Enemies Closer (2013)

Enemies Closer (2013)- * * *

Directed by: Peter Hyams

Starring: Tom Everett Scott, Orlando Jones, Linzey Cocker, and Jean-Claude Van Damme

Henry (Scott) is a forest ranger in a remote part of the U.S.-Canadian border. A former Navy SEAL, an event in his past has caused him to seek the solitude to “clear his head”. One night, his calm and serenity are shattered when two events occur: A man named Clay (Jones) arrives on his doorstep to take revenge against him for said past event, and also a gang of evil French-Canadian mercenaries invade the forest looking for a shipment of drugs. Because Xander (Van Damme) and his goons are so evil and murderous, Henry and Clay must reach a “great compromise” (just a little historical humor for ya) and work together to combat the baddies. Also a girl named Kayla (Cocker) is involved in all this...but how? Enemies become friends, friends become enemies, French-Canadian mercenaries are the enemies...but which of the enemies will be...CLOSER?

In The Shepherd: Border Patrol (2008), our beloved JCVD was on the Mexican-American border. Now he’s on the Canadian-American border (well, actually it’s Bulgaria. Where else did you expect?) in another DTV B-Movie. It works well enough on its own terms, and the audience-friendly running time of 79 minutes (without the end credits) is a length far more movies should aim for, and we give it credit for that. 

Plus, Van Damme has re-teamed with the elder Hyams, Peter, once again, after their classic 90’s collaborations Timecop (1994) and Sudden Death (1995). Enemies Closer has a simple premise that doesn’t demand too much of the audience, and is executed professionally. Sure, there are a couple of the standard low-budget pitfalls such as a bit of clunky acting and dialogue (though not for Van Damme, he’s a standout as the baddie), and a really annoying tendency during the fight scenes to have these obviously removed/cut frames in order to speed up (?) the action. We wish they didn’t do that. Plus because the movie is primarily set in the forest at night, it’s very dark. We’re getting really sick and tired of all these too-dark, underlit movies. We’re always ranting about this, it seems. Would some freakin’ LIGHTS be too much to ask for a visual medium like film? Well, anyway...

Tom Everett Scott plays the “nice guy” very well, almost in a Tom or Colin Hanks mode, but it’s a little jarring when he unleashes his Tom Everett Fu on the bad guys. It’s hard to imagine one of the Hanks clan doing this. And not just regular Martial Arts either - takedowns with crazy, acrobatic flips and stuff. Same for Orlando Jones. What with his newfound Orlando-Fu, apparently any B-movie actor is now a Martial Arts expert? What’s next, Wallace Shawn-Fu? But I guess it’s all part of the fun. 

Presumably you’re not supposed to take it all that seriously, though certain scenes are reminiscent of Killing Season (2013). But instead of Travolta and De Niro, it’s Scott and Jones. Hey, it’s all DTV. If Travolta and De Niro can go DTV, it can happen to anyone. It’s the great equalizer.

But, as you might expect, Van Damme is truly the centerpiece of the movie, and he shines as the lead bad guy. Our guess is he probably relishes the chance to be the villain, which he doesn’t get to do too often (unless you count Vilain), and you can tell here. With his red, somewhat clownish hair and almost whimsical evil, he’s like a French-speaking The Joker. But everyone involved does their part to make Enemies Closer a reasonably enjoyable, if fairly routine action/wilderness thriller.

Van Damme fans will want to check this out, of course, and anyone who enjoys these types of DTV outings will likely walk away happy with Enemies Closer.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out write-ups from our buddies, Good Efficient Butchery and The Action Elite!


Redline (1997)

Redline (1997)- * * *

Directed by: Tibor Takacs

Starring: Rutger Hauer, Mark Dacascos, and Yvonne Scio

At some point in the future, world governments have everyone under strict control (hmmm...) so Wade (Hauer) and Merrick (Dacascos) work as smugglers. While in Russia on what seems like a routine smuggling operation, Merrick shoots Wade and leaves him for dead. What Merrick forgot is that this is the future, so, using some form of biomechanical technology, Wade is resurrected. All Wade wants is the money he lost to Merrick during their smuggling, and if there’s time, maybe some revenge. He then teams up with a woman named Katya (Scio), and off they go on their mission. Coming up against a large criminal syndicate, they get into a lot of shootouts and fights. Will Wade finally draw a REDLINE in the sand?

Not to be confused with any of the other myriad movies with the name Redline (most of which are about cars), this one, of course, is the Nu-Image production starring Rutger Hauer and Mark Dacascos. Tom Berenger, “Turbo” and the rest of the gang from Cutaway (2000) are nowhere to be seen. Sure, Redline shopped for its influences at the same store as everybody else: Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1990), Demolition Man (1993), and, of course, Blade Runner (1982) - but thanks to healthy doses of violence and nudity, it’s a largely entertaining watch. At worst, it’s a painless one, anyway.

Rutger Hauer is an underrated actor and a fan favorite, and he looks a lot like Robert Redford in this particular outing. Actually, better than Redford looks now. Of course, Wade is ex-CIA and since he’s the hero, he’s subjected to his Prerequisite Torture, but on the bright side, when he comes up against what can only be described as Corey Haim-style Rollerboys, it appears he calls the lead Rollerboy “Butthead” and they all go blading away in fear for their lives.

It helps a lot that his sidekick is Yvonne Scio, and that she shoots and beats up the baddies with the best of them. Fellow fan favorite Dacascos, here as the antagonist, complete with goatee and accent, provides good balance to the film overall, though he only displays his Martial Arts abilities in one scene. He previously teamed up with director Takacs with the prior year’s Sabotage (1996), and evidently Takacs liked what he saw, so he used him again here. It worked out well.

Yes, there is a lot of cliched dialogue and many scenes are very darkly lit, but because it was a movie about the future that was made in the 90’s, naturally we get some VR. It wouldn’t be complete without the VR, of course. 

Plus, Redline was ahead of its time with scenes of drones attacking people, characters use FaceTime, and a woman who looks suspiciously like Hillary Clinton is “The President”. Hopefully not all their predictions come true. But all in all it has a nice pace, especially considering its running time, so it adds up to being one of the better Nu-Image titles out there. It compares favorably to other 90’s Rutger future movies such as Split Second (1992). The end result is better-than-average DTV fare, especially for its late-90’s vintage (not the best time for DTV, for those who don‘t know).

Featuring the enjoyable and wonderfully incongruous end-credits song “Dub 1 Dub” by the Axel Boys Quartet, if you see Redline on DVD cheap, don’t be afraid to add it to your collection.

 Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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


No Escape, No Return (1993)

No Escape, No Return (1993)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Charles T. Kanganis

Starring: Maxwell Caulfield, Dustin Nguyen, Denise Loveday, Joey Travolta, Real Andrews, Pamela Dixon, Robert Miano, John Saxon, and Michael Nouri

Police officers William Sloan (Caulfield), Tommy Cuff (Nguyen), and Ali Weston (Loveday) are more than just your average cops. They grew up together, trained together, and graduated the academy together, all at the top of their class, with their own individual specialties. They have a strong bond, and that bond will be tested to the limits when a corrupt DEA agent, Dante (Nouri) tries to set them on a path to their ultimate ruin. 

When another official, Mitchell (Saxon) comes in to investigate, he realizes something fishy is going on. Dante, against the warnings of their Captain, Stark (Travolta), made them a special team to investigate drug runners, setting them up for a fall. While each member of the team has their own personal demons to confront, will they be able to outsmart and out-shoot the bureaucratic forces lined up against them? Much like a busy day at the Stop & Shop bottle return room, will it be NO ESCAPE NO RETURN?

PM’s batting average remains high with this very enjoyable and entertaining outing. It’s gems like this that made going to the video store fun - trying new titles, never knowing what to expect, and sometimes finding a winner. Items like No Escape No Return kept the odds in your favor.  

We appreciate that. NENR (don’t kids tease each other by saying “neener neener neener”?) was essentially the culmination of writer/director Charles Kanganis’s time at PM. It does appear to be the end of his education and evolution there, as he seems to put all he’s learned onto the screen, with winning results. Coming hot on the heels of his Traci Lords diptych, A Time To Die (1991) and Intent to Kill (1992), here Kanganis goes full-throated action and makes no apologies for it. There’s a ton of action, the stuntwork is top-notch, the movie is shot and directed well so you can see all of what’s going on, there are shootings, high-quality blow-ups, and beat-ups constantly, and two of our favorite settings for action are, of course, here: the disco and the bar. The disco scene features some very cool slo-mo and the bar, of course, is the place for the time-honored barfight (which, in classic form, is instigated by some racial slurs that you would never hear today in our stranglingly PC world).

 As if all that wasn’t enough, we have a stellar cast of familiar faces to keep the whole ship buoyant. Dustin Nguyen’s “back’s against the wall” once again, as it was in 21 Jump Street, and it’s hard to find a cooler moment in our recent memory than him, dressed in a black leather jacket, with fingerless gloves, and shades, holding double handguns and he takes down the bad guys. 

Fan favorite John Saxon resembles Rudy Giuliani, Joey Travolta resembles...I mean, does his part (mainly delivering exposition) quite well, and Michael Nouri looks like he’s gotten a haircut. Even mainstays Robert Miano and Real Andrews get in on the fun. And we’ve gained a new respect for Maxwell Caulfield. Far from being just a cross between Jeff Fahey and C. Thomas Howell, his performance is also cool and great.

For PM fans, this movie will certainly put you in mind of Maximum Force (1992) - but NENR has a unique character all its own. Maybe that’s because Kanganis places emphasis on character development - there’s more of it in the first five minutes of this movie than a lot of other action movies combined. So you always care about these people and what happens to them. If that wasn’t the case, all the car-flipping-over-in-the-middle-of-the-street-and-blowing-up stunts wouldn’t mean a thing. So, we applaud all involved with No Escape No Return (not to be confused with No Retreat, No Surrender) - it delivers the goods.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Indio 2 (1991)

Indio 2 (1991)- * * *

Directed by: Antonio Margheriti

Starring: "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, Tetchie Agbayani, Dirk Galuba, Frank Cuervo, and Charles Napier

Marvelous Marvin Hagler is back in this sequel that should answer all your questions from the first Indio. This time around, an evil corporation (of course) wants to build a road through the rainforest. Seems logical enough, but it turns out they would be destroying the indigenous land of the Indios. So the head Indio in charge, Ugadi (Cuervo) does the only logical thing you can do in that situation: he turns to Marvelous Marvin Hagler for help. Sorry, Sgt. Iron. Iron leads the local tribes on a massive revolt (hence the subtitle) against the evil mercenary baddies put in charge of building the road. But it all comes to a head when IMC President (that’s all he’s credited as) (Napier) shows up, and then Sgt. Iron goes mano-a-mano with head builder/baddie Vincent Van Eyck (Galuba). Will the revolt be successful, or just plain revolting?

Just the fact that there’s an Indio TWO is a testament to the grandness of the video store era. Shelves needed filling, and customers were hungry for product, so, why not? Especially when master director Antonio Margheriti is at the helm once again. The guy knows action, that’s for sure. The movie is very well-shot, and the professional look adds a lot. At first, it may seem like slow going - and at 104 minutes, that is a more than reasonable thing to think - but Indio 2 is like a river in the rural jungles where it was shot. At first it may seem leisurely and rambling, but at some point it becomes rapids and then a waterfall - that really is what happens here. The final third of Indio 2 is simply great. It just takes a little time to get there.

Marvelous Marvin Hagler (he legally changed his name to Marvelous Marvin Hagler, much like how Mr. T’s legal name is Mr. T - and for those who don’t know, T’s middle name is legally a period) certainly gives Louis Gossett Jr. a run for his money. Why didn’t they play brothers in a movie? When he speaks to members of the local Indio population, he calls them “man”. 

Of course, he faces off against an evil German. Halfway through the movie, we’re told he’s supposed to be South African, but his accent is pure baddie. It’s a baddie accent, more than anything. A badcent? His sidekick is a beardo who strongly resembles Mick Fleetwood. So that is scary. We were on Charles Napier watch, and he doesn’t show up until 71 minutes in. That’s a long time. And his screentime is almost Center of the Web-style quick - it’s a glorified cameo.

Napier basically plays the role Brian Dennehy did in the first Indio, but gets much less time in the sun. Besides that, you can tell Margheriti and the gang didn’t want to do a complete retread of the first Indio. The surprising fate of that movie’s hero, Daniel Morell, would certainly indicate that. Under-the-radar action movie regular 

Tetchie Agbayani also returns from the first movie, which was nice to see, and added some continuity. Of course, there are the time honored beat-ups, blow-ups, exploding huts a-plenty, and even a rare form of exploding helicopter - not only is it a double ex-heli, but both are on land and not in the sky at the time. You never see that. George H.W. Bush’s photo is on the wall, and in another scene, there’s a picture of Stallone next to a picture of Jesus. That pretty much sums up the spirit of Indio 2 in a nutshell.

Indio 2 is a movie that gets better as it goes along. It all ends with a killer climax, and, despite some slower moments early on, it’s quite good overall and very worth seeing.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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


The Hard Truth (1994)

The Hard Truth (1994)- *1\2

Directed by: Kristine Peterson

Starring: Michael Rooker, Eric Roberts and Lysette Anthony

Jonah Mantz (Rooker) is a hardworking, brave, and honest L.A. cop, who, thanks to his rogue ways, gets suspended from the force. Seemingly instigated by his girlfriend Lisa (Anthony), Mantz embarks on a scheme to steal a ton of money from Lisa’s boss, a corrupt city councilman who is on the take from the mob. In order to pull this off, the two enlist the help of the smug Dr. Chandler Etheridge (Roberts), a guy who looks as arrogant as his name. Henceforth, a bunch of capering goes on, with plenty of twists, turns, and double-crosses along the way...will this love (?) triangle turn deadly? Will we ever find out the...HARD TRUTH?

The truth is that this movie is pretty hard to watch. Looking at the VHS boxcover (released by Live Home Video), we see fan-favorites Rooker and Roberts holding guns, while some sort of fire/explosion occurs behind them, complete with a helicopter above them, adding extra production value to the scene that does not ever materialize (could those be different heads pasted on bodies?). 

While something of a bait and switch, The Hard Truth is not really an action movie. There is an enjoyable and impressive action setpiece in the beginning, and that’s pretty much all we get, and that hurts. What follows is a bunch of gobbledygook about city council members and whatnot. To be fair, there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s how it felt. There are plenty of boring parts where the audience doesn’t care about what’s going on. There should have been more action scenes like the one that kicked off the movie so well.

Rooker was engaging as the lone cop good guy, and it was nice to see him as a protagonist. He even has the most amount of hair we’ve seen to date. But he can’t save it. Roberts was also good as Etheridge, but, again, this whole outing is a waste of the two talents. 

At 100 minutes, it becomes a slog, and the inexplicable overabundance of Rooker nudity and sex scenes surely contributes to the overlong running time. The whole thing is indeed classic 90’s - the type of thing you’d see on HBO or languishing on a video store shelf - complete with a WYC (White Yelling Chief) demanding Rooker’s gun and badge, sax on the soundtrack, characters yelling “Nooooooo!!!”, some light shootouts, etc. Judging by the evidence, it was a time when ads for Bugle Boy jeans were rampant. But in 2015, The Hard Truth doesn’t have the same watchability factor as it might have back then.

Director Peterson went on to make Kickboxer 5 (1995) the next year after this - perhaps she wasn’t satisfied wasting a once-in-a-lifetime (so far) acting “dream team” like Rooker and Roberts, and wanted to over-extend an already over-extended movie series. If the action setpiece is on Youtube, watch that, and then you’ll have no reason to sit through all 100 minutes of The Hard Truth. A 100 minute documentary about wrestler R-Truth would be more satisfying.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Emperor Of The Bronx (1990)

Emperor Of The Bronx (1990)- * * *

Directed by: Joseph Merhi

Starring: William Smith, Alex D'Andrea, Charlie Ganis, Anthony Gioia, and Leisha Sukary 

****1100th Review!****

Tony (D’Andrea) and his friend George (Ganis) are two buddies in NYC scraping by as small-time hoods. Tired of “nickel and diming it to nowhere”, they decide to up their wannabe gangster game. This lands them on the bad side of local boss Falco (Gioia) and some tragedies ensue. Seeking a fresh start, Tony relocates to L.A. and attempts to break into the nightclub biz. There, he falls under the aegis and mentorship of grizzled old salt Fitz (fan favorite Smith). Tony ends up working at the American Dreamer club, and falls for the nightclub singer there, Sandy (Sukary). But will he give up on his gangster aspirations because of his new influences, or will he sink further into them?

Bright lights! City Lights! I’m talkin’ ‘bout my Emperor of the Bronx! Apologies to David Lee Roth aside, ‘Emperor is an earnest, serious-minded gangster drama whose main influences appear to be Mean Streets (1973) and Scarface (both 1932 and 1983 versions). We would say Goodfellas (1990) as well, but it’s pretty clear the movie was in production before Goodfellas, because (and we always note these if possible) movie marquees are seen showing that they are playing Colors (1988), The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988), and Shakedown (1988). 

While the action and violence overall are pretty muted - though they are there - the pre-PM City Lights team wastes no time with their soon-to-be-trademark middle of the street car flip, and, in a movie highlight, it happens right in front of another movie theater marquee, this time for Above the Law (1988). Almost as if to say, “that’s not action, this is real, honest-to-goodness, low-budget action.” But were they successful? Hmmmm....

Once again, the PM team - the names we’ve seen in the credits countless times such as Pepin and Merhi, Addison Randall, Charla Driver, and the rest - show the resourcefulness and the aspirational qualities of making a low budget movie. They go for grit and seediness, and generally achieve it. The outcome is something of a cross between Club Life (1986) and DaVinci’s War (1993), but without the “homless” vets, of course. Another interesting influence seems to be Alphabet City (1984), but unfortunately they brought some of that movie’s aimlessness along with them. 

There are a few punch-ups and blow-ups along the way, but Tony is a bit too prissy to be a strong central character the audience can really rally behind. He can barely hold his own against a pudgy middle-aged man in a half-shirt, and William Smith has to come in and save his bacon. If he can’t hack it against yet another mob of Middle-Aged Punks, what hope does he have anywhere else?

The band in the movie, known only as “American Dreamer Club Band” gets a ton of screentime. Almost a whole concert, with multiple songs. They’re sort of a cross between Miami Sound Machine and Animotion. Everyone in the band is extremely stylish, and the lead singer even wears - and we’re not making this up - a sole banana on her head. One banana. You could see how Tony could fall madly in love with her. Hey, it was the 80’s. Anything went, and there were sax solos galore.  

Notably, one of the keyboard players in the band was the great John Gonzalez, who composed the music for this and practically every other PM movie. That also includes the title song for this, which is probably overall the best aspect of the movie. Sung by Marcus Malone, it’s a powerful, catchy tune that would fit in well on any Rocky soundtrack. As we all know, energetic songs with interesting-looking band members help movies. But ‘Emperor is already lengthy, and maybe the ADCB was too much of a good thing?

Someone who won’t be singing anytime soon is the great William Smith, who is too busy gargling with razor blades. Now HE has a voice - instantly recognizable, yet barely discernible. He truly is a character all his own. You can’t help but love the guy, and he helps the movie a lot. Also to the movie’s credit are some nice NYC and L.A. locations, but on the whole it should have been edited down by about 15 minutes or so. If you’re into low-budget filmmaking, gangster dramas or William Smith, the movie is worth checking out, but it may try the patience of the rest of humanity.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Open Fire (1994)

Open Fire (1994)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Kurt Anderson

Starring: Jeff Wincott, Patrick Kilpatrick, Mimi Craven, Lee De Broux, and Michael Shaner 

Open Fire is the last of the three movies that director Kurt Anderson and star Jeff Wincott made together in the 90’s. That run being Martial Law II: Undercover (1991), in which the genius move was made to replace Chad McQueen, from the first film, with Wincott, Martial Outlaw (1993), and Open Fire. While Anderson worked on the great Mission of Justice (1992), he did not direct it. Anderson took time out from his Wincott work in the 90’s to make the Lamas movie Bounty Tracker (1993). But when he and Wincott worked together, magic was made. Pairings like that of Anderson and Wincott made the video store era immeasurably better. You just don’t get collaborations like that today. 

Thanks to them and their quality output, your selection at the video store was richer, and it kept you coming back for more, thus enhancing the role of the video store in the lives of everyone everywhere. They are a part of the story of the video store in the 90’s, and they should be recognized and thanked for that.

As for the plot, it’s your standard ‘DieHardInA’ movie that we’ve seen countless times before. However, just because that’s the framework, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Alec McNeil (Wincott) is a surly phone company worker who just wants to be left alone to shirtlessly pound away with his pneumatic drill with his shirt off. 

His father Bob (de Broux) runs Martinson Industries, some kind of chemical treatment plant in L.A. Before they can head out on a father-son bass fishing trip, a team of evil baddies storm the plant. The on-the-ground baddies are led by Roy (Shaner, also the baddie in The Expert), but the mastermind of the operation is one Stein Kruger (Kilpatrick), (not?) to be confused with Hans Gruber. If his demands aren’t met, a nerve gas goes out over the city, killing countless people. 

The cops and FBI are outside the building, of course, but the one thing they didn’t count on is the bravery and Martial Arts skill of McNeil. We find out he’s surly because he was a former FBI agent who lost his partner and was de-badged. Now is his time to prove he’s more than a shirtless phone company worker. The baddies are about to experience the power of McNeil-Fu at its most deadly!

All the Wincott fight scenes are gold. The movie is entertaining on the whole, but those are the highlights, and they keep the entire outing afloat. There’s even the time-honored (and wonderfully unnecessary) barfight, and this is one of the better ones in recent memory. On top of the top-notch fights, Wincott’s voice is more gravelly than ever. His performance is solid - he’s a man haunted by his past, and, presumably, he’s taking his frustrations out on the baddies, with excellent effect. No Wincott movie would be complete without his use of Arnis sticks, and here he just happens to find, in the middle of a fight scene, of course, two metal pipes that are the exact length and width to be his preferred fighting sticks. Naturally, it’s all part of the fun.

Open Fire is a 90’s video-store action title if there ever was one, and it lives up to the name. Even during the opening credits, there are still shots of guns interposed with the titles on the screen. Just GUNS. You cannot do that today. 

So while Open Fire probably stands as one of the better DieHardInA movies out there, probably its closest parallel is Lethal Tender (1997) - there it’s a water treatment plant, here it’s a chemical treatment plant. For the audience, the difference is negligible. It just provides a lot of warehouse space for Wincott to do his thing. Plus, the baddies in the movie are labeled as mercenaries. Usually in the movies we’re used to, mercenaries are the good guys (hence the Mercs box set, etc.) - so it was interesting to see mercs positioned as villains.

The fact that the plot happens to be another Die Hard knockoff shouldn’t put you off - Open Fire is a qualified winner that delivers the goods you want.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 

Also check out write-ups from our buddies, DTVC and Cool Target!


Virtual Combat (1995)

Virtual Combat (1995)- * * *

Directed by: Andrew Stevens

Starring: Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Michael Bernardo, Athena Massey, Loren Avedon, Dawn Ann Billings, Michael Dorn, Gilbert Lewis, Rip Taylor, Turhan Bey, and Stella Stevens

So in the future, the giant, disembodied head of Rip Taylor welcomes tourists to Las Vegas and tells them where to go and what to do. Evidently, the only worthwhile things are for men to engage in the oft-mentioned ‘Cybersex’ and for women to watch Punchfighting matches. It truly is a brave new world. Unfortunately, a scientist tasked with creating these cyberpeople lets the cat out of the bag, so to speak, and three of them emerge from a tank of slimy goo and into real life. 

Two of them are the Cybersex girls, the dominatrix Greta (Billings) and Liana (Massey), but the other one is arch-baddie Dante (Bernardo). Dante seems to be an unbeatable fighting force, and he wants to unleash all the other VR baddies from cyberspace. Thankfully, David Quarry (The Dragon) is on the case. After dealing with Parness (Avedon), Quarry turns in his badge and gun to his BYC (Lewis) to take on Dante alone. But will he and Liana learn to love as a mixed-reality couple? Will David Quarry catch his quarry? Find out...

It was the 90’s, after all, and as we’ve seen time and again, VR was huge. Or it was going to be. Andrew Stevens probably figured he would just meld the then-hot VR trend with the then-hot Mortal Kombat trend, and, voila, you have Virtual Combat! It really is as simple as that, but what those other things don’t have is a holographic Rip Taylor head who talks to you. Anyway, we have some Demolition Man (1993), some Cybertracker (1994), some Terminal Justice (1996), and even some Fugitive Champion (1998), but the movie is very reminiscent of Virtuosity (1995). This one just happens to have more shirtless men punching and kicking each other.

Some of said punching and kicking is in the time-honored abandoned warehouse, with men in yellow spandex (Scorpion) and blue spandex (Subzero) taking on Don the Dragon. Luckily, he’s as wooden as you want him to be, and in the future, people communicate with devices that look like those things used to measure your feet at old shoe stores. 

When virtual baddies are defeated, they turn into a bubbling mass of Mountain Dew, surely in a homage to their gamer forbears. There are classic pew-pew lasers, some blow-ups, a very, very silly exploding helicopter, and Don the Dragon goes to the Hoover Dam - he would return only the next year in Terminal Rush (1996). He must enjoy the place.

Virtual Combat is good. Just good. There’s nothing extraordinarily bad or extraordinarily great about it. It does have some interesting casting choices - it has genre mainstays Nick Hill and Ken McLeod in smaller roles, but it also has Turhan Bey and Stella Stevens hanging around. 

Loren Avedon isn’t really in it that much, and, interestingly, Michael Bernardo doesn’t use his own voice. Maybe they were trying to compare him with Darth Vader, or maybe the producers thought his own voice was too high-pitched or something, but Michael Dorn, the voice of Whorf (We're not going to look that up to see if it’s spelled correctly) is the voice of Dante. Hopefully, Stevens said at one point, “This guy’s voice sucks. Can we afford Whorf?” Regardless, Andrew Stevens, Mr. Skinemax himself, knows well enough that if there are plenty of babes in minimal-to-no clothing, people will tune in.

There are enough decent moments to keep Virtual Combat afloat, and it’s not likely to offend you, so Don the Dragon fans or lovers of 90’s nostalgia are probably the most likely targets to enjoy it.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

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


Mission Terminate (1987)

Mission Terminate (1987)- * * *

AKA: Revenge\Return Of The Kickfighter

Directed by: Anthony Maharaj

Starring: Richard Norton, Bruce Le, Henry Strzalkowski, Nick Nicholson, Dick Wei, Willie Williams, and Rex Cutter

Col. Brad Cooper (Norton) is sent by Col. Ted Ryan (Cutter) to investigate the shady doings of a military unit who served in North Vietnam in 1970. It seems “Recon Team Charlie” were some very bad boys. They killed a bunch of innocent people and stole some gold. Now, in “Southeast Asia 1986” - naturally, some ninjas are upset about the missing gold. 

The head ninja is Quan Nhien (Le), and he’s not happy. He begins systematically killing members of Recon Team Charlie to get revenge. So, with a hearty “Anything for the Corps!”, Cooper embarks on his mission to stop the murders, stop the ninjas, and also get to the bottom of the story of the corrupt soldiers and the inevitable cover-up. Can he possibly do it?

The role of Col. Ryan is played by a man named Rex Cutter. This might be the greatest name of all time. Evidently, he was in Silk (1986), but why change his name to Ted Ryan, when he was born with the gold? The nameplate on his desk doesn’t want you to forget the name Ted Ryan, however. It’s unnaturally huge. Moving on, Mission Terminate is the directorial debut of Anthony Maharaj, who went on to work with Richard Norton again, notably on the very similar Cross Fire (1988) the next year. The movie is also known as Return of the Kickfighter, which would be a strange name for a debut film, especially as it’s unrelated to the later Norton/Maharaj vehicle Kick Fighter (1989). We know, it’s all very confusing, but here’s the important stuff to know: 

Mission Terminate does have the exploding huts, exploding helicopters, other blow-ups, gun-shooting, flamethrow’d villages, neck snaps, and bar-(in this case strip club) fights in the jungle we’ve all come to know and love. There are some slow moments that bog things down at times, but there are some very cool moments as well which kind of mitigate the duller passages and make you forget them, and you’re willing to give the movie the benefit of the doubt. A bearded Norton rides down a zipline and shoots some people. When we first meet him, he’s competing at the “Ryder Invitational Full Contact Karate Meet”. It took them a long time to paint the sign.

Of course, there are the prerequisite overdubbed funny voices blaring out of the characters’ mouths, but when they’re shouting racial epithets about, and we quote, “pesky Charlies”, and of course, “gooks”, it seems especially ridiculous, if not entertaining in an anti-PC way you would never see today. Besides the time-honored racial slurs, we get tidbits like this description of the elite Thai army’s abilities: they’re “trained to stare down a cobra!” If that doesn’t spell victory in war, what does?

The cast and crew are chock-full of Philippine-shot movie mainstays: the movie was written by Joe Mari Avellana, and stars, besides Norton and the majestic Rex Cutter - who gives Wynn Irwin a run for his money - Bruce Le, Nick Nicholson, Dick Wei, Willie Williams, and Henry Strzalkowski. And, as it was the 80’s after all, there is, of course, a ninja training camp. 

So, for a first go-round for Maharaj, Mission Terminate is pretty good, and Norton fans will want to see it, because he raises the level of pretty much everything he’s in. Outside of the slow moments, the movie is  solid and respectable, but most likely one-time watch for most.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Ten-Zan: The Ultimate Mission (1988)

Ten-Zan: The Ultimate Mission (1988)- * * *

Directed by: Ferdinando Baldi

Starring: Frank Zagarino, Mark Gregory, Sabrina Siani, and Rom Kristoff

When a scientist invents a serum, extracted from the bodily fluids of both humans and animals, that can recreate the “master race” of the Nazis, an American hero named Lou Mamet (Zags) travels from his native Mattituck, Long Island, all the way to North Korea, of all places, to stop the scientist. Helping him out along his way is fellow soldier of fortune (?) Ricky (Kristoff), but they’re going to have to face off against the evil Jason (Gregory) and a ton of local North Korean goons. And what does the mysterious Glenda (Siani) have to do with any of this? Thankfully, Lou Mamet and Ricky have plenty of firepower to pull off the mission...or do they? Find out today!

Interestingly, Ten Zan was indeed shot in North Korea (or NoKo as we call it). This was a smart move on behalf of then-Supreme Leader Kim Il-Sung. Unlike his successors Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un, Kim Il-Sung clearly realized that the way to become a valued part of the international community and endear yourself to the rest of the world was to get Frank Zagarino in there and blow the crud out of some huts. Whether this was truly in the spirit of international brotherhood, or just a ruse to make people think they’re not a rogue state on the world stage, it was truly the best - nay - the ONLY logical move. 

It has been said that Kim Jong-Il was a huge movie buff and had a VHS collection consisting of thousands of titles. It has even been said that he loved action movies, the First Blood series in particular. Perhaps his love of movies culminated when he kidnapped a film crew and actors from South Korea and forced them to make a movie in the North. But the real question is: Is Ten Zan: Ultimate Mission in that large collection? Odds are it is. There’s a very good chance that a madman with nukes has seen Frank Zagarino, Romano “Rom” Kristoff, and Mark Gregory romping around in an Exploding Hutter. It truly boggles the mind.

While Ten Zan doesn’t quite scale the lofty heights of the truly awesome Commander (1988) (though it would be unfair to compare every Italian Exploding Hutter to that masterpiece), we can still chalk up another in the win column for Frankie Zags. Thankfully, he’s as wooden as ever. 

We wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course, once again, he gets tortured. Backing him up is Mark Gregory - Trash and Thunder himself - almost unrecognizable here with short hair and very clean-shaven. The presences of those two stars amongst a panoply of exploding huts is enough right there to recommend the movie, but the North Korean connection just puts the weirdness level over the top.

Ten Zan was the last film of director Ferdinando Baldi, coming not long after his Warbus (1986). We’d say Ten Zan is a bit better than the one-note Warbus, but they’re certainly cut from the same cloth. Without a doubt, there are enough blow-ups to go around. You just have to love the 80’s. It’s just so cool to see the words ULTIMATE MISSION on the screen. Ultimate Mission. You just wouldn’t see that in a movie released today. Unfortunately, the movie didn’t get wide distribution - only officially released in the Netherlands and Japan (the Japanese get everything!), with no U.S. VHS release. That is a shame, as it could have developed into something of a cult classic - but did the North Koreans purposely prevent it because they hate America? Perhaps we’ll never know.

Ten Zan: Ultimate Mission is an Italian Exploding Hut movie that was filmed in a rarely-seen location, featuring some of our favorite stars of the genre. If you can see it, see it.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Fighting Spirit (1992)

Fighting Spirit (1992)- * * *

Directed by: John Lloyd

Starring: Loren Avedon, Nick Nicholson, Mike Monty,  Ned Hourani, Jerry Beyer, Michelle Locke, and Sean Donahue

Billy Edwards (Donahue) is a young man who trains in Martial Arts and spends a lot of his time training at the gym. When his sister Judith (Michelle Locke in her only credited movie role to date) is assaulted by a gang of no-goodniks and suffers optic nerve damage, the evil Russell Peretti (Hourani) offers him a way to pay her medical bills: underground Punchfighting matches. When Russell and his super-evil brother Tony (Douglass) keep ratcheting up the stakes, as gangsters often do, Billy wants out. Unfortunately, he gets his wish: the baddies off Billy. Billy’s friend David Carster (Avedon) then assumes responsibility for Judith, who must wear bandages around her eyes while she recuperates. In a ‘spirit’ of revenge, David trains hard with Murphy (Beyer) in order to obtain the fighting skills necessary to defeat Russell, Tony and their goons once and for all. But will he have a little supernatural help along the way? Find out...

In this movie at least, Loren Avedon resembles Scott Baio. Sean Donahue bears more than a passing resemblance to pre-Bibleman-era Willie Aames. Coincidence? Fighting Spirit could very well be the Charles in Charge - or Zapped!, if you will - of early-90’s low budget Punchfighting movies. This is actually one of the better Avedon outings, he’s not unlikable like he is in some other efforts. His character even goes through something of an arc, from smug non-fighter to full-fledged action hero (though it is odd that on the first day of his training, he can already do Van Damme-style splits). And, adding to the feel that this movie is a lot older than it really is, the two of them train to disco music.

The music, generally speaking, is pretty weird. There are a ton of misplaced cues, and a lot of it (which repeats over and over) even seems out of tune. The main theme appears to be nothing more than a slow pick slide over a lightly-amplified electric guitar. So when you’re not distracted by the music, you can concentrate on the funny dubbing. Once again, those loud or wacky voices appear. Either the music or the voices are blaring at all times: one of the main positives of the movie is that it is almost non-stop fighting. There’s a fight scene seemingly every few minutes, which keeps the attention up.

Sure, it’s all pretty downmarket, but it’s also fun most of the time. It doesn’t seem like the filmmakers were working with the best equipment, but maybe that’s all they had in whatever foreign country they were in. Our guess is the Philippines, due to the presences of Nick Nicholson, Ned Hourani, and a bit part by Mike Monty, though fellow Philippines-shot movie mainstay Henry Strzalkowski isn’t present. Monty gets raving drunk in the first scene of the movie and isn’t seen again; Nicholson is a kickboxing coach who is constantly barking orders at his charges and calls everyone “boy!” All that being said, a police officer identifies himself as “LAPD” - are we supposed to believe this is all taking place in Los Angeles? But silly details like that add to the enjoyment of the movie.

There are not one, but TWO ideas lifted wholesale from Cape Fear (the then-recently released 1991 version, probably), and the Punchfighting audience Billy must fight in front of is rather small, especially for such large sums of cash that are on the line, but, as we’ve said before, there are many kinds of stupid, and not all stupid is bad stupid. You might say Fighting Spirit is more confused than anything else,  because it seems a lot of the wackiness/dumbness resides from its strange take on what someone believes to be American life, and mind-numbing scenes ensue. Once again, that is not a negative criticism. We don’t know the country of birth of director John Lloyd, but thanks to this movie and his Ron Marchini vehicle Ninja Warriors (1985), we do know he certainly has an off-kilter sensibility. Despite all odds, it’s actually pretty darn entertaining.

Featuring the lounge-type song “Why Must This Be” by Harry Strong, Fighting Spirit may be a bit grimy, but you just have to either enjoy it or look beyond it. Confusingly, this is also known as King of the Kickboxers 2, presumably because of the presence of Avedon, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the earlier Billy Blanks romp.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, Fist Of B-List!


Freedom Strike (1998)

Freedom Strike (1998)- *1\2

Directed by: Jerry P. Jacobs

Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Tone Loc, James Karen, and Felicity Waterman

 In a pre-9/11 world, some evil terrorists get a nuclear weapon. Of course, only the Freedom Strike team, led by  Tom Dickson (Dudikoff) can stop them. They need to do this in a timely manner so President Mitchell (Karen) (whose first order of business as President surely was to inform us of all the great deals at your local PathMark) can broker a peace deal with the Syrians. This clearly won’t happen without the presence of Tyler Haynes (Loc), a military officer deeply involved with the proceedings, and Maddie Reese (Waterman), a former SAS officer/love interest to Dickson. Meanwhile, there’s some drama at yet another news station named ZNN. Will they be successful or will the military have to embark on Mission: Funky Cold Medina? Find out today... (actually, don’t...)

Well, sadly, this was the state of DTV in 1998. Just another soulless/mindless aircraft carrier and plane slog. As if it would excite any viewer anywhere, at the start of the movie, presumably to get us sucked in to the story, a bunch of characters sit at radar screens and some others are continually jawing about military mumbo-jumbo and coordinates and such. We’re officially in the same sort of territory as Surface to Air (1998), Submerged (2005), Submarines (2003), and even Agent Red (2000) (like this, also an Andrew Stevens production. We’re learning fast to avoid his stuff). And if you think the pacing picks up from there, you might as well sit back and get comfortable, because it’s pretty tedious from here on out.

It’s unfortunate that top fan favorite Dudikoff wouldn’t have something better to do than this, but, on the flipside of that, if it wasn’t for his presence - along with some classic Tone Loc - then we’d really be in trouble. Dudikoff does shoot a bunch of terrorists, which is nice, but he does minimal Martial Arts. The middle-east setting makes this a much worse Chain of Command (1994). There are some boring dogfights, and some - not green screen explosions, which would be bad enough - but some CD-ROM explosions. From what we remember, when you wash out while playing your flight simulator in 1994, this is what happens in this movie. Very regrettable. We’ve seen better explosions while calculating our taxes on TurboTax.

But that’s what happened at the end of the millennium - the magic and weirdness of the 80’s and some of the 90’s was replaced by a predictable, overly-logical, and straight-ahead style with no room for the offbeat in any way. Maybe that would be different if it wasn’t an Andrew Stevens production chock full of stock footage of airplanes flying around and whatnot. But this movie is nothing more than a by-product after the demise of Cannon Films. If this was a Cannon Dudikoff, it might be another story entirely. But, as it is, it would fit in rather well with the later American Heroes series of straight-down-the-line military slogs.

But here’s the real crime: Tone Loc doesn’t show up until 36 minutes in. (We were on Tone Loc watch). And even then, his presence is pretty scant throughout. His voice alone could almost carry the movie - imagine a scratchier, slurrier Barry White. Of course, it’s the same as on his recordings. Just why he’s playing a military man in a Dudikoff movie is not explained, but that was one of the only things the movie does right. What this movie should have been is be an actioner after the mold of Avenging Force (1986) - instead of Dudikoff and Steve James, it’s Dudikoff and Tone Loc busting some heads. Another missed opportunity.

There is a Dudikoff-Art Camacho fight, which is a movie highlight (?), but pretty much nothing can penetrate the overwhelming aura of suck surrounding the film as a whole. It’s not Dudikoff’s or Loc’s fault. It’s hard to believe this is by the same director as the enjoyable A Dangerous Place (1995). Finally, we noticed that a man named J.A. “Cappy” Surette was a military advisor on the film. He probably cursed the fact that Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf got to live it up on the set of Crimson Tide (1995) or whatever, while he’s stuck on this turkey.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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