Mafia Vs. Ninja (1985)

Mafia Vs. Ninja (1985)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Robert Tai

Starring: Alexander Lo, Hseigh Wang, Silvio Azzolini, Eugene Thomas, and Philip So

 “The chief is leaving!”

Jack Do (Lo) comes to Shanghai in search of a better life. He and Charlie Wu (Hsu) (after a first initial fight) become buddies, and they land a job working for the benevolent gang boss William Chung (Wang). They do such a good job working for him, his rivals get mad and assemble a team of multi-racial weirdos with special fighting skills to end the competition. When the baddies do manage to dispatch their Master, Jack and Charlie get revenge on these guys one by one. Who will come out on top in this ultimate battle?

Mafia Vs. Ninja is a film whose insanity quotient ticks up as the movie goes along. It starts off as a fairly standard chop-socky production with the all the hallmarks: loud, yelling dubbing, music and sound effects,  fighting, etc. But hang in there, as this movie is like what might happen if Clash of the Ninjas (1986)-era Godfrey Ho directed Kill Squad (1982) or Death Machines (1976). Yes, it’s that fun to watch.

When the team of bad guys is being assembled, it’s truly great: there’s the Black guy, Mr. Jones (Thomas), the Italian knife expert who has an absurd “knife vest” and looks like Johnny Thunders, Nemo (Azzolini), an obese (what looks like) Hawaiian with a Hitler mustache named Woody (???), and of course, the evil Japanese guy (Tang). 

After their leader, who is presumably a Ninja but has what looks like a bag over his head with cut-out eyes, gives them their assignment, all hell breaks loose. There are wacky - but high quality - stunts, acrobatics, and  fights, bombs in pears, tree-fighting, dudes fighting in white leisure suits, silly wire-fu, and much, much more. It follows its own nonsensical logic that you just have to love.  It all comes to a very satisfying and enjoyable climax that’s a nice take on the time-honored Final Field Fight.

Mafia Vs. Ninja was released on VHS in the U.S. on World Video Pictures in a big-box with suitably eye-catching artwork. And the title certainly will stop you in your tracks as well. Now that it’s been released on a budget-priced DVD, there’s no excuse not to check out Mafia Vs. Ninja.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out write-ups by our buddies, The Video Vacuum and The Unknown Movies!


Urban Justice (2007)

Urban Justice (2007)- * * *

Directed by: Don E. FauntLeRoy

Starring: Steven Seagal, Eddie Griffin, Jade Yorker, and  Danny Trejo

 "When Revenge is personal, justice can be brutal."

Simon Ballister (Seagal) is distraught since the shooting death of his son. His son was a cop in the ‘hood, so naturally, Ballister goes to said ‘hood and rents a downtrodden apartment so he can live amongst the urban folk, aka racial and ethnic minorities. He then proceeds to do more damage to Blacks and Latinos than any racist skinhead could ever dream to. In his quest for revenge, he discovers that crime lord/drug dealer/Scarface (1983) enthusiast (duh), Armand Tucker (Griffin) might be the key. After seeking help from his buddy Chivo (Trejo), Ballister goes after Tucker in a no-holds-barred quest for URBAN JUSTICE.

This Seagal outing was a lot of fun. Make sure you watch it in a group like we did for best results. You know when the cynical Seagal is playing the Urban Cowboy and speaking in “Ebonics” that you’re in for a raucous good time. For the movie as a whole, try to imagine a poor man’s Dark Blue (2002) or Street Kings (2008). Trying to capitalize on those great James Ellroy-penned tales but with Seagal in the lead is a guarantee for pure silliness, and Urban Justice doesn’t disappoint in that department.

And while Jade Yorker deserves special merit as Gary in this film, despite what you think of Seagal, and despite what you think of Urban Justice in particular, Eddie Griffin rules this movie. He has a lot of energy and funny dialogue, and he seems to be giving his all. So top marks go to Mr. Griffin, whose performance acts as a motor that propels the whole movie along. 

By comparison, the sluggish Seagal is mainly dead weight (write your own joke). The movie could have used much more Danny Trejo as well, as his screen time is pretty limited. He and Seagal don’t even fight, they just talk for a few minutes. A definite wasted opportunity there.

On the technical side, the squibs used in the gunshot scenes are pretty over the top...but then again, we’ve never seen someone be shot in real life, so for all we know, it could look like an entire pitcher of Kool-aid explodes out of your back. We just don’t know. We’re trusting director FauntLeRoy for our ballistic information here. Mainly because we only trust people with three capital letters in their last name.

Plus there are way too many extreme close-ups of Seagal’s face here. Not just close-ups. EXTREME close-ups where his giant mug fills the entirety of your screen. Whether he demands this, or FauntLeRoy thinks it’s integral to the storytelling, we don’t know. But the natural human instinct is to yell “too close! Too close!” Honestly, no one needs to get that close to Seagal.

So if you’ve ever wanted to see Steven Seagal in the ghet-to (to use the Bill Cosby pronunciation) and communicating with his fellow homies on “their level” (predating Steven Seagal: Lawman), this is the movie for you.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

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


Gold Raiders (1983)

Gold Raiders (1983)-* * *

Directed by: P. Chalong

Starring: Robert Ginty and Sarah Langenfeld

When a plane goes down in the middle of the jungles of Thailand carrying millions of dollars in gold, a ragtag group led by Mark (The Gint) faces adventure and much peril as they try to retrieve it. Helping him along the way is Cordelia (Langenfeld). However, making their journey even harder is the evil, cigar-chomping commie General (is there any other kind?), named (we think) Korn (???), and he’s sending his men after the gold. Who will raid the gold: the good guys or the commies? find out today!

Gold Raiders is a fun movie that’s more on the adventure side of things than straight action. The sense of fun at work here is due in large part to the dubbing, which is laugh-out-loud funny. There are wacky fights, a surprisingly high body count, and some of the necessary inventiveness that comes from “third-world”-style filmmaking. Filmmaker P. Chalong probably didn’t have a lot of resources at his disposal - but that didn’t stop him from creating a pre-Cyclone (1987) futuristic bicycle that’s also a hang-glider and shoots missiles! Both that and the sinister cave bats with the red glowing eyes are some of the details that make Gold Raiders stand out.

Of course, it has the always-likable Ginty leading the pack. Although we don’t quite know whose voice it really was. It seems he saw a chance to go to Thailand and nabbed it. Perhaps he figured no one would ever see this movie - not that there’s anything to be ashamed of here - but, amazingly enough, the great VHS label Media released it in the U.S. In the 80’s, Ginty was riding high on the success of the Exterminator films, and Gold Raiders promotional materials made sure everyone knew this. 

While the plot is pretty flimsy (you gotta love the evil General screaming about “capitalist imperialists!!!”) - no one should get really hung up on the plot as long as the charmingly homemade-by-necessity effects are on display, including the nifty blood effects. Add to that some picturesque Bangkok locations, and you have a night of silly entertainment at its best. But there’s a caveat...

In its quest to seemingly recreate the work of Sergio Leone, Gold Raiders is just too long. Leone can justify creating a longer film. Chalong isn’t quite up to his masterful skill level. The running time is absurdly almost two hours. The climax is really cool...but then it keeps going and going. 

If all the fat was cut from this movie and the climax was in the right place, Gold Raiders might be more well known and put in the pantheon of “watch it with your buddies” movies. You can still - and should - do that, of course, but be aware you’ll be there for longer than you’d expect.

Besides the lengthiness, Gold Raiders is a movie we think most people will like - especially if you don’t take it too seriously.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Return Of The Tiger (1979)

Return Of The Tiger (1979)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Jimmy Shaw

Starring: Bruce Li, Angela Mao, and Paul L. Smith

In Bangkok, an American crime lord, Paul (Smith) is making his play to become the number one heroin dealer in the region. His main competitor is a Chinese gang who also wants control of the drug trade. But our hero, Chang (Li), is slyly playing them against each other so they can slowly wipe each other out. Inevitably, Paul and Chang will have to battle it out in the final confrontation. See who is victorious tonight!

From the opening of the movie, when Angela Mao shows up in a gym wearing a denim jumpsuit and stylishly beats up all comers, you know you’re in for an above-average chop socky outing. This is a true drive-in-style Martial Arts film, where characters have great outfits with huge collars, the dubbing is funny in its own right, there’s quality, non-stop fighting that is well-choreographed, and there are some nice directorial flourishes along the way that keep things from ever getting too flat.

Adding a lot to the proceedings is the extra-funky music, which includes some seriously badass drums. It’s easy to see why rappers like Wu-Tang like this style of movie, especially after hearing this cool soundtrack. Bruce Li even wears an imitation Adidas tracksuit for a bunch of his fight scenes, showing that the filmmakers trying to wring every last drop out of the Bruce Lee legend created something special that can stand on its own - and since a lot of these movies played on New York City’s 42nd Street, they ended up inadvertently inspiring some of the street culture of the 70’s and 80’s.

We always felt Bruce Li was underrated. While he came to prominence in the rush of Bruce Lee imitators along with Bruce Le, Dragon Lee, and our personal favorite knockoff name, Bruce Rhee, Bruce Li can hold his own as a high-quality Martial Artist, and this movie puts his talents on display - not only does Return Of The Tiger have the most threadbare plot to allow for non-stop brawls and fights, but there’s a hilarious scene where Li, right before a fight, oils himself up with oil that he just happened to have in his own pocket! 

So there’s a sense of humor here too, which is nice. Paul Smith, whose career has plenty of interesting moments, including appearing in the David Heavener vehicle Outlaw Force (1988), makes a visually different villain for this type of film. His bearded, hulking appearance gives Li a big challenge to overcome, and the climax - just like this movie overall - doesn’t disappoint.

Naturally, it takes place in the time-honored abandoned warehouse. Other things to watch out for are the musical stings (presumably) lifted right from the John Barry James Bond theme music, and an obese minion of the baddies named Tom who always wears a sweatshirt with the word “TOM” written in huge letters right on it. There are other memorable moments as well, making Return of the Tiger a cut above the legion of similar films being released at this time.

Also known in some territories under the awesomely overblown title of “Silent Killer From Eternity” (!), Media released this on VHS back in the good old days, so check it out if you can find it.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Driving Force (1989)

Driving Force (1989)-* * *

Directed by: Andrew Prowse

Starring: Sam Jones, Stephanie Mason, Catherine Bach, Don Swayze, Ancel Cook, Robert Marius, and Billy Blanks

Steve O’Neill (Jones) is a down-on-his luck father. He has a great relationship with his seven-and-a-half-year old daughter Becky (Stephanie Mason, in sadly her only credited role) and they’re kind of seeing each other through the hard times. Steve manages to find a job as a tow truck driver for No Risk Repair, whose motto is “a wreck a day, or you’re outta the way”. So while the hard-working Steve is out there busting his hump, he discovers a cabal of evil, rival tow-truck drivers who work for Black Knight Towing. Why you’d want your towing service to sound sinister remains unknown. 

Led by the diabolical hauler Nelson (Swayze), he and his compatriots Surf (Marius)and Pool (Blanks) use the most underhanded and illegal tactics to bring in their wrecks.  While Steve is just trying to defend himself and his daughter from the escalating towing wars, he gets even more on his plate as he constantly battles Becky’s deceased mother’s parents for custody rights. But he has allies in his fight: the pretty and capable (and female) Harry (Bach) and his old buddy Pete (Cook) are helping him out. When it comes to protecting his beloved daughter, what will be Steve’s DRIVING FORCE?

We very much enjoyed Driving Force. We thought the concept of evil tow truck drivers fighting a likable rival driver was pretty original, and Sam Jones has a lot of charisma and screen presence. His onscreen chemistry with his daughter was winning, and the daughter herself was a classic precocious kid of the time, but not annoying. 

Plus it was all ahead of its time: now there are many towing-based reality shows on TV. And surely Robert Marius - who has a very impressive action movie pedigree, including Cop Game (1988) - pioneered the concept of “guyliner”. While at first the unusual pace may take some initial getting-used to, once the movie kicks in, going along for the ride is definitely enjoyable.

The tow trucks both companies drive seem kind of futuristic, but nothing else in the movie would indicate that it takes place in the future. Don Swayze does a menacing job as the scuzzball Nelson, the baddie with an interesting secret. He and his fellow “tow-goodniks” (I’m REALLY sorry about that) definitely should win employees of the month. They truly care about their job. They really give their all at the workplace. 

When most people speak about the works of Billy Blanks, Driving Force rarely, if ever, comes up in conversation. His voice seems about an octave lower than usual, and as one of the main trio of bad guys, he’s not exactly front and center, but let’s not forget about this movie when talking about Billy.

The VHS was released on Academy in the U.S., and a quick glance at the box art shows some seriously pasted-on heads to some seriously unwitting bodies. What was wrong with the original bodies? It’s perhaps even more egregious than the paste job used for Liberty and Bash (1989) - 1989 was a banner year for many things, presumably that would also include incorrect head-body ratios. It’s certainly funny, as funny as some of the dialogue in the movie itself. 

The movie - we believe - was shot in the Philippines, but with a largely American main cast. But at least some of the production team was Australian, including the well-known Antony Ginnane, leading to the fact that the legendary, awesome stuntman Grant Page was involved. It’s all behind the scenes stuff, but whenever he’s on board, we’re going to try to mention it, we’re such fans of his.

In the end, we believe Driving Force is a diamond in the rough, whose day of reappraisal has finally arrived.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a review by our buddy, Cool Target!


One Man's Justice (1996)

One Man's Justice (1996)-* *1\2

AKA: One Tough Bastard

Directed by: Kurt Wimmer

Starring: Brian Bosworth, Jeff Kober, Bruce Payne, DeJuan Guy, M.C. Gainey, Neal McDonough, Robert LaSardo, and Hammer

Sgt. John North (The Boz) is an Army drill instructor and close-combat specialist. But he also has a sensitive side. He loves his young daughter and wife and would do anything for them. When his loved ones are tragically murdered by professional scumbag Marcus (Kober) and North is put into a coma by sustaining multiple bullet wounds, his life spirals out of control. 

Upon regaining his consciousness, he devotes his life to revenge. As he climbs up the baddie food chain, he finds Karl Savak (Payne), a long-haired, nose-ringed corrupt Federal Agent, and the villain of all villains this century, M.C. Hammer. Actually he has the classic bad-guy name of Dexter Kane, but it's still, of course, the Hammer we all know and love. Gumming up the works of North's revenge mission is 12-year old tot Mikey (Guy) who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Despite the presence of Mikey, will North achieve his mission, especially with the odds stacked against him?

Here's some imagery for you: a bowl of hearty soup with a fly in it. A rich, creamy cheesecake with a cockroach on it. A succulent deluxe lobster with a rat on it. All potentially lovely food items, but you cannot eat around the fly, cockroach or rat. One Man's Justice (or totally badass alternate title One Tough Bastard) is like that. All the scenes with The Boz are gold. The fight scenes are fun, the baddies are nice and bad, and The Boz is on a revenge mission in L.A. All seems right with the world. 

But when are filmmakers going to learn that red-blooded males who watch action movies don't want to see precocious brats preventing roided-up meatheads from exacting brutal, violent revenge? To put it another way: we hate when kids play too prominent a role in action movies. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, as Sarah Dampf, Smith, Lisa Boynton, and the cast of Double Blast (1994) prove, kids aren't ALWAYS bad. But the presence of the Mikey character here prevents One Man's Justice from being all it can be, much like Sgt. John North would want you to be in the Army.

So, while they should have edited out Mikey and added some more fights, car chases or even a test pattern, let's leave that aside for a moment. One Man's Justice is classic 90's. That's a good thing, by the way. The cast is excellent, with Boz doing a stellar job, plus favorites Kober, playing a bad guy as always (you know he's evil because he wears a leather vest), Bruce Payne hairing it up, and a rare dark-haired Neal McDonough making a brief appearance. 

We've also got Robert LaSardo in the tattoo parlor fight sequence, and, in what has to be a cinematic first, both M.C. Gainey and M.C. Hammer together in the same movie. M.C. Hammer is even billed as "Hammer", perhaps so he wouldn't be confused with the rap career of Gainey. While in The Peacekeeper (1997), Montel Williams teamed up with Dolph, here, The Boz and Hammer are at odds. We'll give you a moment to unravel that last sentence. Mr. Hammer gives us his full acting range, even showing us sad Hammer, or, as it's known, Sammer.

The 90's-ness of it all comes through insofar as all the time Mikey is involved, the movie devolves into a cross between Cop and a Half (1993) and one of those classic anti-drug PSA's from back then. At any moment you think some drugged-up bugs are going to come out from behind a wall. Then it swerves into Homie Movie territory, but Jeff Kober is the lead homie. It's all very confusing. It tries to be relevant, commenting on the trend of mugging people for their sneakers. And the fact that Mikey looks like Mac Dad from Kris Kross firmly places this movie in its 90's place and time. The soundtrack, in the relevant places, features rap from UGK and Kool Moe Dee. 

The original North (1994), John North is a man you can believe in. Fun fact about Brian Bosworth's career: much like how Tony Danza strictly only plays guys named Tony, Bosworth mainly plays guys named John. In Stone Cold (1991), he was John Stone, in Blackout (1996), he was John Gray, in the TV series Lawless, he was, awesomely enough, John Lawless, and of course today we have John North. One Man's Justice is perhaps the second-ultimate Boz movie, after Stone Cold of course. 

He was born to be in B-grade action product, and you can tell from the many training sequences that this is truly in his wheelhouse. The movie has some of our favorite cliches, such as when, during the climax, the baddie says the hero's name many times, and the all-time classic "you just couldn't let it go, could you?" speech.

We loved all the non-Mikey scenes in this movie. His presence is just too prevalent and inappropriate here. I mean honestly, what is this, One Tot's Justice? But just as you cannot eat around the offending vermin in your food, we can't just watch around Mikey. Your enjoyment level of this movie will depend on your tolerance for children in your action movies.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out write-ups by our friends, DTVC, The Video Vacuum, and  Cool Target!


One Man Jury (1978)

One Man Jury (1978)-* * *

Directed by: Charles Martin

Starring: Jack Palance, Chris Mitchum, Pamela Shoop, and Joe Spinell

Lt. Jim Wade (Palance) is an L.A. Cop On The Edge who hates scum. Imagine if a John McCain/Clint Eastwood-type (hmmmm....) grumpy older man who continually told the neighborhood punks to get off his lawn not only had a gun and a badge, but teaches police school at night! His partner is Sgt. Blake (Mitchum) and together they’re hunting for a serial killer plaguing the city known as “The Slasher”. In order to get closer to The Slasher, Wade makes some underworld dealings, mainly with gangster Abatino (Spinell). But Wade is tired of the legal system that gives both serial killers and gangsters slaps on the wrist, so he takes the law into his own hands and becomes a ONE MAN JURY.

Now this is what 12 Angry Men (1957) should have been! Just One Angry Man. But in all seriousness, this is a decent-enough cop drama that will entertain you throughout the majority of its running time. It’s great to go back to the days when cops had wide ties, three-piece suits and smoked cigars anywhere they pleased. In many ways, One Man Jury is kind of old-fashioned...it plays as if an older director, whose career goes back to the 1940’s,  was asked by a production company to make a Dirty Harry (1971) knockoff. And indeed, this was writer/director Charles Martin’s last movie, dying a few years after its completion. None of this is meant to come off as negative, One Man Jury is still worth seeing.

Plus it’s great to see Chris Mitchum and Jack Palance team up as cops. Especially when they’re chasing after the great Joe Spinell, a Comeuppance Reviews fan-favorite actor. Pamela Shoop plays the classic liberal counterpart to Wade as well as his love interest, and Angel Tompkins appears for a few short minutes. Jim Wade truly was the Marion Cobretti of his day. Based on his love of crime statistics, anyway. But truly the star of the show is Palance. Here we must quote from the back of the Star Classics VHS box (keep in mind this is on the back of the box - pretend you’re in a video store in the 80’s and you want to know the plot of this movie):

“Jack Palance is one of the very few talents who has the capacity to convey the full spectrum of emotions in this film. At six foot four, two hundred pounds, features chiseled in solid granite, and a soft, yet threatening-as-thunder voice, he’s everyone’s image of what an uncompromising avenger should be.”

Well, now that you know Jack Palance’s weight, that should firmly convince you to see this movie post-haste. But One Man Jury is one movie that has the guts to have the message of “violence IS the answer!”

So if that floats your boat, and we’re guessing that if you’re reading this site right now that it does, One Man Jury should fit the bill. But be advised that it’s not very “extreme” - a lot of its charm comes from its old-school ways.

 Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a review from our buddy Keith at The Unknown Movies!


One Man Army (1994)

One Man Army (1994)-* * *

Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago

Starring: Jerry Trimble, Melissa Moore, Dennis Hayden, Rick Dean, and Yup The Dog as Hank

Jerry Pelt (Trimble) is a devoted Martial Arts instructor in the big city, who loves teaching tots how to punch and kick. When he receives word that his beloved grandfather has died, he travels to the country to go to his funeral. Once there, he finds the old town of Johnson City is rife with gambling, prostitution and corruption of every kind. There’s even illegal, underground Punchfighting taking place at the local watering hole. Jerry then teams up with lawyer Natalie Pierce (Moore), his old buddy Eddie (Hayden), and his trusty dog Hank (Yup) and he goes on a crusade to clean up the town. In order to do this, he must defeat Sheriff Boze (Dean), so Jerry runs for Sheriff himself. But it’s going to take all that Jerry Pelt has to save the town, his friends, his dog, and himself from the evil forces in Johnson City. Can he do it?

The man with Sean Penn’s face and Reb Brown’s voice returns for One Man Army, a movie with a storyline that will seem familiar if you’ve seen China O’Brien (1990), or even fellow Cirio outing The Devastator (1985) (among many other possible influences). Because this is a Corman-produced Cirio movie, the running time is only about 75 minutes - and in that time a lot of pleasantly dumb and very silly action is crammed in. 

We really like Jerry Trimble, and we felt this movie was better than his Die Hard knockoff Stranglehold (1994). We felt his character, Jerry Pelt (is he like Tony Danza, who contractually can only play characters named Tony because he cannot respond to any other name?) was put in an interesting position: He’s forced to Punchfight, and then wants to shut down the Punchfighting ring once invested with the legal authority to do so.  We don’t think we have ever seen that before.

A dog named Yup plays Jerry’s devoted sidekick (sadly it’s his only credited movie role to date) - and he’s listed proudly among the other actors in the opening credits. At first when you see “And Yup as Hank”, you feel confused, but Yup has a surprisingly big role, and has to do a lot of stuff to help Jerry. His dog acting was impressive, we have to say. Fan favorite Nick Nicholson is on board, pretty much guaranteeing that this movie was shot in the Philippines (not California as we’re led to believe). Melissa Moore is always nice to see - her batting average is pretty high, having appeared in Samurai Cop (1989) and The Killing Zone (1991).

One Man Army is brief, derivative fun from start to finish. It won’t tax your brain or your schedule. Trimble fans need to come out of the woodwork, so here we are talking about one of his mini-classics.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out reviews from our buddies, DTVC , Fist Of B-List and The Video Vacuum! 


L.A. Heat (1989)

L.A. Heat (1989)-* *

Directed by: Joesph Merhi

Starring: Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Myles Thoroughgood, Robert Gallo, Vince Inneo, and Jim Brown

Detective Jon Chance (LHJ) is an L.A. Cop On the Edge. Putting him even closer to the edge is the fact that a particularly evil drug dealer named Clarence (Benton) is running around murdering cops. Among the police officers that this particular scumbag has killed was Chance’s partner Carl (Inneo). So while Clarence goes on the run, Chance tries to track him down. Using a small-time drug dealer named Spyder (Thoroughgood), Chance gets ever closer.

But mob boss Sylvio (Gallo) has inserted himself in the whole affair, and when Chance gets suspended from the force by Captain...well, just Captain (Brown), Chance is adrift, and is troubled by unpleasant dreams. Chance wishes he could go back to the Old West and dispense justice the old fashioned way. But as it stands, he must avenge his partner, get his old job back, catch Clarence, and stop drugs and gangs from proliferating in his own backyard, all single-handedly. Can he do it? Or will he succumb to - or become - the L.A. Heat? 

We’ve seen so many PM movies by this point, we’ve come to memorize the credits. All the names we’ve come to recognize are on board. While this is the third in the series of four Jon Chance films for PM - the others being L.A. Vice (1989), Angels of the City (1989), and, of course, Chance (1990) - not forgetting that Quietfire (1991) is not a Chance film, it is quite impressive LHJ portrayed Chance in three feature films in 1989 alone. No wonder we’re always extolling the virtues of that great year for video stores. 

While it remains lost in the mists of time whether audiences actually demanded more Chance material, or PM just pumped ‘em out regardless, all it does is highlight the fact that 1989 was probably the single greatest year for video stores. You had selection out the wazoo, and four “Chance”s to win. 

All that being said, it’s now time for a brief reality check. L.A. Heat is the weakest of the Chance outings. While it starts strong, somewhere around the midpoint it just runs out of gas. LHJ’s performance, dream sequences, and sport coats are all top-shelf stuff, but it’s almost as if the filmmakers lost interest halfway through the production. 

If Chance had more goons to fight along the way, a more clearly-defined villain, and a little more energy, L.A. Heat could have been more of a winner. PM would certainly learn, grow, and refine its action style in the ensuing years. Let’s not forget this was an early production from them, so we won’t judge it too harshly. But it’s hard to escape the fact that its cheap, rock-bottom budget hampers matters. 

Some items in the formula PM would never change, such as cops being shot, and Chance having at least one other name to play off of (such as Dan Haggerty, William Smith, or Jim Brown). Speaking of Brown, he’s as unintelligible as usual, but that’s why we love the guy. No director’s going to tell him not to mumblewhisper, and out of all the Jim Brown movies we’ve seen over the years, we’ve probably been able to understand about fifteen words total.

Of course, there are all the funny cop cliches we all know and love, the sax on the soundtrack, and a news reporter who, as a station identifier on her microphone, uses a beer koozie written on in marker. One of the better aspects of the movie is the title song by Jastereo Coviare, which the credits tell us was remixed by LHJ himself. Was there no part of this production he wasn’t involved in? He truly is a renaissance man who gets little credit in life. 

The song, rather than being used solely at the end, should have been blaring during a training sequence. That was a missed opportunity. Something funny about the DVD, also, is how the swear words are dropped out of the audio. Was this meant to be a pilot for a TV show? And if so, why is all the violence and almost-nudity all intact? But it all adds to the absurd fun. In fact, the “censored” DVD is so funny and unusual, it ended up being one of our favorite aspects of the whole L.A. Heat experience. 

In the end, Chance fans (and there are Chance fans, we assume) will want to see it to complete the Chance phenomenon, and truth be told it’s not that bad, but still, other Chance movies are better.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Indio (1989)

Indio (1989)-* * *

Directed by: Antonio Margherti

Starring: "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, Francesco Quinn, and Brian Dennehy

Somewhere deep in the jungles of South America (the film was shot in Argentina, Borneo, Brazil and the Philippines) a businessman named Whytaker (Dennehy) is disrupting the local indigenous population and bulldozing their huts attempting to get to a mine. When it spirals out of control and people start dying, Daniel Morell (Quinn) gets involved. Morell is the son of an “Indio” chief and an American woman. Just how that odd couple got together is never explained. 

Morell just happens to be a highly-trained Marine, and when he goes into “fight” mode, he whips off his shirt, dons some war paint and feathers, and begins making life miserable for Whytaker and his team. So Whytaker brings Morell’s old Marine instructor, Jake (Marvelous) (he legally changed his name to Marvelous) to the remote location in the hopes that he can stop Morell. That’s really just the beginning of the showdown in the jungle. What will happen?

Indio is one of the better jungle films we’ve seen to date. We won’t call it a Jungle Slog, because there’s really nothing sloggy about it. Of course it’s Italian-made and directed by the great Antonio Margheriti, and by ‘89 the Italian obsession with jungle-set movies had led them to make more mainstream jungle fare, having gotten the gore and weirdness out of their system with items like Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Jungle Holocaust (1977). So it was back to the jungle again, but this time a wider audience can appreciate the not at all First Blood (1982)-like stylings of Indio. The presence of Brian Dennehy in First Blood and Indio is surely a coincidence...

Of course, as soon as the movie started we were on Marvelous Marvin Hagler watch, and he doesn’t appear until 44 minutes into the film. But once he appears, things improve. And they weren’t even bad to begin with. As Jake, the Vietnam vet who is adept at playing the pan flute like an angrier, tougher Zamfir, Marvelous steals the show. 

Of course, it’s hard to match Brian Dennehy, who always delivers. He even says the classic line “We got company!” in the first five minutes. Just why Whytaker’s company is out in the middle of the jungle, and why a local Indio can join the U.S. Marines, may seem confusing at first, but eventually everything falls into place. The plot, the structure, and the fact that everyone is always calling Morell “Half-breed” will remind viewers of the Fabrizio De Angelis-directed Thunder trilogy.

Morell (played by Olivier Gruner lookalike Quinn) pretty much does what MacGyver would do if he were trapped on Gilligan’s Island: he makes bombs from coconuts and other weapons out of jungle items. He’s also handy with a blow gun, and thanks to one of our favorite things, repeated footage, we get to see him aim his bamboo stick at us, the audience, more than once. 

There’s also repeated footage of bulldozers taking down huts. None really explode, but there are some other things that blow up, including a helicopter. There are also the classic waterfall shots, shirtless natives, and machine gun shooting we all know and love. But Margheriti and the cast make it all work on a level that improves upon all the jungle flicks that came before it.

While it could have used a song, that’s really our only minor quibble with Indio, which remains one of the best jungle outings we’ve seen to date. No wonder there’s a sequel.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Trapper County War (1989)

Trapper County War (1989)-* *

Directed by: Worth Keeter

Starring: Rob Estes, Noah Blake, Betsy Russell, Bo Hopkins, Don Swayze, and Ernie Hudson

When buddies Ryan Cassidy (Estes) and Bobby Kael (Blake) decide to trek across the country from New Jersey to California in the search for musical stardom in L.A., they truly make a fateful decision when they decide to stop in Trapper County, North Carolina. What seemed like an innocent and uneventful stopover in a small, rural community turns into a living nightmare when they discover that the hamlet is controlled by the maniacal and demented Luddigger family. 

However, there is one Luddigger who wants out, a girl named Lacey (Russell). Ryan and Bobby - with the new addition of Lacey, run for the border, but that inadvertently ignites the “Trapper County War”. Soon, a good-hearted local man, a man with the names of two diverse presidents, Jefferson Carter (Hudson) reluctantly joins the fray. As a somewhat troubled Vietnam vet, this newly created “war” is a way to exorcise his demons. Just where local sheriff Frost (Hopkins) stands in all this is in question, but the evilness of good ol’ boy Walt Luddigger (Swayze) is not. Who will come out victorious in this war?

Yet again, the magical year of 1989 churns out another video for the VHS-hungry shelves of the world’s video stores. Amazingly, director Worth Keeter directed L.A. Bounty (1989) the same year. If you must see one Worth Keeter movie from 1989, see L.A. Bounty. It seems he expended all his energy on that one. 

While TCW is technically well-made, it’s really just another backwoods bonanza, the likes of which we’ve all seen so many times before. Hunter’s Blood (1986) and Edge of Honor (1991) are versions of this tale that are more entertaining than this one. TCW falls into the classic stereotype of the “city boys” being good, kind and wise, and the country folk as being overalls-wearing dimwits who just want to do bad things to you. To be fair and balanced, the Bo Hopkins and Ernie Hudson characters are not like that, but you catch our meaning.

The movie itself is just too “normal”. It’s very straightforward and takes no chances whatsoever. If it just had a little taste of the weirdness quotient, it would have risen up considerably in our minds. But alas, it is slow and standard, and not a lot of exciting stuff happens. But that being said, our two heroes do have a classically 80’s dress sense, with stonewashed jeans being the wardrobe staple. 

Their haircuts do indeed say “aspiring 80’s music stars”, so that was appropriate. Of course, there’s yet another Mark Paul Gosselaar lookalike in the Bobby character, played by Noah Blake. Ah, to look like Zack Morris in the 80’s. Apparently it was a popular look, and if you were blessed enough to have genetics that even remotely resembled MPG, the world was truly your oyster. Now just why these two boys would camp out in Trapper County of all places, especially after not receiving the warmest of welcomes, remains unknown.

While it does feature the country-rock stylings of a band called Waycross Express with their songs “I Love My Country” and “Certified Fool”, and Ernie Hudson does his best, unfortunately Trapper County War is just a bit too middle of the road to really please that many people.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


L.A. Crackdown II (1988)

L.A. Crackdown II (1988)-* *1\2

Directed by: Joesph Merhi

Starring: Anthony Gates, Lisa Anderson, and Pamela Dixon

A man named Michael (Anthony Gates) is released from prison and goes back to his old gang of bank robbers. But before he does that, he stops at a quarter-a-dance joint (which apparently still existed into the late 80’s) and picks up a girl. It seems Michael, aside from being a bank-robbing accomplice, is also a mad serial killer slasher, and he’s on the loose in L.A. Seizing the opportunity, the classic police WYC (or White Yelling Chief) sends two female cops, Karen (Dixon, who has an impressive career of PM movies under her belt) and Jamie (Lisa Anderson) undercover as dancehall girls to try and find the killer. After some further confusing twists, turns and interpersonal strife, the truth will be revealed. Dare you see why there is a SECOND L.A. Crackdown?

Pepin, Merhi, and all the other regulars in the City Lights/PM gang are on board for L.A. Crackdown II. Sure, the movie may be lacking the production values we’re used to seeing today, and a lot of the proceedings, especially the acting and plotting are amateurish, but you’ve got to give them credit. They were out there, makin’ it. 

You could almost see the struggle and the desire to make movies. Thankfully, they persevered, because PM was one of the giants of the DTV world. But like just about all City Lights movies, it’s not the greatest thing ever produced, but for those interested in a prehistory of PM, it’s still worth seeing. Others may want to pass.

In the positives column, the movie has plenty of 80’s style, especially in the hair and clothes of the female characters. People smoke indoors, listen to their Walkman, and play pinball. There’s a scene in a poolhall when a song very much like Dio’s “Holy Diver” comes on the soundtrack. And if AIP had Zipperface (1992), City Lights has L.A. Crackdown II to counter it. (Fun fact: Actress Denise Ezell is in both movies). 

That being said, the plot of a man released from jail and getting involved with a woman who works at a joint where tickets are exchanged for dances strongly recalls the film noir Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951). But if City Lights is going to make a movie that even remotely includes dancing, they can’t possibly hope to compete with their all-time classic Dance Or Die (1987). That pretty much closes the book on City Lights dance movies. And what would Roy Kieffer say?

Featuring the end credits song “Lost In the Night” by Lucy Sustar, which is a movie highlight, L.A. Crackdown II might not be the most substantial movie out there, but it’s a decent example of 80’s independent filmmaking, and it has one very cool moment.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Destroyer (1988)

Destroyer (1988)-*1\2

Directed by: Robert Kirk

Starring: Lyle Alzado, Deborah Foreman, Clayton Rohner, Pat Mahoney, David Kristin, Tobias Anderson, and Anthony Perkins

"3,000 volts couldn't kill him...It just gave him a buzz."

 Ivan Moser (Alzado) is an evil rapist/murderer who is in prison and about to receive the death penalty by electric chair. The authorities start the proceedings, but then a prison riot breaks out, diverting their attention. They assumed they fried Moser...but they were wrong! Meanwhile, a movie company begins shooting a film in the abandoned prison where Moser was. Seems like a smart idea. The movie is called “Death House Dolls” and is a women-in-prison flick. Edwards (Perkins) is the forever-frustrated director, and David Harris (Rohner) is the screenwriter and ideal 80’s coolguy. His girlfriend Susan Malone (Foreman) is also working on the film. Harris wants to capture the utter realism of the prison experience, despite the fact that he’s working on what seems to be a lightweight exploitation film, so he ends up butting heads with Warden Karsh (Mahoney) who was there on the night of the riot. But Harris also ends up getting some good info from local chef Fingers (Kristin). Will Moser, who has been presumably living at the prison for the past 18 months, we know not how or why, end up killing everyone in sight?

When we saw the VHS box cover for Destroyer, with a hulking, oiled-up Alzado brandishing a giant drill of some sort, we thought “how can we lose?” - maybe it’s our frame of mind, or maybe it’s due to lack of research on our part, but we thought Destroyer was an action movie. Hopefully one where Alzado “Destroys” the baddies. Not such a bad assumption, but an incorrect one. Destroyer instead is a dreary, inane slasher with problems as seemingly endless as the vast corridors a lot of the movie takes place in. What the movie has going for it are its individual characters. Alzado was great as the psycho killer who’s usually shirtless, Jim Turner is noteworthy as the techie on the film named Rewire, and David Kristin steals the movie as Fingers. The warden, the janitor Russell (Anderson), the young couple portrayed by Rohner and Foreman - who previously were together in April Fool’s Day (1986) - a far more entertaining horror film - together, pretty much any of the individual personages were good, it’s just that the writing and structure of the movie were slow, bleak, and not up to par. And nothing is worse than when they try to be funny. We blame the writers and director, not the actors.

The movie also falls into the typical trap of making the warden supposedly unlikable because he’s an authority figure, but the screenwriter dude supposedly sympathetic because he’s so cool and the warden’s not. Rohner, who has kind of a Johnny Depp meets Charlie Sheen kind of vibe, does indeed have awesome hair (there’s even a fairly substantial scene where he’s washing his hair) - but we were rooting for the warden. There’s also a pretty surprising lack of Alzado - like a lot of movie monsters, you don’t see a lot of him until the end of the movie. There should have been less Anthony Perkins directing the movie-within-a-movie and more Alzado on a rampage. While Deborah Foreman never looked closer to Belinda Carlisle than she does here, Alzado was never closer to John Matuszak than he is here. They have similar builds and facial hair. Maybe it’s a football thing.

As for the boxcover that so entranced us, it can proudly go into the “we pasted the main star’s head on someone else’s body and hoped no one would notice” file. As for the movie itself, it’s not action, and it’s not very horrifying. The individual characters are good, and there maybe a few decent lines here and there, but it’s unlikely too many people will come away very satisfied from Destroyer.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a review by our friend at The Unknown Movies! 


Bullet Down Under (1994)

Bullet Down Under (1994)-* *

AKA: Signal One

Directed by: Rob Stewart

Starring: Christopher Atkins and Mark "Jacko" Jackson

Martin Bullet. That’s really all we have to say. We could probably just end the review right now, because that name alone tells you more about Bullet Down Under than any long-winded treatise would. But lest you think we’re lazy, we shall continue. The aforementioned Bullet (Atkins), whose name takes the cake as far as way-too-on-the-nose action movie names are concerned (and we’ve heard ‘em all - or at least we thought we had - e.g. Anthony Strong, Jeff Powers, John Steele, Mike JustusSkylord Harris, etc.) is an L.A. cop who shoots some stereotypical 90’s homies and decides the best course of action after this supposedly tragic event is to hightail it to Australia and team up with hard-nosed, no-nonsense cop Moran (Jacko Jackson, whose name rivals Bullet’s, but his is real!). What then follows includes the fish-out-of-water Bullet and bull-in-a-china-shop Moran tearing up Australia fighting the baddies, who happen to be murderers and gangsters. Will Bullet’s next hit be number one with a bullet? Bullet over to Amazon and find out...

Way before Bullet to the Head (2012), but after Bullet In the Head (1990), we have Bullet Down Under (though to be fair, in most places this movie is called Signal One) - the original Bullet film. The whole outing is very TV-cop style, which isn’t surprising, as this is director Stewart’s only non-TV project. There are plenty of shootouts and car chases, but the plot has a ton of filler and lacks strong structure, as well as a threatening, centralized villain. 

Now that the negatives are out of the way, we can concentrate on Christopher Atkins’ leather jacket and sunglasses combo. Obviously he needed to look cool so he could compete with his own name. Bullet, not Atkins. Oddly, the movie doesn’t exploit the name Martin Bullet like it should have. Take Best of the Best 2 (1993) for example. They said the name Brakus like a million times. The name “Martin Bullet” should have been said more during the running time.

Contrasting with the baby-faced Atkins is the hulking, macho meathead Jacko Jackson. He’s not really known here in America, so after some digging we learned that he is an Australian Rules footballer. Thankfully, he’s also an Australian Rules actor. He seems to be the Australian parallel to our Brian Bosworth, and Atkins the parallel to our Mark Hamill. Pairing the two together certainly makes sense, especially when they’re investigating bootleg boomerang manufacturers (it sounds like a stereotype but this really occurs...we would imagine that is a big problem down there), and getting to the bottom of a very strange band called The Battered Brides that play with cardboard (?) instruments, kind of like the hard rock version of Information Society.

The U.S. DVD is of amazingly, embarrassingly poor quality (the audio is the worst we’ve ever heard - it sounds like everything is coming out of the worst drive-thru speaker you’ve ever ordered a burger through...at any moment you think Jacko Jackson is going to ask you if you want fries with that), and the video isn’t much better, with glaring errors such as Atkins walking out of a room twice (which was quite funny actually) - but we blame Arrow Video for this, not the filmmakers. There are plenty of amusing moments in Bullet Down Under (like the scenes in the classic weightlifting room) - but Arrow seems intent on not letting you fully enjoy them.

We were happy to get a chance to see this, and if you see it DIRT cheap somewhere like a gas station or Goodwill (where we found our copy), pick it up, but the inconsistency of the movie itself, as well as the poor presentation, will rightly scare off many potential viewers.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty