Drive (1997)

Drive (1997)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Steve Wang

Starring: Mark Dacascos, Kadeem Hardison, Tracey Walter,  Sanaa Lathan, and Brittany Murphy

Toby Wong (Dacascos) is a man with something called a BioEngine in his chest. When it comes to his Martial Arts abilities, this prototype electronic device increases his speed and reaction time. Because it is apparently worth five million dollars, there are a lot of baddies that are after it. The leaders of the crew trying to capture Wong are Madison (Ferguson) and his sidekick Hedgehog (Walter). After a chance run-in at a bar, Wong meets aspiring songwriter Malik Brody (Hardison). 

Brody recently lost his house, his wife (Lathan) and his job. So even though Wong “kidnaps” him, he no doubt feels he has nothing to lose by sticking with Wong throughout his wild adventure. Plus, Wong offers him half the money if he’ll DRIVE him from San Francisco to L.A. But the baddies are never far behind. They check into a hotel and meet a quirky girl named Deliverance (Murphy) and she helps them out for a while, but the final confrontation is at a karaoke bar, where all hell breaks loose... who will come out victorious?

It’s easy to see why Drive is widely praised for being one of the best DTV’s ever. It’s an extremely entertaining ride with excellent Martial Arts choreography, stunts, action, and plenty of humor. It never takes itself too seriously, hence bizarre inventions like the TV show “Walter The Einstein Frog” which characters seem to always be watching. Needless to say, Drive is the original Drive (2011) - didn’t the makers of that movie know there was already a movie with that title? They inadvertently showed their film ignorance. Drive is also the original Rush Hour (1998) - the comparisons are easy to see. Plus Drive is the original Crank (2006) - because the BioEngine in Wong’s chest has his adrenalin levels artificially raised and he has to deal with the consequences.

There are references to other movies as well - such as The Defiant Ones (1958), or Fled (1996), if you prefer. At one point Malik says Toby is “The original Five Fingers of Death”, and when a cop asks Toby’s name, Toby replies “Sammo Hung”. So genre fans have little winks and nods in their direction, if they’re paying attention to that sort of thing. 

Hardison is genuinely funny as Malik - and as the man who gets thrown into this confusing situation, even as he pines for his lost wife - you actually feel for him as well. Compare this to the similar but much more horrible Mercenary 2 (1999). Robert Townsend is just annoying and Olivier Gruner has no personality. Whereas Dacascos executes his exaggerated moves with panache, and even sings and dances at one point! What more could you ask for?

As Toby and Mark go on the run, there’s plenty of “90’s tech” on display for nostalgia purposes. Not to mention a few songs on the soundtrack that scream “90’s!”, the most memorable of which is “Where’s the Party At” by Intellect. Mr. Intellect would probably be insulted by this, but the song is very Kris Kross-esque. But the movie is truly action packed, and delivers what you want, and more. It even avoids a couple of cliches along the way. It’s a fast-paced crowd pleaser, and we definitely recommend it.

A note about the DVD we viewed: We watched the 1 hour and 53 minute British DVD, which is the director’s cut. It restores about 15 minutes to the movie, which is substantial. Because it is in widescreen with a ton of extras, we strongly suggest you track down this DVD for the most complete “Drive” experience to date.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

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


Soldier Of Fortune (1990)

Soldier Of Fortune (1990)-* * *

Directed by: Pierluigi Ciriaci

Starring: Daniel Greene, Savina Gersak, Danuta Lato, and Bo Svenson

Vincent Miles (Greene) is a former Green Beret who is an excellent soldier, but has suffered some form of amnesia. Sections of his memory are lost, but occasionally tiny portions flash back into his mind. He doesn’t want to give up his military skills, so he answers an ad in, you guessed it, Soldier of Fortune magazine. 

He travels to the border of Afghanistan, and this chance occurrence reunites him with his former Commanding Officer, Col. Preston (Svenson). The eyepatchioed Preston teams him up with a nerdy guy named Rossi, who naturally is acting as the brains of the mission, as well as a British guy and the token chick (played by Italo Disco singer Danuta). 

Their mission is to recover a Soviet plane, an ultra-modern MiG, before it falls into the hands of the enemy. With Miles’ memories of a mysterious dancer (Gersak), and his having to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to this dangerous assignment, will the team make it out alive?

It’s nice to see fan favorite Daniel Greene in the lead role, normally he’s relegated to smaller parts. And he does have the classic late 80’s/early 90’s cool hair if all else fails. Soldier Of Fortune is a bit more competent than you might think - yes, it is your standard machine gun-shooting/blow-ups galore/guy-diving-out-of-a-guard-tower movie, but the desolate location shooting and the presences of Greene, Danuta, Gersak (however limited that may be) and of course Bo Svenson raise the level a bit. Svenson is always nice to see, and his eyepatch looks more like a discarded watchband. So, there’s that.

Miles’ sidekick in the movie, Rossi, provides some comic relief as he traipses around the battle zone with cargo shorts and socks pulled up to his knees. Another facet of his character is that he “likes music” and always has a Walkman. This as they’re fighting the Spetznaz and various evil Russkies. Not to mention plenty of mustachioed locals. 

This movie was directed by Pierluigi Ciriaci, the man responsible for Delta Force Commando (1988) and Delta Force Commando II: Priority Red One (1990) - so there’s going to be some wackiness, inadvertent or otherwise. For example, the base of the heroes uses Disney code names. So we get dialogue, with the most unsmiling seriousness imaginable, such as: “Goofy 6 has been compromised”, “Disneyland’s in trouble” and personal favorite: “Donald Duck’s been replaced”.

But just when you think things are slowing down towards the end of the movie, there’s a nice little surprise which raises things up. We won’t give any spoilers, but let’s just say that if you have enjoyed movies such as White Fire (1984) or In Gold We Trust (1991), you’ll appreciate the development. It’s just too bad this idea wasn’t utilized earlier on in the movie. Great things could have happened. We’re grateful that it did happen, but in the end, Soldier Of Fortune really isn’t super-awesome, nor is it bad. It’s kind of run-of-the-mill. 

Unfortunately, the only way to see this movie is the poor-quality DVD, unless you can miraculously find the Japanese VHS. Let’s hope a better edition makes it to DVD soon, the one currently available is a barely-watchable disgrace.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The Hit Team (1971)

The Hit Team (1971)-*1\2

Directed by: Jerry Thorpe

Starring: Ray Milland and John Saxon

In Denver, Colorado, George DeSalles (Milland) is a hot shot businessman at the top of his profession. He contacts a group of men (the said “hit team”) with the intention of killing his wife. This begins to unravel the dominance of the hit team in Denver. The main triggerman is an unstable maniac named Dave Poohler (Saxon). He’s frantically going around town trying to hide from the cops, as well as his fellow partners-in-crime. Everyone seems to want to get their hands on this Poohler guy. What will be his fate - and the people searching for him?

It appears The Hit Team, or, Company of Killers as it is also known, was originally intended as a TV movie back in 1971, but then got a theatrical release. Flash forward to the 80’s, when video stores were hungry for product to fill their shelves. They would take just about anything, regardless of its quality. 

The Hit Team was probably inexpensive to acquire, and it was simply gussied up with some nifty artwork. It seems The Hit Team is a classic case of being suckered in by the box art. If you look at that yelling guy with the gun, you figure you can’t go wrong.  Unfortunately, this is a boring, staid, old-fashioned programmer where nothing happens of any excitement.

Despite the cast of quality names, this is a dry, dull procedural that doesn’t even come close to rising above the pack in any way. It’s very slow, especially by today’s standards. It’s just a bunch of dry, unengaging scenes piled on top of each other. It seems the filmmakers didn’t make much effort to really involve the viewer. 

It’s sad, really, because with this cast, the movie had potential. Even though The Hit Team is deservedly obscure, John Saxon does put in a very good performance and manages to stand out. But it’s not nearly enough to save the whole movie. People like Ray Milland only add to the sense of stodginess. Saxon can’t hope to overcome that.

Because it was 1971, there are some great mustaches and big hair on display, and the movie even starts out like Police Squad! (or The Naked Gun series) with a camera mounted on top of a police car as it drives around. 

The way we viewed the movie was the Canadian VHS, released on Ambassador Video. There are some notable errors on the box (besides the fact that they make the movie out to be something that it’s not) - they list the running time as 90 minutes, but it’s really 72. According to the description, “Their intention is to fulful numerous contracts”. I know I had a sense of fulfulment. Also, someone named “Glu” Gulager is involved. We realize “Clu” isn’t the most common name, but Glu? Come on. Maybe the box was written by a French Canadian that had never tried his hand at English before.

In all, we feel The Hit Team will more than likely bore you to tears. Really the only reason to ever buy this VHS is for lovers of box art that want this cover in their collection. Otherwise, unless you want a cure for insomnia, we say avoid.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Caliber 9 (1972)

Caliber 9 (1972)-* * *

Directed by: Fernardo Di Leo

Starring: Gastone Moschin, Barbara Bouchet, Mario Adorf, Lionel Stander, Phillipe Leroy, Luigi Pistilli, and Frank Wolff

Ugo Piazza (Moschin) has just gotten out of jail. All he wants to do is reconnect with old flame Nelly (Bouchet) but some gangsters are making his life a lot more miserable than it already is. They are convinced Ugo has $300,000 stashed away somewhere, and they intend on harassing him until he forks it over. Rocco (Adorf) keeps pushing Ugo, and at the top of the ladder is a sinister crime lord known only as “The Americano” (Stander). Ugo goes to visit his old friend Chino (Leroy) for help - and now Chino is involved in the whole mess. 

Not just with gangsters, but with the local cops as well. Luckily, the Police Commissioner (Wolff) and an idealistic cop named Mercuri (Pistilli) are constantly engaged in a back-and-forth dialogue about left wing and right wing issues. But does Ugo actually have the money? And if so, will he make it out of this treacherous situation?

Milano Calibro 9 (or just Caliber 9 to us Americans) is another excellent Fernando Di Leo movie. It’s beautifully shot and edited, and the plot is always engaging and intriguing. From the killer opening on down, this movie more than delivers the goods in the entertainment department. And although the plot may seem simple, there’s a lot of food for thought as well. That seems to be a tricky thing to pull off, but Di Leo does it and we all benefit.

Set in Milan (hence the Italian title), we are immediately thrown into a dangerous world. But it’s a beautiful world on the surface, and nowhere better is this symbolized than by Barbara Bouchet’s character, Nelly. Her beauty is overwhelming, and even her apartment is dazzling. But just below the surface is violence and instability. Gastone Moschin plays Ugo perfectly, in a very stoic manner. He has a great face, and if this movie was remade today (which hopefully it won’t be), Jason Statham could play the Ugo role.

Stylistically, this movie is ahead of its time and is strikingly modern. Sure, it may be a world of rotary phones, typewriters and cops who drink and smoke pipes at the station (which is fascinating to modern eyes because it represents a time long past, never to return), but on a technical level, this movie could have come out this year. 

Di Leo masterfully brings technical expertise together with quality writing and performances and naturally a winner of a movie emerges. Not a lot of directors can achieve what he achieves and that’s a testament to his talent. And the music! The music is beyond awesome. 

As if getting the genius Bacalov wasn’t enough, he also brought on board the great band Osanna (for those who don’t know, they’re a big name in the Italian prog community). Di Leo was a fan of the album Bacalov did with The New Trolls, and fans will note that parts of the great album “Concerto Grosso” are used in the background as well. We can’t speak highly enough of the music in this movie. It truly puts the icing on an already-excellent cake.

Definitely see Milano Calibro 9.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Survival Game (1987)

Survival Game (1987)-*1\2

Directed by: Herb Freed

Starring: Mike Norris, Ed Bernard, Deborah Goodrich, and Seymour Cassel

 Mike Hawkins (Mike Norris, in what is perhaps a Tony Danza-like situation where he can only play guys named Mike to avoid being confused) is a young adult who loves nothing more than to hang out at “War In Peace Survival Camp” and stage mock battles, wars and “survival games”. Even the founder of WIPSC, a man inexplicably named Sugar Bear, who was in “Nam with Mike‘s dad (Bernard), keeps telling Mike to make more of himself and go to college. That’s also what his parents tell him. But Mike just wants to keep on Survival Gamin’.

Meanwhile, Dave Forrest (Cassel) gets out of prison after 17 years. Forrest is a man after the fashion of Timothy Leary - a 60’s-era guru who invented an LSD-like drug called “Forrest Fire”. All he wants to do is talk to his poster of Jimi Hendrix and just chill with some good vibes, man. But his daughter C.J. (Goodrich) gets into a car accident with Mike, and the two of them end up going on the run because some evil gangsters are convinced the Forrest family has a multi-million dollar stash of drug money. So they kidnap Dave and C.J., and only one man with the proper survival skills can save them from the gangsters...MIKE HAWKINS!

Survival Game is very dumb, and has frighteningly little action. What action there is happens to be pretty goofy indeed. It seems this whole venture was cooked up as a cash-in to the Norris name in the go-go 80’s. 

We actually like Mike Norris, this isn’t a slam on him, but this movie is pretty half-baked. It becomes an uninspiring hostage drama at a certain point and the pace slacks big time. What this movie needed was to ramp up the action, violence and intensity. It seems director Herb Freed was unfamiliar with the techniques of action cinema at the time. Though this movie was released in ‘87, his next movie after this one was Subterfuge (1996), the Matt McColm non-classic. Subterfuge is more entertaining than this, but that should still tell you something.

Perhaps in keeping with the 60’s-era characters like Dave Forrest, there are plenty of songs on the soundtrack from that time. The Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction” makes an appearance, but you truly haven’t heard “Louie Louie” until you’ve heard it as the background music while Mike Norris runs through a department store in true “Scooby Doo” style. The song plays in its entirety, no less. Getting every penny out of it, apparently. 

As for the original music, there’s a theme that sounds EXACTLY like “Axel F”. Harold Faltermeyer should sue. But hey, it was the 80’s. It was a different time. A time when carbon-copy action movies with carbon-copy music hit video store shelves and no one complained and life was good. If the theme of this movie is nostalgia, it truly has come full circle.

Released by Media, it’s hard to truly throw our weight behind Survival Game, but its inoffensive, bland quasi-entertainment might appeal to someone.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Endangered (1994)

Endangered (1994)-*

AKA:  Uncivilized

Directed by: Nick Kellis

Starring: Sandra Hess, Kent MacLachlan, Rick Aiello, Renee Estevez, and Martin Kove

Kate (Hess) and her husband (?) Neil (MacLachlan) decide to go camping in the wilderness outside of Seattle. Neil obviously taking up the challenge because he’s such an enthusiast of Postal Carrier-style shorts. While enjoying their sojourn, a passel of punks decide to ruin the fun. Assaulting Kate and Neil, Kate goes on the run in the woods. 

While there, she runs into DeVoe (Kove), a man dressed as some sort of indeterminate Indian. What are his true motives? Meanwhile, the Sheriff of the nearby town of Wilkeson, Shirley (Aiello) wants his own answers for all the goings-on in the woods, so he embarks on his own expedition into the harsh and unforgiving lands. Will anyone make it out alive?

The reason why we checked out Endangered is because we’re fans of Martin Kove. As we discovered, there’s really no other reason to seek out this boring wilderness slog. And it’s a total waste of Kove at that, as he gets very little screen time. In addition, his character, like the movie as a whole, is poorly written and conceived. Presumably influenced by I Spit On Your Grave (1978) and possibly even Savage Instinct (1991), Endangered has none of the qualities that enliven those movies - it just meanders and goes around in circles.

It’s director Kellis’ only feature film to date, and it’s easy to see why. He does manage to get some celebrity siblings on board - Rick Aiello is Danny’s son, and Renee Estevez, who is Martin Sheen’s daughter and Charlie Sheen’s sister, has a very small part as well. 

We get to see some all-too-brief Rick Aiello-Fu at one point, and Kove’s getups are something (buckskin fringed jackets and wild Indian-style ponchos, etc.), but there’s so much dumbness on show, these bright spots get lost.  Not enough actually HAPPENS in this movie, and you don’t care about the characters one way or another. Even as they try to survive, it’s hard to care because they’re all victims of bad writing. Even when one of the head punks causing all the terror rips the scrunchie off his ponytail in anger, despite the fact that it’s a power move to show you’re upset (hey, we’ve all been there, right?) it’s still hard to care. Sad, really.

And because it was 1994 and set in the environs of Seattle, naturally during the credits there is a Pearl Jam-like “grunge” tune that plays. Pretty predictable. You could always tell it was the mid/late-90’s in DTV land because the music moved to a more grunge style, away from the more AOR style of the 80’s. See Overkill (1996) and Food For Feet as an example. We see this as an upsetting change - give us Steve Butler and “Always On My Mind” or Joe Lamont’s “Quiet Cool” any day of the week. Unfortunately, that’s another weak point for Endangered and the straw that broke the camel’s back, really.

Sadly, we cannot recommend Endangered. Even Kove fans are likely to be disappointed.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The Tracker (2001)

The Tracker (2001)-* *

Directed by: Jeff Schechter

Starring: Casper  Van Dien, Russell Wong, Francoise Robertson, and Jason Blicker

“Mr. Spears has his own way of doing things.”

Connor “Connie” Spears (Van Dien) is a former NYC cop who moved to L.A. to become a private detective. When an old friend who he trained in Martial Arts with, Rick (Wong) contacts him because his sister was kidnapped, Spears agrees to go back to his old New York stomping grounds to try to find her. The plot thickens when it seems she’s caught in between two rival gangs: the Chinese mob and the Malakov family of the Russian mob. Teaming up with the streetwise taxi driver Carmen (Robertson) and old cop buddy Jack “Chick” Cicollini (Blicker), our team of four unlikely heroes hit the streets to try to find the missing girl. Will they find her before it’s too late?

2001, when this movie was released, wasn’t that far from the 90’s in time. Thus, The Tracker fully retains a 90’s feel. It’s standard DTV fare, but it’s professionally made and doesn’t look like junk. While it doesn’t reach the heights of Drive (1997), a movie it seems to be influenced by, it makes a decent one-time watch, mainly because of the Martial Arts scenes with Russell Wong. There’s plenty of other reasonably enjoyable stupidity on display, mainly in the action scenes.  Add a little humor, and there you have it.

Casper Van Dien’s blonde hair and snarky attitude gives him the vibe of Billy Idol. Was that intentional? But because he’s supposed to be the ultimate coolguy, with an answer for everything, that puts him more in the category of being the Zack Morris of action (or Zacktion to those in the know). 

Throughout most of the 90’s, and into the 2000’s, having the main character in a movie or TV show spouting sarcastic, ironic retorts all the time became the norm. Somewhere along the line, writers got off the track, and being the likable hero got confused with being the snotty jerk. Van Dien in The Tracker is a perfect example of this. Is he supposed to be likable? We assume yes, but he doesn’t make it easy on us, the viewing public. This “Coolguy-is-a-jerk” phenomenon was a misstep in pop culture, in our opinion. Of course, we blame Sloane (1984) for starting it all.

The movie is really nothing more than a compendium of cliches, from the prerequisite torture scene to the abandoned warehouse shootout, but that might be one of the movie’s strengths after all. The Tracker is what people rented in video stores when everything else they intended to rent was out for the evening. 

For better or worse, Connor Spears (remember this was the heyday of Britney) did not return for another outing. There were to be no franchises for him. It would have been interesting to see an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) kind of thing, where Howie Long plays Casper Van Dien’s father, and they can compete to see who has the squarest head.  So that was not to be, but at least we have this, and we’re all happy about it, right? ....right?

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

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


The Divine Enforcer (1992)

The Divine Enforcer (1992)-* *

Directed by: Robert Rundle

Starring: Erik Estrada, Jan-Michael Vincent, Michael Foley, Jim Brown, Judy Landers, Hiroko, Don Stroud, and Robert Z'Dar

The Monsignor (Estrada), Father Thomas (Vincent) and their helpful assistant Merna (Landers) live and work at a church in a “bad part” of L.A. One day, a man named Father Daniel (Foley) comes to join their parish. The only thing about Father Daniel is, he’s a Martial Arts expert who uses his Cross-emblazoned gun, knives and even throwing stars to take out the trash of the city. He even uses the confessional for tips on where to go. But if the parishioners don’t give him enough info, he uses his psychic powers to find out more. 

While trying to keep his double life secret, he meets a fellow psychic, Kim (Chambers), who he takes a liking to. Meanwhile, there’s a sadistic serial killer stalking the city named Otis (Stroud), who drains his victims of blood and saves their skulls. But Father Daniel saves people’s souls, so the two men are mortal enemies. When Otis kidnaps Kim, the ultimate showdown ensues. Or something like that.

You would think a movie about a psychic priest who kills his enemies with throwing stars with the Cross on them would be a surefire hit. But in the hands of director/co-writer Rundle, this one idea is not enough to sustain a 90 minute movie. Thus there is plenty of filler which dilutes this killer idea. A wise man once said “you cannot intentionally make a cult film” and that seems to be the case here. 

Sure, the movie is loaded up with quality B-movie names, but it could definitely be argued that they are not used to their full potential. Add to that some muddy, muffled sound where the music is louder than the dialogue and a lot of repetitive scenes (such as the oft-repeated “Breakfast” scene) and, far from a unique winner, we’re bordering dangerously on dud.

The credits of the movie misspell Erik Estrada’s name (crediting him as “Eric” with a C), while the VHS box (released by Prism) has it correctly. He does more-or-less a “sit-down” role, as does Jan-Michael Vincent, who does an out-and-out sit-down. Vincent just sits at the breakfast table with his newspaper and slurs a few lines. Sure, there’s something endearing about it, but he’s so under-used. And speaking of under-used, Jim Brown and Robert Z’Dar are on screen for literally seconds as incidental drug-dealers. More should have been made of them. Don Stroud plays the deranged killer with aplomb, but his scenes contain the most filler.

And who is this Michael Foley, who plays the main role of Father Daniel, you ask? He was in Lionheart (1990), Karate Cop (1991) and Intent To Kill (1992) - but he’s still kind of an odd choice for a leading role. 

Some of the better moments in The Divine Enforcer comes from the random scenes - plenty of parts have no explanation, and that combined with the amateurish acting usually provides the VHS gold we’re always looking for. But it’s a battle against filler. Ken Davitian shows up in an uncredited role as a club owner watching the singer Hiroko (and her stellar backup dancers) do a performance. Her song “My Love’s Waiting” temporarily livens things up, but this movie is still fairly disappointing.

In all, the idea of the Father Daniel character is excellent, but, sadly, the movie as a whole is mishandled, not getting the maximum bang for the buck from the idea.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Blowback: Love and Death (1991)

Blowback: Love and Death (1991)-* * *

Directed by: Atsushi Muroga

Starring: Riki Takeuchi, Keishi Hunt, Mie Yoshida, Shun Sugata, and Mike Monty

After making off with a stash of money and heading to the Philippines, gangsters Baku, Lopez (Hunt) and Joe (Takeuchi) are ambushed by the supercriminal Yamaneko, or “Wildcat” (Monty). Baku is killed, Lopez disappears and Joe is gravely wounded. He manages to stumble into the restaurant of Rei (Yoshida) and she nurses him back to health. 

Once back in fighting shape, his intention is to find Lopez, then find Yamaneko, to get revenge for his fallen partner Baku. Rei gets swept up in this mission, and a mysterious man named Ratts (Sugata) does as well. But it’s not going to be easy, because Yamaneko controls a virtual army of heavily-armed baddies. But Joe forges ahead anyway...is this going to be a good idea?

Guns, guns and more guns! Blowback: Love & Death (or Blowback 2) is perhaps the ultimate non-John Woo “Gun-Fu” film. While influenced by Woo, it seems the major driving force behind this movie was Sergio Leone’s Westerns. Even the black-and-red animated title sequence gets you in a Leone frame of mind. And there are plenty more Leone references along the way. But it all adds up to be an entertaining gangster drama, with an exploding guard tower or two. (It was the Philippines after all, and they don’t let you leave without at least one).

It is nice to see someone besides an American film production utilizing what the Philippines have to offer as far as film backdrops go - in this case it’s the Japanese. Riki Takeuchi makes a very cool anti-hero, and while he has had a long and fruitful career in his native Japan, stateside fans of the work of Takashi Miike and the five movies he puts out a month will recognize Takeuchi from the Dead or Alive series (he was in all three), Fudoh: The New Generation (1996) and Deadly Outlaw Rekka (2002). 

With his slicked-back pompadour, sunglasses and open Hawaiian shirts, and brandishing tons of guns, it’s hard to be much cooler. As for director Muroga, this was his first film, and he followed it up with two movies that found their way to American DVD: Score (1995) and Junk (2000). While both of those movies have their moments, Blowback 2 is arguably the more all-around satisfying experience, and a good place to start with Muroga nonetheless.

Muroga certainly succeeds in making Manila and other parts of the Philippines look hot and humid. It seems everyone is sweaty and flushed in this movie. That brings us to the villain of the piece, the fan favorite Mike Monty. Here, he really, really, REALLY looks like largely-hated New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. We guess that goes a long way towards bolstering his bad-guy status. He just resembles Bloomberg so closely, it’s a laugh riot: “Oh no, Bloomberg’s on the rampage!” And aside from “Bloomberg” being in this, Blowback 2 offers some nice surprises to keep you on your toes, especially the (yet more Spaghetti Western-inspired) ending.

Asia Shock did a great job with the VHS of Blowback 2. They were one of the few companies releasing subtitled VHS tapes of exploitation cinema. 

We’re so used to watching shoddy dubbed versions, this came as a nice surprise. It’s great to see they actually care about the material. That being said, it doesn’t seem like this was one of their more widely distributed titles. Regardless, if what you’ve just read floats your boat, Blowback 2 should be worthwhile viewing.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Tough and Deadly (1995)

Tough and Deadly (1995)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Steve Cohen

Starring: Roddy Piper, Billy Blanks, Richard Norton, Sal Landi, Phil Morris, James Karen, and Lisa Stahl

Elmo Freech (Piper) is a rough-and-tumble Private Investigator and ex-cop who does things his way. He ends up teaming up with a mysterious man who has lost his memory, John Portland (Blanks). But Portland appears to be a trained fighter, and together the two men - who certainly don’t always see eye to eye - get deeper and deeper into a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. They’re going to have to work together and fight to get to the truth. Can they do it?

Tough and Deadly is classic 90’s fun at its best. One of its main strengths is its healthy dose of humor. So many movies out there, DTV actioners included, take themselves so seriously - finally, here’s a movie with the guts to not take itself so seriously, but also has some killer stunts and fights, which are taken seriously. So it strikes a near-perfect balance of tongue-in-cheek, well, cheekiness, with some nice bone-crunching action. It’s a surprisingly rare mix, so our hats go off to the filmmakers on this win.

The movie really gives you what you want: on top of the humor, the stunts, fights, etc., it has a very good pace and nice energy. You can actually SEE what’s going on. Nothing is shrouded in shadow. Considering there’s a barfight AND a poolhall fight, as well as a (completely inexplicable) training sequence followed by a montage, Tough and Deadly truly has it all. 

Let’s not forget the Billy Blanks and Richard Norton fight, which gets the movie off to an engaging beginning. There’s also the classic “I want to listen to country!” “I want to listen to rap!” CD player confrontation between Freech and Portland. Just the names of the characters are insane - Elmo Freech, Winston Briggers (Karen), Trekkler, and Freech’s assistant Maureen Peek (Stahl). Yet, the great Richard Norton plays...Agent Norton. Does he feel cheated that he didn’t get a wacky name? At least he’s on board. That’s all that counts. 

Naturally, it all ends in the time-honored abandoned warehouse. Also Elmo Freech has a poster in his house that simply says “Pasta Sauce”. For his interior decoration skills alone, you should see Tough and Deadly.

It’s easy to see why Piper and Blanks teamed up again after Back In Action (1993). Piper’s charm and Blanks’ woodenness make an excellent combination. It’s sad that they didn’t team up on any more movies after this. But at least we have two. While debate continues to rage as to who -  John Portland or Elmo Freech - is Tough and who is Deadly - there’s certainly no shortage of face-punching action in this prime example of what the 90’s Direct-To-Video era could do.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out write-ups by our buddies, DTVC and Cool Awesome Movies!


Warbus (1986)

Warbus (1986)-* *1\2

Directed by: Ferdinando Baldi

Starring: Daniel Stephen and Romano Kristoff

In the thick of the Vietnam war, Viet Cong killers attack some Christian Missionaries. Some U.S. Special Forces come to save them, but their only means of escape is an old school bus. Seizing the only opportunity available to flee from the enemy onslaught, they begin their trek on the bus. But it’s going to be a treacherous ride. Now faced with this not-particularly-ideal situation, will the soldiers protect the Missionaries and destroy the enemy?

Warbus is director Ferdinando Baldi’s take on the Vietnam jungle actioner replete with multiple shots of waterfalls, plenty of machine gun shooting, huts which may or may not explode, and all manner of blow-ups. But these blow-ups are notable in that they are of a high quality. 

It appears most of the budget for this film went to the pyrotechnics. And if you do indeed have a limited budget to work with, that’s actually very smart, because Baldi clearly knows his audience. If you’re renting/buying or somehow viewing a movie called WARBUS, you don’t want to disappoint action buffs. On that same topic, there is minimal dialogue, but what dialogue there is has that funny dubbing we all know and love.

As far as the characters, we really don’t know who these people are, but does it really matter? The movie is a brief 79 minutes, which makes sense because it’s probably hard to do an entire feature-length movie about a Warbus. The bus in question has the words “SCHOOL BUS” proudly emblazoned all over it, and its license plate is NGH 666. So make of that what you will.

On the negative side, Warbus is a little more run-of-the-mill than it should be for a good portion of the film’s running time. The problem is this one simple idea. 

The movie is like a 79 minute action SCENE, not so much a fully fleshed-out movie. Nothing sticks with you, there’s nothing to hang on to once the movie ends. Adding to that, the Mercs DVD has some tracking issues. You wouldn’t think in the age of DVD, a DVD would have tracking issues, but because it was obviously taken right from a VHS, there you go. But we’re lucky to see the movie to begin with. Let’s not look a gift bus in the mouth. Plus Warbus should get some credit for being the original Speed (1994).

There’s nothing actively bad about Warbus - we’d say it’s a minor and inoffensive entry into the Exploding Hut Movie sweepstakes. With Warbus, we’re solidly in one-time-watch territory.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Fugitive X: Innocent Target (1996)

Fugitive X: Innocent Target (1996)-* *1\2

Directed by: David Heavener

Starring: David Heavener, Richard Norton,Clement Von Franckenstein, William Windom, Chris Mitchum, and Robert Z'Dar

Adam Trent (Heavener) is a mild-mannered ex-cop who is now a businessman. He thought he left the unpredictable and violent world of the streets behind him. It turns out he was wrong, because Trent becomes the unwitting and unwilling participant in something called “The Game”. He’s truly having the worst birthday ever - not only is he thinking about the troubles in his past, he now has to fight for his life. Run by the sinister Lindsay (Von Franckenstein of American Ninja V (1993) and Lionheart, 1990) and his son Winters (Norton), the two operate a betting parlor out of a castle in Hollywood. 

Patrons bet on how long “the target” will live, meanwhile goons are chasing after him with guns at every turn. They even have a serum they can inject into you to track your movements. But Trent proves too clever and outwits them, utilizing his favorite tactics, those of shooting, punching and kicking, and maybe a few blow-ups along the way. Will Adam Trent survive to drink one of his uncle Billy’s (Windom) fruit-and-beer milkshakes again?

Not to be confused with Hard Target (1993) - no, wait - TO be confused with Hard Target, Heavener has fashioned a cross between that movie and The Game (1997) even though Fugitive X pre-dated The Game by a year! We’re definitely fans of Mr. Heavener - we keep coming back to his movies  because we admire his talent - he acts in, writes, directs, produces and does the music for the majority of his movies. And this is one of the more professional-looking outings we’ve seen from him to date. 

Yes, there is some clunkiness here and there, what with awkward fight staging, odd-looking muzzle flashes and explosions and maybe a boom mic or two, but Heavener is basically single-handedly releasing decent-to-good direct-to-video B-movie product, and it is very impressive.

Fugitive X: Innocent Target could have been a UPN show in the 90’s like The Point Man, The Lazarus Man, or any number of their action-based shows. Although it is somewhat surprising that this came out in ‘96, it looks like it could have been released in ‘87 or earlier. 

It even pre-dates the online gambling craze, because that’s pretty much what people are doing in this movie. It should also be said that Fug X (as we call it) is highly repetitive, most of the running time is spent on baddies chasing Heavener, and Heavener eluding them. Even still, the goons have ample chances to shoot Trent, but fail constantly. They must have a fear of success. Heavener jumps on the “slicked-back hair” craze for action stars of the 90’s, unfortunately started by Steven Seagal, and wears a tuxedo for a large part of the movie. So there’s plenty of silliness to go around.

Robert Z’Dar is here looking even odder than usual with long hair and a homemade-looking shirt that says “Love Child”. Why they felt the need to put him in a shirt that says this is unknown. Also inexplicably, footage from his one scene ended up in the later Heavener movie Outlaw Prophet (2001). Chris Mitchum has a nothing role as a cop. Blink and you’ll miss him. As anyone who reads this site knows, we’re huge Richard Norton fans, and he does a decent job as Winters, but this isn’t the best Norton movie. It’s also kind of funny how Lindsay’s son is Australian but Lindsay isn’t. It’s nice to see all these B-movie names together, but Mitchum and Z’Dar needed more screen time, and Norton a meatier role.

Plus, similar to the infamous “He’s gone AOL” line from Direct Contact (2009), at one point Heavener says the line “is there a police station around here?” but he slurs his words and speaks quickly so it sounds like he says “Is there a PlayStation around here?” Either that, or that IS what he said. It was the mid-90’s after all. PlayStation 1 was huge. Maybe he wanted to play Crash Bandicoot to relieve some of his stress.

For an entertainingly dumb DTV outing using some of the favorite themes of the 90’s, Fugitive X: Innocent Target is more than watchable.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Moscow Heat (2004)

Moscow Heat (2004)-* *

Directed by: Jeff Celentano

Starring: Michael York, Alexander Nevsky, Andrew Divoff, Adrian Paul, Robert Madrid, Joanna Pacula, and Richard Tyson

Roger Chambers (York) is a dashing former diplomat who loves fencing. His friend Rudy (Madrid) convinces him to take the trip to Moscow to try and track down the evil Nikolai Klimov (Tyson), who is responsible for the death of his son. While there, the Russian authorities figure out what they’re up to and they don’t like it. Hulking brute and police Captain Vlad Stepanov (Nevsky) ends up getting sucked into the quest to take down Klimov and his minions. With Rudy in the hospital, and Roger basically under arrest, it’s up to Vlad to try and win the day. Can he do it?

Moscow Heat is typical 2000’s DTV product. It has a junky look, some very unfortunate green-screen effects, obvious dubbing, stilted dialogue, and plenty of silly moments. It also looks much older than it is, it seems like it came out in the early 90’s. (The “bullet time” shot is very Sniper, 1993). The biggest lingering question seems to be why Michael York is involved.  Maybe he wanted a trip to Russia. Or maybe Alexander Nevsky has a lot of pull.

Alexander Nevsky, not to be confused with the medieval military hero and later Saint who lived from 1220 to 1263, or the 1938 Eisenstein film about him, THIS Alexander Nevsky apparently is a bodybuilder who co-wrote, co-produced and stars in his movies. At this rate, he could be the next Jorgo Ognenovski. But according to the back of the DVD box, “he could be the next Schwarzenegger!” Really the only thing they have in common is an impenetrable accent. (Though to be fair, there is a boat in the movie named “The Terminator”. Coincidence?) In this movie, it takes too long for him to snap into action. But he does get his prerequisite torture scene.

Richard Tyson plays the evil blonde guy (you know he’s evil because he’s blonde). Joanna Pacula has basically a sit-down role and should have done more. Same with Adrian Paul, who has very little screen time. Same thing again with Andrew Divoff. 

Characters play chess and drink vodka, and one of the baddies has a “Russia” jacket. On the one hand you want to get the Russian feel and atmosphere, but on the other hand you want to avoid cliches. So what can you do? But in the end we felt the whole experience was a bit dry and instead of Michael York futzing around, it should have been Nevsky mowing down baddies with a machine gun right from the jump. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Maybe he’ll learn his lesson and do that in the future.

The music by Richard John Baker features an electric guitar theme that is very reminiscent of the days of Genesis and Super Nintendo, further emphasizing the “this actually isn’t a movie from the 90’s” feel.

While we look forward to more producing/writing/acting or even directing from Nevsky, we felt Moscow Heat didn’t tap into his promise as a potential DTV star.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty