Cobra Thunderbolt (1984)

Cobra Thunderbolt (1984)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Tanong Srichua

Starring: Sorapong Chatree

A bald, wheelchair-bound man named Col. Dave has given his all for his army and his country, including the use of his legs. He “worked with the Americans in Laos” during the Vietnam war, and he has a lot of painful flashbacks to his combat experiences. However, Col. Dave is an inventor, and he’s put a lifetime of military knowledge behind his latest invention, a supertank known as the Cobra Thunderbolt. 

Because it’s the most badass tank ever, baddies, led by the illegal arms trader Kang Wan (at least that’s what we think they’re saying) want the tank. Col. Dave doesn’t budge, so they kidnap his wife. Along with his daughter, the beautiful Lt. Molly - which might be the coolest name for a daughter in recent memory - and a combat cohort named Dick, the three of them go after the bad guys the only way they know how...with their combined military prowess and the COBRA THUNDERBOLT! Will they be successful? Find out today...

Cobra Thunderbolt is the only known writing/directing credit for one Tanong Srichua. The rough-and-tumble charm is evident from the jump, and the homemade nature of everything from the car stunts to the acting is impressive - there probably weren’t a ton of resources in Thailand in 1984 to make a movie of this type, but that didn’t stop Tanong and the gang from making an action movie with plenty of blow-ups and other goodies, not the least of which is the killer tank. We admire the ambition, and we wish he had done more.

We really began to love Col. Dave and Lt. Molly. With names like that, how could you not? Col. Dave really should win father of the year. While other dads are fretting about making sure their kids wear kneepads and helmets to ride their bikes, Col. Dave trains Molly in how to shoot a machine gun while flying in the air riding a jetpack. 

The Cobra Thunderbolt itself - in conjunction with Lt. Molly’s jetpack and the fact that the main baddie is an arms dealer - will lead you to believe the strongest influence on the movie was the 80’s cartoon/toy line G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. If, back in the 80’s, there was a live action version shot in Thailand, this might just be it.

There’s a ton of funny dubbing, characters complain about how M-16’s don’t work in the rain, the Cobra Thunderbolt’s primary camouflage is to emit bright purple smoke, official government buildings have prominent Snoopy posters, and Dick won’t drive the Cobra Thunderbolt without wearing an Oakland Raiders football helmet. Even in Thailand in the 80’s, people still said “We got company!”, and the soundtrack is a lathering waterfall of synths. 

The only real downside here is it gets a bit talky at times, but that’s a minor quibble when you look at the bigger picture. Which is clearly a badass supertank blowing the crap out of everything in sight while Lt. Molly shoots a machine gun while wearing a jetpack. Just to be perfectly clear.

‘Thunderbolt was made and released by Davian International, the company that is largely responsible for the career of Dale “Apollo” Cook. This movie was released before they found their main star and muse. Criminally, it was never released on VHS in the U.S. back in the golden era of video (or ever, for that matter). It did find release in Greece, Canada and, of course, Japan. Japan’s box art is typically killer - how could you not want to see the movie after witnessing the box art?

In the end, Cobra Thunderbolt is certainly worth seeing, especially if you appreciate exotic foreign takes on the action spectacle.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


The Ninja Mission (1984)

The Ninja Mission (1984)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Mats Helge

Starring:  Curt Broberg, Hanna Pola, Hans Rosteen, and Mats Helge

Dr. Markov (Broberg) is a scientist who looks a lot like Raymond Burr. He has developed some sort of alternative energy source and is guarding his discovery with his life, literally. The KGB kidnap him and his nightclub singer daughter Nadia (Hanna Pola in her only credited role to date), and the CIA do the one logical thing the CIA might do in a case like this: they unleash a Swedish ninja to clean up the mess. Complicating things are some UN jerk named Abelman (Hans Rosteen, also a one-timer) and a crazy Russkie named Ivan (director Helge). Sure enough, lots of silly intrigue ensues, in between the action scenes, of course. Will the ninja complete his mission? Find out today!

The Ninja Mission is an acknowledged cult classic, and, impressively, one of the top-grossing movies ever to come out of Sweden. Worldwide, surely it made a large profit from its low budget. For those that think the only director of merit to come from Sweden is Ingmar Bergman, behold the great Mats Helge. 

While he improved upon The Ninja Mission with his later Russian Terminator (1989), there’s plenty to admire about this particular ‘Mission. The whole thing looks better than some of Helge’s other efforts, thanks to some higher-tier widescreen photography with some nice lighting schemes (when they’re not too dark, that is). Sure, there may be some stilted dialogue/ADR work, and even though the plot doesn’t make much sense (not that we’re complaining about that), Helge still feels the need to put in a ton of silly, unnecessary dialogue scenes explaining everything. He continued this with Russian Terminator. 

Also to admire the fact that Helge threw caution to the wind and figured ninjas need not be Japanese. It was the 80’s Ninja Boom after all, and movies like this gave it a special cache.

But perhaps we’re burying the lead here. We should have started by using the now-classic phrase “Fat Swedish Guy Punching Ninjas”. That’s all you need to know, really. But it clearly seems all the attention and energy went into the action scenes, and that makes sense, because that’s why we're all here in the first place, right? On top of some rather wacky ninja fights, there are some classic throwing stars, car chases, and a lot of  gun-shooting. 

Even though they’re regular guns, they make a laser-style blip - not ‘pew pew’, the budget might not have allowed for that - here it’s simply a short, curt ‘pew’. Why the guns make this odd noise is never explained. Unlike everything else, which is over-explained (yet makes no sense). See what we mean?

A lot of the violence was saved for the climax, and it is indeed a doozy. There’s also the Prerequisite Torture, and the 80’s vibe is strong and powerful. This comes across well in the nightclub scene, when Nadia (wearing a killer outfit), for rights reasons channels her inner ‘Bat Penatar’ with her tune “Baby You Ran Away’. But, perhaps, in the end, Director Helge decided the hero was too young, virile and capable, and for his next ninja outing got an elderly Kenny Rogers lookalike to do all the hard-hitting action. God bless him for that.

We’re not sure if every VHS edition is cut, but we believe most, if not all the 80’s releases are, including the one on Media. It’s important, should you choose to buy this movie, that you get the DVD edition, as it’s uncut, and the violent bits are the most entertaining bits for the most part, and the movie would be a heck of a lot duller without them. It’s a shame to think people watched versions like that throughout the years, but it didn’t stop the movie from being a big success. 

Imagine if they saw the uncut version from the jump - the movie would have been huge! Additionally, it should probably be pointed out that a Jeanette Jaquelle is credited as a continuity girl, but her credit is misspelled as “Continuety Girl”. Perhaps she wasn’t paying attention. But, after all, it’s the “English As a Second Language” charm that, truly, in the end, keeps The Ninja Mission and other Helge movies afloat. At least for us.

Despite some slow passages, The Ninja Mission is deserving of its cult status and has some great moments. We’ll continue to champion the work of Mats Helge if we can get a hold of any more of it.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Tiger Claws (1991)

Tiger Claws (1991)- * *

Directed by: Jalal Merhi

Starring: Jalal Merhi, Cynthia Rothrock, Bill Pickells and Bolo Yeung

 A mysterious serial killer known as the Death Dealer is stalking the streets of “New York City” (not Canada. Not Canada), and the only clue the police have to go on is that the dastardly murderer uses an obscure, underground fighting style known as Tiger. Because of this, the police chief assigns officer Linda Masterson (Rothrock) the case - he knows she is a practitioner of Martial Arts. He has another “Kung Fu cop” on the force, a strange foreigner named Tarek Richards (Merhi), so, naturally, he pairs the two up and sends them on their way. Despite Tarek’s lack of enthusiasm, he still is a rogue cop who plays by his own rules. Usually garbled, presumably. So Tarek goes undercover at the Tiger training center and meets the mysterious Chong (Bolo). Will our two heroes get to the bottom of the mystery of the Tiger Claw Killer? Find out sometime...

So if you were going to paint on your hair, what would you do with your life? Maybe become an insurance salesman? Carny? CEO of a company? Nah, you’d want to be in front of the camera, whether you had any business being there or not. Hence the rise (?) of Painted On Hair Guy, AKA Jalal Merhi. Seriously, this guy doesn’t use a comb, he uses a paintbrush! Hey-Oh! But, in all seriousness, if you could paint on any hair in the world, why would you choose that?

He also has a thick accent AND deadpan delivery. This “Deadpan Accent” is slowing things down, and he has no screen presence or spark. On the polar opposite end of the spectrum, we have top fan favorite Cynthia Rothrock as his partner. Any interest generated by this movie comes from her. However, the no-energy of Merhi coming up against the genuine energy of Rothrock results in a wash for the viewer and the two forces cancel each other out. So we’re left stranded in a Sargasso Sea of slowness in this amateurish, low-budget-junky-feeling exercise.

Much of the movie has almost a childish feel - there are silly shootouts and fights that feel like kids playing in the schoolyard. Even the laundry list of cliches - it’s an election year, the final warehouse fight, the baddie saying to the hero how they’re really both the same, the drug deal gone wrong, among many others - here are not FUN cliches, necessarily, like they many times can be. 

You get the feeling director Makin was makin’ this stuff for the first time ever, not retreading it. Amazingly, the writer, Maunder, came on board as director for Tiger Claws II. The dialogue also feels infantile, with a Detective Henderson stating, and we quote, “Serial killers are hard to find.” Additionally, if more people die horribly, it “won’t look good.” But there is a classic “searching for the Martial Arts school montage”, so, there’s that.

For the deadliest Martial Art ever, the extensive training sequences sure are boring, and pounding your fists in woks of sand repeatedly somehow start to lose their flair. This highlights the main problem with Tiger Claws - missed opportunities and untapped potential. You’d think with Rothrock and Bolo Yeung, if not Merhi, the movie would have been better. But Rothrock does pioneer the maritime Martial Art of “Oarfighting”, hinting at what the movie could have been if it had a bit more life and pizzazz.

Many in the cast have funny voices, and perhaps leading the pack is one Bill Pickells, in the acting stretch of a lifetime as Bill Pickells. Supposedly he’s a badass Martial Artist, but the guy looks like Oates and sounds like he’s been sucking on a helium balloon for the past several hours. But his credit at the end is almost up there with gems like “Sgt. Slaughter as Sgt. Slaughter” and Mike “Cobra” Cole as “Cobra” Cole. But Pickells would still have been a better choice for the male lead than Merhi, who is very stiff, and, if we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times, he was separated at birth with Bronson Pinchot. We’re fairly certain Merhi was actually born on Mypos.

Featuring the hair metal song “Break the Walls Down” by Attitude (in the poolhall scene - another sliver of what the movie should have been all along) - Tiger Claws was inexplicably followed by two sequels. We would say it’s for Rothrock and Bolo Yeung fans only.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 

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


Millionaire's Express (1986)

Millionaire's Express (1986)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Sammo Hung

Starring: Sammo Hung, Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, and Yuen Biao

Hijinks ensue when a colorful cast of characters converge upon a newly-built train, and each has their own motives to use the train to potentially get money for themselves or their respective towns.

We’ve always been Sammo Hung fans, and here he turns in a high-energy, upbeat and lovable movie filled with humor, stunts, action, and overall wackiness. It truly is an “Eastern Western” as Hung crafted an homage to Sergio Leone and his Spaghetti Western ilk. But he interjected his own flavor and style to it all, and the Buster Keaton influence is clearly evident as well. The whole outing is very well-shot and has a professional sheen. Everything from the costumes to the sets were done lovingly, and audiences can’t help but respond positively to everything they’re seeing.

While fans of Hong Kong filmmaking are bound to see familiar faces in the cast, interestingly, this movie is the first team-up of Cynthia Rothrock and Richard Norton. So there’s some trivia for you. While they also starred together in The Magic Crystal (1986) the same year as Millionaire’s Express, this is credited as their first outing together. Both of their names in the movie are simply “Bandit”. 

We would have liked more screen time from both of them, but that’s how it is in these ensemble pieces. There’s not enough time for everyone - though Sammo clearly recognized Rothrock’s potential. Even though this is only her third-ever movie, she gets a really cool fight scene with Sammo himself. Their fight together is a movie highlight in an already enjoyable romp.

While it may seem that there are certain stretches in the film where Martial Arts isn’t the main focus (unless you count two brawling, pint-sized kids who use a technique called “Stealing Peaches”) - just you wait until the final brawl. Sammo pulls out all the stops and it’s extremely entertaining. Yet another memorable Golden Harvest production, Millionaire’s Express is filled with positives and essentially no negatives. If you get a chance to see it, see it.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Sworn To Justice (1996)

Sworn To Justice (1996)- * *1\2

Directed by: Paul Maslak

Starring: Cynthia Rothrock, Tony Lo Bianco, Eric Lee, Walter Koenig, Mako, Kurt McKinney, Kenn Scott, Brad Dourif, Art Camacho, Vince Murdocco, and Max Thayer

Janna (Rothrock) is a psychologist who works as an expert witness in court trials. When her sister is killed by thugs, Janna wants revenge and finally realizes the only way to get real justice is to do it yourself. She also hits her head on a tree and becomes psychic. Happens all the time. Technically she develops her psychometry, which allows you a type of perception based on touching certain objects. 

Meanwhile, a romance develops between her and fellow Martial Arts practitioner and book publisher Nicholas (McKinney) - but evil chop shop boss Eugene (Scott) threatens everything. Is a cop named Briggs (Lo Bianco) doing everything he can on Janna’s behalf? Or will Janna have to take on the baddies all by herself?

Sworn to Justice is typical 90’s Rothrock. But the cast assembled for this is truly impressive. Besides of course Cynthia herself, we have Kurt McKinney of No Retreat No Surrender (1986) fame in one of his only other action roles before he sank into the soap opera world. 

There’s also Walter Koenig as a fellow headshrinker, before he sank into the Star Trek world. Brad Dourif plays one of the baddies, in a brief role, and Mako is on hand as a blind newsagent that somehow knows it all. Kenn Scott, of Showdown (1993) fame is here and he has a run-in with Ian Jacklin at his garage. Eric Lee has a cameo as a storekeeper, Art Camacho is yet another baddie, and Vince Murdocco is here too. The mighty Max Thayer is on board as an attorney, and tying it all together is Tony Lo Biano as the cop, Briggs. To assemble a cast like this is pretty mind-boggling. But Sworn to Justice isn’t as epic as this might imply.

While we liked the idea of a “psychic vigilante”, and the fact that this is one of Cynthia’s more glamorous and feminine roles goes a long way as well, there are some weird tone shifts in the movie. One minute there’s a comedic brawl with wacky sound effects like “BOIIIING!” and elephant blarings (all for no reason that we can discern), and the next minute Janna is crying over her dead sister. But the fight scenes are what we’re all here to see, and there are some good ones. The fight in the garage was a movie highlight, and is even reminiscent of the one from Misson of Justice (1992), which was a standout scene in that film as well. There is another Wincott/Mission of Justice parallel in addition to that one, because Cynthia uses Arnis sticks to fight baddies, just as Wincott does in that movie.

There are some classic 90’s-style tunes on the soundtrack by bands with names like Buddah Heads and Addict Sunday. It’s good that they didn’t blow their budget on the hot hits of the day, like The Taking of Beverly Hills (1991) foolishly did. Of course there is the time-honored sax on the soundtrack as well. While Rothrock fans will certainly want to see Sworn to Justice, it might be worth watching in general, simply for the cast they managed to assemble.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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


Manhattan Chase (2000)

Manhattan Chase (2000)- * *

Directed by: Godfrey Ho

Starring: Cynthia Rothrock, Robin Berry, Nicol Zanzarella, Roberto Gutierrez, and Loren Avedon

 “Sometimes pizza makes me feel better.” - Tommy

Manhattan Chase, not to be confused with Chase Manhattan Bank, is the tale of Jason Reed (Avedon), a man who just got out of prison after six years. He’s intent on re-forming his bond with his young son Tommy (Robin Berry), a terminally depressed tot with serious back posture issues. While on the road to fixing up his life, he runs into a woman named Jennifer (Zanzarella) who is on the run from armed thugs and killers because they think she has a cache of missing drugs. So, naturally, the next step is for the three of them to move into an apartment with Jason’s buddy Victor (Roberto Gutierrez). Meanwhile, Tommy’s mom is still in the picture, and her sister Nancy (Rothrock) is a tough NYC cop. Will Jason reunite the family? Will the baddies stop their harassment of our heroes? Find out today?

In the canon of Godfrey Ho’s shot-in-America phase of his career, we have Honor and Glory and Undefeatable (both 1993), but, based on the presence of Loren Avedon here, perhaps this one should have been called “Unlikable”. If we could single out one major flaw in Manhattan Chase, it’s Avedon. His smug smarminess is smeared all over the screen from the first second we see him. And the constant, annoying smirk he keeps on his face would put him right at home in the late-night Comedy Central lineup. We should also add that this movie is highly interactive. Every time he speaks, the overwhelming urge to shout “SHUT UP!” is just too strong to suppress. The fact that he somewhat resembles Jeff Speakman, but also rocks the denim-shirt-and-denim-jeans look of Jay Leno, perhaps makes him the first Jay Speakman in history. Or maybe Jeff Leno. But as demonstrated in Collision Course (1989), Jay Leno is a better action star than Avedon.

Or, to look at it another way, the movie needed more Rothrock. Her scenes, as usual, are gold. She’s attractive, likable, charming, and a great Martial Artist. What more could you ask for in an actress?  She should have been the main star. Even the kid who played Tommy, who never appeared in anything else, wipes the screen with Avedon. What’s this guy’s problem? Why does he have such a terrible attitude? You’re working with Godfrey Ho, dude! You’re living the dream! Stop acting like such a D-bag and, much like Tommy’s spine, you should really straighten up. 

Tommy gets a bunch of quotable lines throughout the movie, and while Zanzarella did a fine job as Jennifer, Gina Carano would have been great for that role. Of course, because it’s set in New York, the characters hang out near the Statue of Liberty, like all true New Yorkers do.

But, lest we forget, this is a Godfrey Ho movie, after all. There’s all the funny, sped-up motion, silly reactions, disjointed plot elements, and styles of acting you see nowhere else in cinema. And because it’s Ho in NYC, the time-honored Final Field Fight takes place in Central Park. His take on the NYC locations is indeed unique, and because the movie was shot in 1998, we see movie marquees advertising Bulworth (1998) and Dr. Dolittle (1998). Strangely, and awesomely, as a sort of reconciliation present after his time in jail, Jason gives Tommy a Game Boy. An old-school one from the 80’s. In 1998. While most kids his age at that time were playing their PlayStation 1’s, Tommy had to make do. It’s a tough life.

Manhattan Chase never got a U.S. VHS release, as it was clear by that time the golden age of the action movie, the video store, and the whole DTV era was over. It was a very interesting, transitional time. Maybe it’s all the fault of the unnamed theme song that plays throughout the movie, a tune with a hip-hop beat , and the only lyrics are “1, 2, 3, 4”, “Yeah!” and “Break it Up” - all said, inexplicably,  in a duck voice. A DUCK VOICE. The end well and truly was nigh for DTV.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 

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


The Inspector Wears Skirts (1988)

The Inspector Wears Skirts (1988)- * * *

Directed by: Wellson Chin

Starring: Sibelle Hu, Cynthia Rothrock, and Stanley Fung

Madam Wu (Hu) is the Training Officer in charge of taking young female recruits and whipping them into fighting shape. Through constant training, the goal is to create a female commando unit that is highly capable of executing dangerous missions, with no one expecting this cadre of beauties to be such a powerful fighting force. In between climbing the monkey bars and attempting to get over walls, romance and misadventure are in the air, as an all-male unit is training nearby. Their squad is led by Mr. Kan (Stanley Fung), who naturally is attracted to the hard-to-get Madam Wu. All manner of comedic and romantic situations ensue, until the final fight. 

Also Cynthia Rothrock is on hand somewhat as Madam Lo, an agent fighting the bad guys. Will our squad of spunky cadets graduate and beat the baddies, not to mention fall in love? Find out today!

The Inspector Wears Skirts opens with a bang, and also closes with one, with a bookending pair of killer fight sequences. The meat in the middle of this explosive bread mainly consists of inoffensive and silly romance/comedy. It must have been just the right formula, because the IWS series spawned three further sequels after this initial offering. While the first two films in the series are directed by Wellson Chin, there have been rumors for years that they were actually directed by Jackie Chan. While Chan did indeed produce the first two films, his level of involvement in, around or near the directors chair remains unknown. 

But it makes sense that Chan was involved one way or another, because the audience-pleasing mix of action, romance and comedy is right in his wheelhouse. This should give you the feeling of the overall tenor of what’s going on here.

While the movie could have used at least one more big action setpiece in the middle, the cast is hugely appealing and it kind of makes you forget about the actionless lull in the center. Rothrock’s prowess is fully on display in the scenes that she’s in, and all the other ladies get to show off as well. 

And not just in the realm of Martial Arts - check out Ann Bridgewater’s amazing dance moves in the time-honored disco sequence. We would have been happy with just this, as we always watch out for the disco scene in any movie, but the movie tops itself with a show-stopping sequence in a roller rink. We won’t give anything away, but it’s hard to put into words just how much we loved this scene.

So there’s a ton of training, minimal but high-quality Rothrock, and a nice cast, but the movie could have used a strong, central villain to pull everything together. But it’s filled with that Hong Kong 80’s style we all know and love. Fans of said style should enjoy this, unless they are cynical and lame. For the rest of us, The Inspector Wears Skirts remains a fun outing.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


The Magic Crystal (1986)

The Magic Crystal (1986)- * * *

Directed by: Jing Wong

Starring: Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Bin Bin, Sharla Cheung, and Andy Lau 

When a young boy named Pin Pin (Bin Bin) (yes, you read that correctly. Bin Bin plays Pin Pin. What did you expect?) befriends a green, glowing crystal that can communicate with humans by intercepting their brainwaves, a series of Martial Arts battles - as well as wacky comedy scenarios - ensue. The evil KGB want the crystal, and the nefarious Karov (Norton) is not messing around. Cindy Morgan (Rothrock) is battling him every step of the way. Andy (Lau) is a cop and the older cousin of Pin Pin, and along with Winnie Shen (Cheung) and Pancho (Jing) the three go on a series of misadventures, not the least of which takes them all the way to Greece where the ancient aliens (now seen on the History channel and on DVD) tried to rendezvous with human beings thousands of years ago. But are they done with us? Find out today!

The Magic Crystal is a fun and entertaining joyride that throws a little bit of everything at the viewer. It might not always make the most amount of sense, but it seems making sense wasn’t even in the top 100 of priorities for director Wong Jing. His mandate appears to have been to entertain audiences at all costs (even if coherency is one of those costs). He succeeded. One minute a little kid is chatting with a glowing chunk of goo, then there’s some wacky slapstick with some other characters, then there are some fast and furious Martial Arts fights. It’s definitely a cinematic smorgasbord, and who are we to say no?

Obviously, what we gravitated towards here were the fights. They have that fast, cool, inventive style Hong Kong was so great at, especially in the 80’s/early 90’s. You get not one, but two Rothrock/Norton fights, and throw Andy Lau into that mix, and you truly can’t lose. The fast pace keeps things lively and the whole outing has a cool ending. What’s not to love?

The fact that some of the action takes place in Greece gives things a different feel and look from the average “chop-socky” films of the time, and there’s a lot of cool 80’s style on display, from the music, to the phones, to the cool, pre-CGI effects which actually delight the eye rather than irritate it. There’s the time-honored warehouse fight, and a schoolyard bullying subplot that was very ahead of its time. Fan favorite Richard Norton plays the bearded baddie with aplomb. He’s a KGB man who inexplicably is also a Martial Arts master. This was the first of many Cynthia Rothrock/Richard Norton onscreen pairings, and, as they individually are two of our favorites, we were happy to see their relationship got off on the right foot.

You’ll likely have a smile on your face as big as the one on the 3-D poster of Donald Duck that Pin Pin has over his bed when you watch this “Gem” of a movie.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


The Firing Line (1988)

The Firing Line (1988)- * *

Directed by: Jun Gallardo

Starring: Reb Brown and Shannon Tweed, and Mike Monty

Mark Hardin (Reb) is a “military advisor”, or perhaps a commando, or perchance a mercenary, who travels to...wait for it...THE PHILIPPINES to use violence and force to tamp down a rebel insurgency against the government. After many blow-ups, explosions, bang-bangs and kabooms, he realizes the rebels have a cause worth fighting for, much like in Star Wars, and he joins up with them, bringing his considerable might and prowess with him. But that’s not all he brings along - spoiled city-dweller Sandra Spencer (Tweed) has been dragged into the fight as well. Will it be hard for Hardin to remain a hardliner to the cause...or will he and his newfound comrades be on THE FIRING LINE?

Much like how Saved By the Bell claimed in its commercials to be “too hot for prime time”, could The Firing Line be “too good for the gas station”? In the land of one dollar DVDs, the man with one eye is king. Or so we’ve been told. Realistically, though, The Firing Line is pretty much the definition of Jungle Slog. YET AGAIN we’re surrounded by leafy green Filipino foliage, guard towers fall, huts explode, many things blow up, and many machine guns fire. But where’s the love? It’s all just so standard and boring.

Rebbington Brown (we’re imagining that’s what it’s short for) holds the line (the firing line, heh heh...ugh) relatively well, even if it is a fairly subdued performance by his standards. That doesn’t stop some classic yelling/shooting that it must be in his contract to do - but he seems a little listless this time around. Sure, he has a mustache, but that’s about it. 

Even the Prerequisite Torture of the hero seems a bit blah. Shannon Tweed is once again the eye candy, but little else. She plays the classic “nagging woman” we’ve seen countless times before. She doesn’t even really provide any nudity. Her excuse for being there is that she’s selling sports equipment...in a war zone. We’ve heard of war games, but this is ridiculous.

Plenty of other Philippines-shot movie mainstays are here too, including fan favorite Mike Monty, who plays a guy named Rodriguez. But thanks to the way some dialogue is said/dubbed, we thought he was called “Courageous Rodriguez”, which would have been a lot more interesting, not to mention akin to Slowpoke Rodriguez and his cousin Speedy Gonzalez. He also takes on heavy fire in military combat not in a helmet, but with a baseball cap. I’ve never seen  someone so confident they won’t be shot in the head. It’s almost like he’s bragging.

Sure, seeing Reb Brown shoot missiles from a helicopter, snap some necks, and maybe blow up a few tanks sounds great on paper, but there’s not much actual MOVIE here to surround it. And Brown is just so mellow this time around, for the most part. Helmed by longtime Philippine director Jun Gallardo (who also was responsible for the hard-to-find SFX Retaliator), the fact that there’s nil character development does kind of put a damper on things. 

We’re pretty used to that approach, sadly, but we always hope the next one will rise above the rest. This one didn’t. All that being said, the fact that AIP released this in the early ‘90s proves that video stores of that era had a veritable feast of items to choose from. It doesn’t seem that many people chose this one, which makes sense.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Raw Justice (1994)

Raw Justice (1994)- * * *

Directed by: David A. Prior

Starring: Pamela Anderson, Robert Hays, David Keith, Stacy Keach, Ted Prior, Leo Rossi, and Charles Napier

A cool dude named Mace (Keith), who would have to be cool because his name is Mace, is an ex-cop and now a bounty hunter. He doesn’t shave, wears sunglasses, smokes, drinks, and rides his chopper. He’s also handy with gun-shooting and brawling. So, to reiterate, he’s a cool guy. So when Mayor Stiles’ (Napier) daughter is mysteriously killed, he runs straight to Mace’s pad, because he needs someone who will work “outside the law” and by his own rules, to get to the truth and find the killer. 

A goofy guy named Mitch McCullum (Hays) is the prime suspect in the murder but of course is innocent. So Mace and Mitch go on the run (as the original odd couple, of course) in an attempt to get justice, perhaps of the raw variety. Along their quest is a prostitute named Sarah (Anderson) who probably doesn’t need to be there, but no one’s complaining. And what do Lieutenant Atkins (Rossi) and Deputy Mayor Jenkins (Keach) have to do with all this intrigue? You just may have to find out today...

Here’s another David A. Prior movie from the time when he wasn’t with AIP anymore, just like Felony (1994), and even some Felony cast members are reunited here, namely Napier and Rossi. The Felony formula of “reluctant buddies on the run” is tried once again, but this time instead of Joe Don Baker and Jeffrey Combs, it’s David Keith and Robert Hays. Prior fashioned a tongue-in-cheek action/comedy with a silly overall vibe that’s pretty accessible to casual viewers. Prior clearly was unashamed to make a movie of stupid, undemanding fun. Sure, it’s dumb and all, but it’s entertaining enough to not be annoying. 

It’s perfect for 1994, and the cast of B-movie names would surely be enough to garner a rental at the old video store, especially with Pam front and center to attract potential renters.

Leo Rossi does yet another wacky “Southern” accent, Stacy Keach is almost unrecognizable, Pam Anderson does the prerequisite nudity, and Robert Hays does what we’ve always wanted from him, Robert Hays-Fu in a fight scene. Charles Napier barks his lines as we all expect, and David Keith is the main hero. Keith really seemed to give his all and be very invested in the role of Mace. But given the chance to be Mace, wouldn’t you throw yourself into it too? 

Of course, being the ultimate gentleman, when Robert Hays drops off his date at the end of the night, he gives her one of those Troll dolls that were so big at the time. And his date doesn’t even care about it. Apparently she doesn’t find that shock of upturned pink hair charming, so she deserves to die.

And what would a DTV movie of the day be without some time-honored cliches: sax on the soundtrack, a mysterious and sought after computer disc, mindless shooting, mindless chases, a handful of blow-ups, a barfight or two, an exploding helicopter, and an absurd blackmail plot, among other notable examples. 

We’ve reviewed many of Prior’s movies on this site, because we’re fans of his, and he’d refined his style at this point to its most professional level to date. Odds are, if you’re reading this, you’re a fan too, or are at least interested in becoming one. So while it’s no Deadly Prey (1987), Raw Justice is a pretty harmless way to spend an hour and a half.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Rapid Fire (1989)

Rapid Fire (1989)- * * *

Directed by: David A. Prior

Starring: Joe Spinell, Douglas Harter, Dawn Tanner, Ron Waldron, Michael Wayne, and Del Zamora

When the evil terrorist Mustapha Ahmed (Zamora) and his sidekick Eddy Williams (Wayne) escape military imprisonment and steal a high-tech, high-powered gun (See cover on the left), all hell breaks loose. Hansen (Spinell) calls in his best agent, a man named Mike Thompson (Waldron) to bring Ahmed and Williams to justice. 

Thompson initially balks at the assignment, but when he sees his chance to get revenge against Williams - who he served with in Vietnam (?) and who wronged him then - Thompson jumps at the chance. To complete his mission he teams up with Corie Parker (Tanner, whose only other credit is fellow AIP vehicle Center of the Web), a pretty government agent, as well as Pappy, a not-so-pretty mercenary with a larger than life personality and joie d’vivre. Will the three heroes rise to the occasion and stop the baddies? Find out today...

1989. Will the wonders birthed in that magical year never cease to issue forth? Here, the classic AIP team of David A. Prior, William Zipp and David Winters bring us Rapid Fire, not to be confused with Rapid Fire (1992). This Rapid Fire stars not Brandon Lee, but one Ron Waldron as Mike Thompson. Somehow, we can see the excitement on your faces. Waldron tries for Clint Eastwood in his speech and mannerisms, but comes off as a confused cross between David Heavener and Robert Hays (both no strangers to AIP, interestingly. Prior must have a type he’s looking for). 

He almost gets into a barfight in perhaps the same bar as seen in Hell on the Battleground (1989). Thompson has a truck named Rollin’ Thunder, and, as if that wasn’t enough, his license plate is “FLEX”. His vehicle contains a lot of text. But even with all that firepower, he can’t compare to Pappy.

Unquestionably, Douglas Harter as Pappy steals the movie. It obviously belongs to him. A longtime AIP mainstay, here he finally gets some time in the sun, and he clearly relishes it. Luckily, so does the audience. Pappy is a large, robust man who is bald but has a long beard. He’s usually wearing sunglasses and smokes cigars. His favorite activity is hanging out in his pool, drinking cans of Miller Lite while surrounded by bikini-clad babes. He has great taste in casualwear, and he doesn’t take life too seriously. Yet, he always gets the job done and you can depend on him. We really grew to love Pappy. There needs to be more people like him not just in movies, but in real life.

Countering the ebullience of Pappy, there is a sad undercurrent to Rapid Fire, as it was fan favorite Joe Spinell’s last movie. There are credits honoring his memory both before and after the film. Unlike Operation Warzone (1988), he does stand up here, so it’s not solely a sit-down role, thankfully. Spinell was a great talent and will surely be missed. He brought uniqueness, life, and interest to every role he played. It truly is a shame he left us before his time.

But back to the silliness at hand, the main baddie, Williams, resembles noted pervert and scumbag Anthony Weiner. At least towards the beginning of the movie. Somehow, after repeated flashbacks and paranoid dream sequences, he goes more towards the Heavener side of things, confusingly, just like our hero Mike Thompson. I guess the Heavener look was big back in ‘89.

As usual with AIP, it seems a lot of time and care went into the music. The great Steve McClintock handles it once again, and he delivers some radio-ready songs that were as good as any of the hits of the day. His “C’Mon (My Hometown)” out John Cougar Mellencamps John Cougar Mellencamp, and Bob Harvey’s “The Shack”, well...it out Bob Segers Bob Seger. The songs enrich the movie and ignore the low budget. Sure, there’s a lot of shooting, car stunts, Prerequisite Torture of the hero and whatnot, and even the heartbreaking passing  of Joe Spinell, but we can always go back to “My Hometown”. That seems to be the message, and it seems to fit.

Featuring a very bizarre, totally out-of-left-field denouement, Rapid Fire is more AIP madness you have to love and enjoy.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Mankillers (1987)

Mankillers (1987)- * * *

Directed by: David A. Prior

Starring: William Zipp, Veronica Carothers, and Lynda Aldon

John Mickland (Zipp) is one very bad dude. He’s a drug runner, murderer, white slave trader/human trafficker, and will torture you with a chainsaw if he doesn’t like you. So, with that information in hand, CIA agent Rachael McKenna (Aldon) begins the hunt for Mickland. With only the logic of “women are more effective in the field”, she tells her superiors she needs a battalion of 12 women. She goes to the local prison and rounds up some babes, telling them if they help her on this dangerous mission, they will be freed. 

The women agree and begin an intense training regimen. When their training is cut short, the inexperienced women and their leader must face off against Mickland and his many minions with the odds stacked even further against them. Will they be the ultimate MANKILLERS? Find out today...

Once again, David Prior and AIP take a basic idea and draw it out to 90 minutes or so, with a rock-bottom budget, and manage to make it work. Sure, most of the plot, as it is, of Mankillers (AKA 12 Wild Women), is lifted from Hell Squad (1986), but no matter. The idea is now done up in true AIP style. People get shot. Cars get chased. Drug deals go wrong. People of both sexes have mullets. Of course, there’s a training montage to a Steve McClintock song, in this case, a number called “Freedom”. There’s another memorable tune, “Stand Tuff” by Jimmy Hammer. You know it’s the 80’s because they spelled it “Tuff”. Interestingly, Bainbridge Scott is in both Mankillers and Hell Squad. Coincidence?

Speaking of the 80’s, one of the major reasons to watch Mankillers is the hair, makeup, and outfits of the “12 Wild Women”, though most of the time they’re in some kind of quasi-military garb, though tarted up, of course. 

Technically it all counts as “sexploitation”, supposedly, though there is no sex or nudity. The violence is all pretty equal opportunity: women get beat up and killed, but they also beat people up and kill them. William Zipp chews the scenery - the cheap, cheap scenery (we mean that lovingly) - to shreds as Mickland, the most “boo-hiss” baddie to come down the pike in a long time. AIP mainstays Fritz Matthews, Sean Holton and, naturally, Ted Prior all worked behind the scenes in various capacities, reinforcing the family-style vibe of AIP productions. Even when Ted isn’t in the movie, he’ll still help out.

So while the movie is most notable for its bevy of babes, it should be noted that it also contains one of the few roles of the great American hero Craig Alan - Commander himself. So if you can’t get enough of that inimitable AIP style, feel free to give this “girl power” entry a watch.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Born Killer (1990)

Born Killer (1990)- * * *

Directed by: Kimberley Casey

Starring: Ty Hardin, Fritz Matthews, James Tucker, Durrell Nelson, and Ted Prior

Spencer (Prior) and Anderson (Tucker) are two convicts breaking rocks in the hot sun as part of a prison chain gang. When Nick (Matthews), his buddy Trapper (Nelson), and a gaggle of their female friends get carried away with their paintball shenanigans, they accidentally drive into where the chain gang is. Spencer and Anderson see this as their chance to escape, so they do. Soon enough, the two criminal masterminds steal Nick and Trapper’s clothes, leaving the paintball enthusiasts with only prison duds to wear. 

This really sets off Nick’s ‘Nam flashbacks and he gears up for revenge. Meanwhile, Sheriff Stone (Hardin) is hot on the trail of the baddies - only he and his fellow law enforcement officers think Nick and Trapper are the culprits. As Spencer becomes more and more psychotic, and it’s getting harder and harder to tell which are paintball guns and which are real ones - this sets the stage for the final confrontation. Who is the real BORN KILLER? Find out today...

Here we have AIP’s entry into the then-popular PGW, or “Paintball Gone Wrong” sweepstakes. Director Kimberley Casey, who has served in various capacities on many AIP films, turns in a classic low-budget AIP entry. It helps if you know and already are a fan of that particular AIP style, but try to imagine a cross between a Hell on the Battleground (1989) or Jungle Assault (1989) crossed with the David Heavener vehicle Kill Crazy (1990), with a large helping of Fear (1988). It even starts out with some classic, Soultaker (1990)-style early ‘90s partiers driving. There’s a ton of shooting, usually ending up in that “blood mist” type of shot. Even though the plot is minimal, there still seems to be a bit of filler.

This is also one of those cases where the actors look like other people. Ted Prior really looks like Christian Bale here, and Matthews looks a lot like Roddy Piper, but the winner in the lookalike stakes is clearly Ty Hardin as Sheriff Stone, a dead ringer for Ted Turner. Are we really sure this isn’t Ted Turner under an assumed name? It’s amazing this movie never played on TNT. Or maybe CNN. Okay, maybe it’s not, but at any moment you think the proceedings will stop so he can get married to Jane Fonda and eat a “beefalo” sandwich. 

Even the songs resemble others - as much as we love Steve McClintock’s music, he is very adept at soundalikes, and here he turns in a very Bryan Adams-esque number with “Keep this Motor Runnin’”. Of course, there’s a montage to the music, whether it makes sense to do so or not.

It’s also nice to see Ted Prior as a baddie, and he takes full advantage of the opportunity with a twitchy, eye-rolling performance. And because the characters are playing “paint games”, as they’re called here, presumably that justifies the fact that for the last third of the movie, everyone is shirtless and covered in red paint.

Once you get into the AIP spirit, you’ll see that Born Killer is just entertaining enough for that sort of style.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty