goofy can best be described as “goofius”. The Rush Hour (1998)  franchise brought this into the mainstream with seemingly big financial benefit...but instead of Jackie Chan, imagine Daniel Bernhardt, Van Damme, or Olivier Gruner as the straight man. Can anyone conclusively confirm that Bernhardt and Gruner are two different people? Have you ever seen them in the same place at the same time? Because if the aforementioned three men are indeed separate people, they should all star in a movie together. A confusing, confusing movie.

The movie is probably TRYING to be good (and we should say that Claudia Christian is good in it, especially as the cover model for “Multi Billionaire” magazine), but a bunch of unnecessary pop-cultural references mixed in with some gun-shooting just isn’t enough to get a movie off the ground. Mercenary II is in the vein of Perfect Target (1997), Decoy (1995) and Overkill (1996). If we’re comparing your movie, in any way, shape or form to Overkill, RUN. Like Overkill, this movie was shot in Mexico and has an unbelievably lame ending.

The writers behind Mercenary II must be thick, because the plot is thin. Avoid.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Fist Of The North Star (1995)

Fist Of The North Star (1995)-*1\2

Directed by: Tony Randel

Starring: Gary Daniels, Malcolm McDowell, Downtown Julie Brown, Tracey Walter, Melvin Van Peebles, Chris DeRose, Chris Penn, and Costas Mandylor

In a post-apocalyptic world (aren’t they all), a sinister organization known as the Southern Cross wants to rule the wastelands. The forces of evil are represented by Lord Shin (Mandylor) and the baddie Jackal (Penn). A lone hero stands up for himself and the rights of others, a man named Kenshiro (Daniels). His “Fist of the North Star” stands in opposition to the Southern Cross. From here on out it’s a fairly straightforward battle of good vs. evil with plenty of familiar faces along the way, from Melvin Van Peebles to Lockdown's(1990) Chris DeRose, among many others. Will Kenshiro beat the baddies?

Fist of the North Star was originally a Japanese animation, or Manga. Someone apparently thought a Direct-To-Video live-action remake was exactly what the world needed. They even used American and British stars, but didn’t change their original Japanese names. Hence credits like “And Malcolm McDowell as Ryuken”. You don’t see that one every day. So Gary Daniels plays a guy named Kenshiro, etc. But the real problem with this movie is that it is a mishmash of pointless, plotless gobbledygook. You don’t really care too much about any of the characters, and, largely because of the closed-in sets, the whole movie has a claustrophobic and stagey vibe which doesn’t do anyone any favors.

Top fan favorite Gary Daniels appears to be doing his absolute best, but it’s like he’s trudging through syrup. It’s a total post-apocalyptic slog, and without any bright spots, such as Steel Frontier's(1995) Chickenboy. It’s ground that’s been well-trod in the past. Downtown Julie Brown can’t Wubba Wubba her way out of this one. While it’s trying to be just like the anime version, with a bunch of wacky, cartoonish effects, the only time the movie really shines is in the straight-up Martial Arts fights. And most of the really good ones don’t come until the end of the movie. And by that time, the viewer is saying, in frustration, “Where were these before?!??” This led us to the conclusion that if Isaac Florentine directed this movie, it would have been similar, but a lot better.

As we’ve discussed before on this site, when it comes to movie-watching, there is a definite difference between watching a movie and waiting for a movie to be over. It’s an important distinction, and because of the rampant Lone Tiger effect, and the fact that at the end of the day this is just another post-apocalyptic slog, we cannot recommend Fist of the North Star. We still love Gary Daniels and all, but this is not one of his best projects, in our opinion.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

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


Trained To Fight (1992)

Trained To Fight (1992)-* * *1\2

AKA: College Kickboxers 

Directed by: Eric Sherman

Starring: Ken McLeod, Matthew Ray Cohen, Kendra Tucker, Mark Williams, and Tang Tak Wing

James Caulfield (McLeod) comes to the town of Millbrook to enroll as a freshman in the local college. He’s a cool dude who loves Martial Arts. His roommate is Mark Brown (Williams), who also is into Martial Arts. At first they butt heads, but eventually they bond over their common interest and similar sense of style. Mark tells James he’s entering the First Annual Millbrook Karate Tournament. The winner gets 25,000 dollars, and Mark wants to use it to found a Karate school for underprivileged children. But “local badass” Craig Tanner (Cohen), who goes around town harassing people with his gang, the White Tigers, also wants to win the tournament. 

Meanwhile, James gets a job at a local Chinese food restaurant. He learns that a chef there, Wing (Wing) is a Kung Fu master. After the prerequisite resistance, Wing agrees to train James, but on one condition: that he never fight for money. But when the White Tigers injure Mark and he can’t compete, James must either get revenge for his friend using his newfound skills, or keep his promise to Wing - all while trying to woo Kimberly (Tucker) - can he do it?

Trained To Fight is a highly enjoyable, funny, silly good time. It follows in the tradition of “Master initially won’t teach the student, but eventually relents so student can compete in some sort of tournament” movies such as American Shaolin: King of the Kickboxers II (1991), No Retreat, No Surrender (1986) and Balance of Power (1996), among many others. It’s the type of movie where the centerpiece is training. McLeod is perfectly suited to play the cool, Zack Morris-like hero, and Cohen as Tanner seems to know every racial epithet in the book, and just his hair alone spells “evil”. It seems all he does all day is follow around James and Mark with the sole purpose of haranguing them. What else does this guy do? And to prove that there’s absolutely no racism going on here, the first Chinese dude James runs into just happens to be a Kung Fu master and Acupuncture expert. No stereotypes there.

Actually, this movie revolves around the great performance of Tang Tak Wing as...Wing. While this role could have been filled by Leo Fong or Bolo Yeung, Wing steals the movie, and it’s a crying shame he only appeared in two movies. He could have had a Fong-like career. 

As far as Kimberly, who, to continue the Saved By The Bell comparisons, is like the Jessie Spano here, it’s puzzling why James - who could easily have any girl he wants - would be so smitten with her. She’s an unlikable, shrill harpy who never shuts up about global warming. Apparently, James melts her ice and she really warms to him. Plus she looks a bit, let’s say, mature, to be a college student. But it’s never too late to further your education.

This movie is very lovable, and even has training methods we’d not seen yet (ice training, among others) - but there’s a mystery as well. You see, during the “brawl at the mall”, there is a display stand for something called “Chipparoo” - which claims to be the “New Taste Phenomenon.” When a baddie gets knocked into the display, all the Chipparoos (?) fall to the ground. Noticeably, Chipparoos never took off in the general marketplace after that. Coincidence? WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CHIPPAROOS? And what is a Chipparoo anyway? As of right now, it’s just one of the flavors that make Trained To Fight worth seeing.

The only thing this movie is really missing is a song. You know, the pumping, driving type of tune that would propel James through his training. How the filmmakers missed this obvious component of this kind of movie, we’re not really sure. In technical news, the Imperial video states the running time as 95 minutes but we had it at 86. It only could have come from the video stores of the 80’s/early 90’s - so enjoy Trained To Fight.

Also check out a review by our buddy, Fist Of B-List! 

Comeuppance Review by Brett and Ty


Kill Switch (2008)

Kill Switch (2008)-*

Directed by: Jeff King

Starring: Steven Seagal, Chris Thomas King, Michael Filipowich, Mark Collie, Nicolas Harrison, Dian Hristov, and Isaac Hayes

Set in Memphis, Tennessee, Kill Switch is the story of one Jacob (Seagal) a cop who will use any means necessary to get the information he wants. Plaguing the city is a serial killer named Lazarus (Filipowich), who leaves clues which must be deciphered at the scenes of his crimes, which means Jacob must go to the library to try and figure them out. Meanwhile, another scumbag, Billy Joe Hill (Collie) is causing mayhem on the streets as well. Jacob is also busy fighting the traumatic memories in his head, but he has his partner, Storm (King) and his pal The Coroner (Hayes) to help him out. With the pressure mounting and the body count rising (mainly because of Jacob) who will finally flip the KILL SWITCH?

Another year, another Nu-Image Seagal. Frankly, we feel that Kill Switch is one of the worst latter-day Seagals. It’s filled with stupid quick cuts and herky-jerky camera moves that are likely to give you whiplash. The “fight scenes”, such as they are, are repetitive, overlong and poorly executed (but to be fair, they can be unintentionally funny, more on that later), and the plot is nothing you wouldn’t see on any TV procedural. Seeing as Seagal’s name is Jacob in the movie, perhaps the closest parallel is Jake and the Fat Man. But in a wild twist, Jake IS the fat man. What a mind-blower.

It’s important to remember that this movie came out around the time that Seagal’s reality show Lawman was hitting the airwaves. So we get more police work from a guy with an absurd “Southern” accent. 

And seeing as Seagal managed to write the script, other characters call him “a genius” among other compliments, although evidence of genius, or even mild intelligence, are not really on display. Seagal could have written anything for himself, but he chose to make Jacob a horrible torturer, just like the character he plays in Driven To Kill (2009). There’s no possible way an audience can like this character as he’s brutally, mercilessly, amorally, unnecessarily torturing his victims. Adding a miscast Isaac Hayes as The Coroner (Seagal didn’t even bother to give him a proper name) and a partner that looks like a bloated Philip Michael Thomas (interestingly enough, he’s played by another 3-named guy with the name “Thomas” somewhere in there - maybe Seagal thought it WAS PMT and got confused) don’t help matters.

And as for the fight scenes, oh dear...what appears to be happening is Seagal just stands there, while stunt doubles Nicholas Harrison and Dian Hristov (we feel their names should be known to the world, as they are the ones doing all the work) don oversized leather jackets and ridiculous wigs and pretend to be Jacob. The way this is all edited together is laughable. It’s so blindingly obvious it’s not Seagal, a child could see it. Who do they think they’re fooling? And the real crime is that the scenes, especially the first major one in the bar, go on for a ridiculously long time, leaving the viewer ample opportunity to see Harrison and Hristov. If the fight scene had just been “quick and dirty”, as they say, not to mention edited properly, there’s a strong chance we wouldn’t notice the stunt doubles. But no, it’s almost like Seagal wanted us to see them.

If you always wanted to see Zodiac (2007) but with ridiculous hair, here’s your movie. It would be interesting for Seagal to try and play a character that is even a little bit likable. But no, it’s just editing a guy jumping out a window 17 times and tacking on a completely nonsensical ending. Do not engage this Kill Switch.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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


Death Promise (1977)

Death Promise (1977)-* * * *

Directed by: Robert Warmflash

Starring: Speedy Leacock, Charles Bonet, Thompson Kao Kang, Bob O'Connell, Bill Louie, Tony Liu, and Vincent Van Lynn

 “They’reputtinratsinthebuildinhelp” - Angry and Confused Tenant #1

Buddies Charley Roman (Bonet) and Speedy Leacock (Leacock) love nothing more than training in Martial Arts at the Ridgefield Self Defense Academy in New York City under Master Shibata (Kang). But something is upsetting their normally peaceful lives. Evil, ruthless landlords - and their goons, mind you - are trying all sorts of nefarious tactics to get tenants to move out, such as turning off heat, electricity and water. 

When Charley’s father, Louis (O’Connell), a feisty ex-boxer, tells everyone to stand strong and not give in, the antagonists graduate to more creative and dangerous means to flush out tenants. Starting all the trouble is a diabolical planning and zoning board, that naturally consists of a team of ethnic stereotypes. Jackson, Albano, Mirsky and Engstrom (Black, Italian, Jewish and WASP, respectively, played by Abe Hendy, Tony De Caprio, Thom Kendell and David Kirk, respectively), headed by the George Plimpton-like E. Bartley Alden (Van Lynn) want the land a particular building is on. And they have shirtless Kung-Fu fighting goons to ensure they get it. 

When Louis Roman is caught in the crossfire, Charley resolves to make the planning and zoning/stereotype board pay, so he travels to Asia to train even more in Martial Arts. While training under Master Ying (Liu), he meets young, enthusiastic fighter Sup Kim (Louie) who agrees to help him on his quest for revenge. Now with Charley, Speedy and Sup Kim prepared to take on the baddies, prepare for the ultimate real estate war as Charley vies to fulfill his DEATH PROMISE!

It’s hard to put into words just how much we LOVE Death Promise. We, and our circle of friends, have all watched it multiple times and it’s become part of the fabric of our lives. Forget cotton, give me Death Promise any day! It’s even become a sort of shorthand, for example, when discussing a certain movie, we might say, “Well, it’s no Death Promise, but...” Such is the level of awesome-tude we’re dealing with here. To us, anyway, this is an all-time classic and one of our “desert island” movies, for sure.

Cementing its status as legendary movie, it was packaged in a big-box Paragon with iconic, unmistakable box art. But the movie within is what counts. It has gritty NYC locations, and the World Trade Center towers figure prominently in the background of many shots, even, poignantly, during the final battle. This was the late 70’s, the height of Bruce Lee mania, and here is a prime example of Bellbottom Kung Fu, where dudes with amazing patterns on their tight, wide-collared shirts kick each other with the massive lengths of fabric at the bottom of their pants. Bill Louie even appeared in Bruce cash-in The Dragon and the Cobra (1980). So while most people were busy waiting in line for Star Wars in 1977, those truly in the know were diggin’ Death Promise.

Stacking another brick in the wall of awesome is the title song by Opus. It’s beyond funky. It’s almost like their mandate before recording the song was “out-funk Shaft, out-funk Super Fly, out-funk Trouble Man, just out-funk everybody”. We believe they succeeded. The song is a new, mutant strain of super-funk. It destroys all funk that came before it. 
If there’s ANY way to get this song in any form, let us know. 

As for the movie itself, it sadly was interestingly-named director Robert Warmflash’s only directorial effort to date. We really wish he had done more, but we count ourselves as lucky we have this. It was many cast members’ only effort as well, and the technical aspects of this movie are pretty amateurish, but so what? It adds charm and provenance. Give us a movie that’s a little rough around the edges, but has originality and personality, rather than the soulless Hollywood schlock that’s coming to theaters today. 

There are some amazing situations and line readings that are absolutely priceless. Death Promise was clearly made for the 42nd Street audiences of the day, who were not well-known for paying strict attention to technical details. Warmflash probably never imagined it would even have a life on VHS, but it does. To us, it will always have a place in our hearts.

Everything about this movie is just so great, enjoyable and fun, from the narration that only appears once at the beginning of the movie, to the overall concept about evil landlords, to the super-secret “Mr. Big” who has a cat and predates Inspector Gadget’s Dr. Claw by many years. Not to mention Mirsky’s car phone - which is a rotary phone (talk about big pimpin’), and the fact that there’s a main character named Master Shibata, but it sounds like everyone is calling him “Master Ciabbata”, which makes him sound like some sort of Bread Sensei. 

There’s so much more we didn’t even mention. While the magic of Death Promise could never be duplicated, a movie that’s similar in feel is Gang Wars (1976). Both were distributed by classic NYC exploitationeers Mahler film. But only one has Warhawk Tanzania. We’ll let you guess which one.

We can’t speak highly enough of Death Promise. It’s truly one of our favorite films.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Sweet Revenge (1987)

 Sweet Revenge (1987)-* *1\2

Directed by: Mark Sobel

Starring: Ted Shackelford, Nancy Allen, Martin Landau, Sal Landi, Lotis Key, Stacy Adams, Michele Little, and Gina Gershon

Boone (Shackelford) is a smuggler of counterfeit perfume and an international adventurer. When a TV news reporter, Jillian Grey (Allen) starts following a story about girls abducted from L.A. and put into white slavery camps, it leads her to the diabolical mastermind Geoffrey Cicero (Landau). Grey and her young daughter are then kidnapped. Meanwhile, three friends, K.C. (Gershon), Tina (Adams) and Lee (Little) are expecting a modeling agent to meet with them. It turns out it’s two of Cicero’s top goons, Sonya (Key) and Gil (Landi). The three girls are also kidnapped. When the girls, Jillian, and Boone all end up crossing paths, they make an unlikely force and they all fight to escape the clutches of Cicero and his minions. Will they get SWEET REVENGE?

While mostly a TV actor, Sweet Revenge seems to be the only starring film role of one Theodore T. Shackelford III, who modestly just goes by “Ted”. While he’s supposed to be an Indiana Jones-type hero, his smug, glib one-liners (which were perfect for the 80’s, let’s not forget) do tend to undercut the audience’s faith in him as a powerful central hero. He’s more of a jokester, a goofball. But the movie as a whole has a cartoonish, comic-booky vibe, where opponents are easily knocked over by the slightest touch, and muzzle flashes look painted-on. Add some triumphant, A-Team-style music over it all, and you have some dumb, but not offensively bad, video store shelf-filler that only could have existed in the 80’s.

Not to be confused with Best Revenge (1984), One Man Out (1989), Cocaine Wars (1985), or a myriad other items of this type, you really have to be a fan of rediscovering movies otherwise left languishing on video store shelves to appreciate Sweet Revenge. It has a lot of the hallmarks we look for when it comes to 80’s action: the disco scene, at least one pinball machine, exploding huts, and an exploding helicopter. But the movie it resembles most is Catch the Heat (1987). The goofy tone is similar, the climax is almost exactly the same, and they each got one major star: Catch the Heat got Rod Steiger, this has Martin Landau.

It must have been fun for Nancy Allen and Gina Gershon to run around the Philippines shooting machine guns and such. When we’re first introduced to Allen’s character, it seems she’s going to be another in a long line of female reporters who don’t do much. Thankfully, she basically becomes a gun-toting hero, along with her unlikely compatriots, some L.A. girls and Ted Shackelford. Strangely, that description makes the movie sound better than it really is. But the movie was kind of ahead of its time with its look at human trafficking, and Martin Landau as Cicero has his own logo. If you live in a palace surrounded by goons, and you have flags bearing your own personal emblem hanging all over the place, you might as well have a neon sign reading “BADDIE!” also outside your house. But Cicero makes no bones about the fact that he’s evil. He sometimes comes out of his house, says nothing, then turns right around and goes back in. Such are his powers of intimidation.

Released on VHS by Media, Sweet Revenge is a lightweight offering in just about every sense of the word. The 79 minute running time reinforces that, and is certainly welcome. While not a must-buy, you could do a lot worse than Sweet Revenge.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Diplomatic Immunity (1991)

Diplomatic Immunity (1991)-* * *

Directed by: Peter Maris

Starring: Bruce Boxleitner, Billy Drago, Robert Miano, Robert Forster, Sharon Case, Ken Foree, Meg Foster, Fabiana Udenio, Christoper Neame, Robert DoQui, and Matthias Hues

Cole Hickel (Boxleitner) is a Vietnam vet and career Marine. He has a beautiful daughter, Ellen (Case) who gets mixed up with a murdering psychopath obsessed with macabre art, naturally named Klaus (Bresnahan). When Klaus kills Ellen, Cole is enraged and wants revenge. This normally would be easy, thanks to Hickel’s military training, but the worm-like Klaus is hiding behind his “Diplomatic Immunity” privileges and he flees to Paraguay where his mother, Gerta (Foster) is some kind of big shot. After being told not to go to Paraguay by government agent Stonebridge (Forster), Hickel disobeys and goes there (and goes rogue). Once in Paraguay, he meets up with his contact, Cowboy (Drago) and loads up on weapons. Now protecting Teresa (Udenio) from the baddies, which include Klaus’ bodyguard Gephardt (Hues), Hickel must use all his wits to get justice for his daughter and make it back to the U.S. alive. Can he do it?

This is the best Peter Maris movie we’ve seen to date. We were a bit hesitant going in, as we weren’t all that crazy about his past work that we’d seen, but we’re glad we did. Diplomatic Immunity is like a better version of his Ministry of Vengeance (1989). Plus, look at the amazing cast he assembled for this one! It truly is The Expendables of early-90’s revenge movies with Bruce Boxleitner. Speaking of Boxleitner, we thought it was good casting putting him in the role of Cole. It could have been some meathead, but he’s actually a good actor. We noticed Matt McColm among the stunt players, they could have used him. But they went with a more sober and believable direction. My only question is, are Bruce Boxleitner and Barry Bostwick two different people? Can anyone confirm this? Have you ever seen them in the same place at the same time?

Backing up Cole Hickel - which is kind of an unnecessarily funny-sounding name - is a great cast, and we didn’t even mention Robert Miano and Ken Foree, who have small, but important parts. That’s the thing about all-star casts, talented actors don’t get enough time in the sun. For instance, Meg Foster deserved more. As did fan favorite Matthias Hues. But for a 90-minute running time, you have to concentrate on the plot and not get into diversions. Because the plot of 'Immunity is about as simple as it gets - guy wants revenge - Maris laudably keeps things on track, but such a flimsy plot just barely makes a 90-minute movie.

It seems this movie capitalized on the public’s interest for the concept of Diplomatic Immunity, because, for 1991, we presume people were just becoming aware of this term. This was still a relatively new thing in the minds of the public, so Maris was right there with a movie to exploit that interest. It does seem wildly unfair that Diplomatic Immunity could protect any old scumbag murderer who gets the opportunity  to say “I get to go home now scot-free, I plead Diplomatic Immunity, see ya.” Apparently you can be a murderer and get to invoke this privilege. So enter Cole Hickel and his rage that Klaus took his beloved daughter. So that’s pretty much the idea.

Maris should also be applauded for daring to put Billy Drago in a rare (and possibly his ONLY) good-guy role. Diplomatic Immunity is a solid, 80’s-style movie that’s worth seeing. Is it more than a one-time watch? Probably not, but it’s a worthwhile one. If you see it somewhere, pick it up.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Hostile Intent (1997)

Hostile Intent (1997)-*1\2

Directed by: Jonathan Heap

Starring: Rob Lowe, Sofia Shinas, Louis Del Grande, John Savage, and Saul Rubinek

“I’m going to hack into Netscape and plant this in their software.”      - Mike Cleary

“60,000,000 people have computers in their home. By the year 2000, the number will be one billion. We shop, bank, complete tax returns, communicate with family - all by computer. OUR LIVES ARE IN COMPUTERS.”

So says the ominous on-screen crawl when you begin watching Hostile Intent. On the bright side, at least we have until the year 2000 until the world goes to hell. So when a team of computer nerds/paintball nerds decide to go off in the wilderness to celebrate the completion of their newest program - and people start getting shot and actually dying - this paint-soaked excursion just got real. Mike Cleary (Lowe) is the head of the research team who have come up with a Lifelock-like computer program that can protect your personal files and documents. Naturally, this leads to an all-out massacre where innocent geeks are getting machine-gunned and machete’d to death. Cleary teams up with unfriendly forest-dweller Bear (Savage) - who predates the rise of Bear Grylls by many years - to defend themselves against the murderous goons of Kendall (Rubinek). Sure, these “hackers” think they’re smart, but can they decipher the intent of the baddies...their HOSTILE intent? (Don’t bother to) find out today!

In the time-honored pantheon of “Paintball Gone Wrong” movies, Hostile Intent has to rank somewhere towards the bottom of the list. The Zero Boys (1986) is better. The final third of Class of 1999 II: The Substitute (1994) is better. Master Blaster (1987) is MUCH better. Yet, though it came out a full decade after Master Blaster, the makers of this movie still felt they had something more to say about the matter. ‘Intent is filled with idiotic cliches, cringe-inducing dialogue they probably all thought was witty, and has a cheap, downmarket look. Plus we hate when a film is shot in Canada but they pretend it’s somewhere else. Why say Chicago? Just set the movie in Canada and we can all rest easy. Much like Skinheads (1989), the movie starts off in an urban environment and then needlessly becomes a wilderness slog. Just stay in the urban environs of “Chicago”. It would have been cool and different to see a PGW movie in a gritty city. But instead it’s just trees in the background as Rob Lowe looks at a screen...

Rob Lowe must really have been hitting the skids to make this piece of crud. He seems miscast as a computer nerd, though because it was the 90’s he wears a flannel shirt when he goes to the “Dotcom Cafe” which evidently is (or was) a real place. His character, Mike Cleary, takes life - and paintball - REALLY seriously. Before people even start getting killed, he treats it like a life-and-death military operation. Try as he may, Lowe can’t save this movie. Though he has help from Savage and Rubinek, great actors both, ANY actor would be at a loss when faced with the overwhelming dumbness of Hostile Intent. When the item that’s causing all the bloodshed is something called a “Clipper Chip” (which we believe may be a kind of boat), it may be time to pack it in.

A lot of the so-called action isn’t really explained, so the viewer starts to lose patience quickly. Members of Cleary’s team such as classic mustachioed fat guy Soames (Del Grande) and token woman Gina (Shinas) - who was in Ripper Man (1995) - don’t serve to make things any Clearyier. But on the bright side, there are a lot of 90’s computers and references, so anyone with a fondness for 90’s nostalgia, especially as it relates to outdated technology, will have a field day here. But back in the day, who actually rented this? Hostile Intent is the type of movie you rented at your local video store when your first 25 choices were rented out. Also, the very last credit at the end of the movie is a dedication to someone named “Pastebucket McWoo”. It’s a shame the only funny, interesting, mysterious and intriguing thing about the whole movie was left for dead last, one second before the movie totally ends. Pastebucket McWoo, we hardly knew ye.

Featuring no title song whatsoever, Hostile Intent is a new Lowe.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Trouble Man (1972)

Trouble Man (1972)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Ivan Dixon

Starring: Robert Hooks, Paul Winfield, Ralph Waite, William Smithers, Julius Marris, and James "Texas Blood" Brown

Mr. T (no, not that Mr.T - Robert Hooks, who predated the mohawked maniac by many years) is one cool cat. He’s got the flyest threads, the coolest car, the hottest women, and the most no-sweat attitude to life anyone has ever seen. But he doesn’t ever brag or show off, he keeps an understated cool at all times. It’s not entirely clear what Mr. T does exactly, but he’s licensed to carry a gun (and to kill, presumably) - but he notes he has licenses to do many other things as well. Being a jack of all trades, two men, Chalky Price (Winfield) and Pete Cockrell (Waite) hire Mr. T to protect them against the men that are invading their illegal, underground gambling circuit. When a murder occurs during one such gambling outing, both Police Chief Marx (Smithers) and crime honcho Big (Harris) want Mr. T’s head, though he’s innocent of the shooting. Things get a lot more complicated from there, but suffice to say, Mr. T never loses his cool. But will he get out alive?

In our estimation, Trouble Man is one of the best films from the Blaxploitation period of the 70’s. It’s a crying shame that it was never released on VHS in America, where it then could have really developed the standing it deserves. This lack of presence in video stores may help to understand why this title isn’t mentioned among the old stand-bys of the genre such as Shaft (1971) and Super Fly (1972). But it did develop a following over the years nonetheless, and Fox finally released a nice DVD in 2005. Director Ivan Dixon has an immense career in the entertainment industry, but only really dipped his toe into Blaxploitation waters, having directed both this and The Spook Who Sat By The Door (1973) the following year after Trouble Man. Having been 42 years old at the time of his helming of this movie, it’s reasonable to assume he wasn’t entirely sold on the notion of so-called “Blaxploitation”, and spent a large chunk of his career in TV, both in front of and behind the camera. But he and writer John D.F. Black imbue this film with a lot of sly cleverness and wit, rising it above many of its contemporaries - but like Mr. T himself, not in a loud or showy way.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the movie, to a large portion of people anyway, is the excellent Marvin Gaye soundtrack and title song. Many people knew Gaye’s music from the movie far more than they knew the movie itself, having been released contemporaneously with the film on Motown Records. The utter coolness of Mr. T, the impeccable writing and direction, and the Marvin Gaye music make an unbeatable combination. With Trouble Man, you can travel back to a time when every man wore a suit (with a wide tie), dudes hung out in pool halls, and if you wanted to contact someone, your only choice was rotary phone. All of this just adds, as if it were necessary, another fascinating layer to this movie.

Movies in general have only gotten worse, not better, since Trouble Man. Long live Mr. T.

Also check out a review by our buddy, The Unknown Movies!

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty