Rescue Force (1990)

Rescue Force (1990)- * * *

Directed by: Charles Nizet

Starring: Bo Gritz, Keiri Smith, Cynthia Thompson, and Richard Harrison

It’s “no budget, no logic, no coherence, no problem” as the wild and wacky antics of Rescue Force unfold before your disbelieving eyes.  Sometimes movies come along that seem like they’re from an alternate universe. Or if you found an alien that had never seen a movie before, handed them a camera and instructed them to create a film. Well, we don’t know what state of reality director Charles Nizet comes from, but it seems he’s not in touch with the way actual humans actually talk, behave, or exist. God bless him for that. Sadly Nizet passed away in 2003, but not before leaving behind a clutch of demented classics, such as The Ravager (1970), the movie that Image Entertainment refused to release on their label, so Something Weird put out as a DVD-R. Rescue Force is Nizet’s last directorial work, a fitting epitaph to a one-of-a-kind career.

Real American Hero Bo Gritz (not to be confused with Bo Hopkins or Fritz Matthews) is Lt. Col. Steel, a man in charge of coordinating a rescue operation to save the American ambassador to Israel and his daughter who have been kidnapped by Palestinian Islamic extremist terrorists and held captive in a cave in Syria. The more things change...Gritz, er, I mean STEEL doesn’t like this so he gets his best agents on it, a middle-aged Frenchman named Striker and some babes named Kiki (Smith) and Angel (Thompson). When people aren’t talking on the phone or into walkie-talkies (always covering their mouths so dialogue can be looped in later), people are getting shot and blown up in the desert. Eventually Richard Harrison (credited solely as “Chief CIA Agent”) shows up to participate in the chaos.

Rescue Force is filled with low-budget wonderment: It’s shot on ancient film stock that makes it look like it was shot in 1977 and not 1989, there are abrupt cuts, jerky zoom-ins, and characters stand stock-still while waiting for the camera to roll so they can speak their lines. 

And there are some immortal line-readings here, maybe some of the best ever. It sounds like a bunch of foreigners reading English phonetically for the first time in their lives. Thankfully, it’s all part of the bewildering fun. The production design features various guns affixed to the wall in a random fashion. Easy access, presumably.

As if all this wasn’t nutty enough, Law & Order-style subtitles appear letting us know the time and location of where we are, as if that mattered one whit. Adding insult to injury, all this information is on the screen in a split second, not enough time to read the actual information! Are we supposed to be taking all this in subliminally? But from what we were able to glimpse, here are our four favorites: “Terrorist and son”, “Terrorists Yacht”, “Paris terrorists hide-out” and “Kiki and Angel’s favorite restaurant”. Good to know. Speaking of Kiki and Angel, some of the girls-with-guns scenes in the desert were reminiscent of Hell Squad (1986), but by comparison, Hell Squad is the height of professionalism.

Yes, there is a lot of silly shooting and blow-ups, the bombs are mainly dirt rising to the sky, and you could accuse it all of being amateurish, but most of the end credits consist of the weaponry used and where it came from. It has to be the longest credit roll for guns and ammo of all time. How else will our heroes fight terrorists who are alternately blonde women or John Oates lookalikes? 

But Bo Gritz did his own flying. So there’s that. During the scene where Gritz explains - in meticulous detail - the rescue mission, it’s one long shot of his gut and his hands as he presides over a scale model that looks like a less-interesting copy of board game Fireball Island. You can’t do anything remotely like this today. That’s why gems like this should be treasured. We’re not likely to see their kind ever again.

Released on VHS label Rae Don, Rescue Force only barely fits the definition of what a movie is, and makes no freaking sense whatsoever, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddies, Bleeding Skull!


Death Run To Istanbul (1993)

Death Run To Istanbul (1993)- * *

Directed by: Rachel Gordon

Starring: Dean Thomas, Bill Ballis, Sunny Doench, and Fallon

The most we were able to discern is that a guy named Gary Yaeger (Thomas) once was a kickboxer, but fell on hard times and became a heroin addict. He owes a ton of money to a gangster baddie named Alonzo (Ballis, who also appeared in the classic Geteven in 1993). Alonzo realizes he’s basically homeless and has no money to pay his drug debts, so he offers him a deal: Get a cache of drugs to Istanbul and he’ll wipe out the debt. Seems simple enough. 

But when the briefcase with the contraband inside goes missing, largely thanks to a middle-aged, balding Motorhead fan, Gary finds himself in deep trouble. So his next move is to get help eliminating the baddies from his ex-girlfriend and fellow kickboxer Sammy (porn performer Fallon). Along with Gary’s sister Lola (Doench of Double Deception fame), the two exercise (and exercise and exercise) some girl power on L.A.’s most ineffectual bad guys. What will happen to the DEATH RUN TO ISTANBUL?

You’ve gotta hand it to Vista Street Entertainment. They’re perfectly willing to release what are essentially family home movies to the wider market. Found on the “Women Who Kick Butt” DVD collection, Death Run To Istanbul, which technically qualifies as a movie, can now have a life into the foreseeable future. 

It seems to have been shot with a standard, consumer-issue camcorder, and without adding any after-market sound equipment. This is another one of those “alien” movies, in the sense that it appears that writer/director Rachel Gordon had decided to make her own movie without ever having seen one before. She likely just landed from an alien world in 1993 and decided to try her hand at filmmaking, only having heard of things called “movies” on her home planet.

That’s why some of Death Run To Istanbul is fascinating - seeing people speak and behave in odd ways, and watch endless scenes of practicing, exercising and even coffee-making, just happens to be strangely interesting. 

And at only 72 minutes (though it feels longer), it doesn’t tax your time too much. Besides, it’s still better than green-screen, CGI garbage of today, and it doesn’t have that annoying blue-green tint so many modern movies have. There are some trained Martial Artists here, unlike so many other movies (handy tip: if you see an unintelligible Asian man wearing a vest and no shirt, run away).

The whole thing starts with a montage of things we’re about to see, and ends with another montage of things we’ve just seen. Some of these things include a mob boss who looks like John Waters (and is about as threatening and intimidating as John Waters), a hulking female brute who appears to be a transsexual, and a band called The Daze. We’re not sure which is scarier. 

At one point, the end credits list The Daze as “The Band”. Perhaps this is what they were singing about when they wrote “The Weight”. Whoever typed the credits also listed someone as “Fight Coor”. Either the budget (?) ran out, or the fight scenes were planned out by an empty beer can.

We’ve tried to be as fair as we could with Death Run To Istanbul (which, misleadingly, was shot entirely in the L.A. area but made a stab at sounding international), and a mean person could point out that pretty much every aspect of it, from every technical standpoint to anything else, isn’t up to par. 

However, it acted as sort of a “demo tape” for Ms. Gordon and some of the other people involved, launching their careers. But the real trick here is this: Don’t compare this to any other movies you’ve seen. If you do that, you’ll think it’s bad. Just treat it as its own thing - from the parallel universe of SOV’s that Bleedingskull.com is always celebrating. Don’t expect quality; expect a strange, amateurish project, and you MIGHT find something worthy of your 72 minutes.  But don’t get your hopes up.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, The Video Vacuum! 


Dog Tags (1985)

Dog Tags (1985)- * *1\2

Directed by: Romano Scavolini

Starring: Clive Woods, Baird Stafford, Robert Haufrecht, and Mike Monty

When an author, in 1984, receives word that a man in Vietnam is willing to finally tell the tale of a series of events that transpired a decade earlier, we are transported back to 1974 and a very dire situation is unfolding in the jungles of ‘Nam. After escaping from a prison camp, a group of soldiers are lost, angry, irritated and disillusioned. Capturing all the angst is a German photographer along for the ride. 

When they do manage to make contact with Captain Newport (Monty), they are told they must recover some documents from a helicopter that has been shot down, which only adds insult to injury. The final straw is the fact that the supposed “documents” are gold bars, which only adds fuel to the fire of division going on amongst the soldiers. While all this is going on, the men have to avoid various other jungle pitfalls such as a leg amputation, murderous locals, unfriendly nature, and much more. Will these embattled enlisted men be encouraged or entreatied to end it all? Find out...

Dog Tags is writer/director Romano Scavolini’s follow-up to his horror classic Nightmare (1981), and those who have seen that can well imagine what he would do with the “namsploitation” genre. Well, here it is. It’s an exploding hutter with a difference. It’s unrelentingly dark, bleak, depressing and self-serious. Sure, that provides a point of difference with all the other jungle jaunts out there, who never come close to this level of straight-ahead dreary desolation. That said, the movie is very well-shot, with quality camerawork and creative lighting and angles, and the editing reinforces the “masterminds behind the scenes” vibe.

This would have been a home run if there was any character development. Imagine high drama but with a bunch of random people you know nothing about. There are many times when the whole outing becomes dull and loses any kind of drive. Imagine if Scavolini directed Platoon (1986) instead of Oliver Stone, but slower. That should give you some idea of what we’re dealing with. 

Sure, there are a few blow-ups here and there, but the emphasis is surely on the grimness of ‘Nam and the human toll. In its single-minded fixation on that, the movie forgot to have one strong, clear baddie, a misstep we see all too often, and is another contributing factor to the movie losing focus.  All this is put in a clearly-delineated three-act structure, with epilogue, complete with title cards to help the audience.

In the cast department, we have fan favorite Mike Monty, a Philippines-shot movie mainstay, as well as fellow Romano, Romano Kristoff, who is also credited as being Second Assistant Director. Or maybe the credit-makers just got confused. 

Nick Nicholson is also credited, but it must be a “blink and you’ll miss him” situation, and we definitely must have blinked, because we didn’t see him at all. There’s also the credit “Chris Hilton as Himself”. Okay. Good to know. Baird Stafford, so memorable from Scavolini’s Nightmare, returns as the soldier who, infamously, gets his leg amputated. If I may quote Scavolini himself, speaking about Stafford, from the book Spaghetti Nightmares: “He was also very effective in DOGTAGS because I managed to get him to accept the idea that he had to be sexually ambiguous. His leg being cut off clearly represents a type of castration, and it is his mutilated sexuality that, in the end, ruins everyone.” So now you know. Consider yourself warned.

Released on the small label Cinevest on VHS in the U.S., it didn't get wide exposure here, but that's more than a lot of other Italian productions got. Dog Tags succeeds stylistically, if not dramatically, and its style and substance seem out of sync with each other. Add to that the distressing, somber vibe, and it can make for a very rocky viewing experience indeed.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Street Angels (1993)

Street Angels (1993)- * *

Directed by: George Saunders

Starring: George Saunders, Kim Strauss, Dee Hengstler, Gwen Somers, David Jean Thomas, and Honey Lauren

Frank Adams (Saunders) is a wisecracking L.A. cop with an attitude. The Phantom (Strauss) is an evil crime lord with a large gang of baddies at his disposal. Before the Phantom and his minions can take over the streets, Adams decides that the one and only way to deal with the escalating crime situation is to pluck three women from prison, Tamara, the blonde one (Hengstler), Betina, the brunette (Lauren), and Anya, the redhead (Somers), and train them to be crime-fighting machines. After the death of his partner Murph, Adams is really mad, you see. After protecting the neighborhood for a while, they come to be called the “Street Angels”, much like Curtis Sliwa’s Guardian Angels. Or perhaps Charlie’s Angels. Some kind of angels, anyway. Will our new heroines/hero be victorious, or will they be just more victims for The Phantom?

Here we have a no-budget, shot-on-video item, or NBSOV for short. It appears Street Angels was shot on a standard-issue camcorder of the day, and it’s a lot like the movies we would make with friends - but, thanks to Vista Street Entertainment, a specialist in downmarket product, this made it into video stores! 

We don’t know how many, exactly, but we wonder if anyone rented it, saw the amateurish technical qualities, and stuck with it until the end. We sure did, as we always do, and once you get past the obvious drawbacks, the first hour is actually pretty entertaining. It has all the cop cliches we know and love, including a BYC (Black Yelling Chief) - this time played by DTV trooper David Jean Thomas, who appeared in No Code of Conduct (1998) and Retrograde (2004), to name just a few. Imagine all the classic tropes you know and love, but seemingly made for zero dollars by a bunch of enthusiastic teenagers. After the first hour, the movie starts to drag and the novelty wears off, however. With some better pacing, things could have improved a lot for the duration of the running time.

The movie is not quite Samurai Cop (1991), but it seems to be yearning in that direction. Instead of Amir Shervan and Matt Hannon, we have actor/writer/director/co-producer George Saunders, who wears a tanktop that reads “Fight Crime” and gives himself humorous (?) dialogue and sensitive narration. Is it tongue-in-cheek or meant to be taken seriously? 

It’s very hard to tell. The villain, The Phantom, works out in his weight room while drinking a Bud Light and wearing sunglasses and tight jeans. He also appears to be homosexual, which was an interesting character choice for the main baddie. Of course, there’s a training sequence, the expected Prerequisite Torture of the hero, some abrupt and completely out of the blue Punchfighting, and more, but it starts to get repetitive after a while. There are even references to contemporary events, such as Desert Storm and the L.A. riots, which add cultural context, but it still doesn’t answer the questions of how this got into video stores and who rented it?

We’re used to junkiness, as well as the Mankillers (1987)/Hired to Kill (1990)-style plotline, and the time-honored Street Corner Justice (1996)/Annihilators (1985)-style “cleaning up the community” plotline, which got us to thinking about an imagined remake. It would feature Michael Madsen as the hero, Brian Thompson as the baddie, and Angie Everhart, Elizabeth Berkley, and...someone else as the girls. Generally we’re against remakes, but a strike against Street Angels is the lame ending. We would change that. Though Dee Hengstler, who played Tamara, was in an episode of Cop Rock, so she’s not completely expendable. She’s got at least one for the win column.

Ruta Aras, writer/director of High Kicks (1993), was thanked in the end credits, and both Street Angels and High Kicks are both found on the Women Who Kick Butt DVD collection. Which companies are working behind the scenes to make this stuff happen? If you’re a fan of forgotten SOV’s in the bleedingskull.com tradition, you will most likely enjoy Street Angels. If you require concepts such as professionalism and traditional notions of quality in your cinematic entertainment, steer clear.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, The Video Vacuum!


Blackfire (1985)

Blackfire (1985)- * * *

Directed by: Teddy Page

Starring: Romano Kristoff, Jim Gaines and Chantal Mansfield

Sgt. Frank Johnson (Kristoff) isn’t simply Sgt. Frank Johnson, Vietnam War soldier.  Oh no, he’s so much more than that. You see, he had ninja training as a child. In spite of, or, perhaps, because of his proficiency in the deadly arts, Johnson is “marked for termination” by his military higher-ups. While war buddy Jim Anderson (Gaines) and computer technician Nancy (Mansfield) do their best to help Johnson with his plight and troubled ways, Johnson is kidnapped and, of course, tortured by a league of eyepatchioed/non-eyepatchioed baddies. 

Naturally, this makes him mad and after submitting to the torture for a surprising amount of time, his ninja training finally kicks in and he goes on a revenge mission. To sum up, we should probably just quote the great YouTube uploader Atomic Cyborg’s description of the film: “Rambo-Ninja Rom Kristoff Takes Revenge!” That pretty much sums it up, really.

Director Teddy Page and producer K.Y. Lim strike again with Blackfire, a sort of mashing-together of two 80’s action staples, the Ninja Boom and the Rambo knockoff. The results are reasonably successful, but not quite as awesome as the potential is there to fulfill. Romano “Rom” Kristoff (or Ron Kristoff as he’s billed here) is the Stallone/Dudikoff/Sho Kosugi-style hero, to the point where we inevitably called him “Rombo”. One of the characters even makes the obligatory Rambo reference, putting the whole outing into a context the viewer already has.

The movie gets off to a bang - literally - much like Page’s Fireback (1983), Blood Debts (1985) and especially Phantom Soldiers (1987) - you gotta hand it to the guy, he really knows how to start a movie. Men in army fatigues screaming while shooting machine guns, huts exploding, guard tower falls, grenade throws, neck snaps and strategic use of slo-mo, all among the leafy green foliage kick off the movie and we were impressed, no matter how many times we may have seen these things before. But the icing on the machete was Rom’s “super crossbow” - a badass crossbow with some sort of missile as the projectile.

Inevitably, though, things slowed down after this impressive opening. As much as we love 80’s computers with their green one-color text, watching the Nancy character work on one for such a long time dragged the movie down. Then we have the time-honored barfight, and then the (overly-extended) Prerequisite Torture. All the “bullet” points are thus hit. There’s even a WYC (White Yelling Chief), and Rom has a classic black “revenge outfit” that he dons before the aforementioned final mission. It all adds up to some standard namsplotation but with a healthy handful of standout moments. It’s like diluting your Metamucil in water. There should have been less water.

However, there is a lot of comical dubbing, including very funny dubbed grunting and yelling. But these are men of action and not words - or at least, that’s what Sgt. Jim (Gaines, who co-wrote the movie) tries to turn the soldiers into, but as drill sergeant, he has his work cut out for him, with a cadre of pudgy recruits who look like they spend more time cultivating their mustaches than their muscles.

Much like how Sgt. Blackfire Johnson (that’s his code name, by the by), listens to a regional variant on Cyndi Lauper’s “She-bop” when he wants to collect his thoughts and ponder his situation, and then does a triumphant snapping of his fingers when he comes to a realization, the viewer will also have a realization - that this jungle outing could’ve been better. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments, especially the beginning, but it’s easy to see why this never had a U.S. VHS or DVD release. Sure, we would have appreciated it, but video labels might have deemed it unnecessary. Thank goodness for YouTube, where, as of the time of this writing, you can view the movie and decide for yourself.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Mercenary (1996)

Mercenary (1996)- * * *

Directed by: Avi Nesher

Starring: Olivier Gruner, Ed Lauter, John Ritter, Nils Allen Stewart, Martin Kove, Lara Harris, and Robert Culp 

Jonas Ambler (Ritter) is a multi-millionaire businessman with his face on the cover of Forbes magazine. When his beloved wife Joanna (Harris, of The Dogfighters fame) is killed in a terrorist attack, Ambler wants revenge. After discovering the baddies involved are headed by arch-baddie Phoenix (Kove), the corporate warrior yearns to be a real warrior when he reaches out to Hawk (Gruner) and McClean (Culp), expert mercenaries, in order to capture and kill Phoenix. At first they reject his offer of four million dollars, but they eventually relent and agree to take on the job. The only problem is, while Hawk and his crew are highly-trained badasses, Ambler is not, so they go on an extensive training regimen. All this in the presence of his head of security, Cochran (Lauter). Soon enough, Hawk and the gang are in the Middle East and fighting the bad guys. But Hawk is emotionless (or is he?) and Ambler is a bit of a goofball. But they’re going to have to learn to get along if they want to survive the most dangerous mission of their lives. Will they be successful?

Mercenary is a lot better than we thought it was going to be, having based our assumptions on having seen the second one first. Sequels are often not as good as the originals, and here is a classic case of that. There’s plenty of quality action, and it’s all very professionally done. If the movie had starred Van Damme instead of Gruner, this could have gone to the theater. That’s not to say that Gruner isn’t perfectly cast, however - as the emotionless warrior, with maybe a bit of humanity lurking underneath, Gruner is ideal as Hawk. Plus his hair seems to get higher in every scene. Halfway through the movie, he looks like Kid from Kid n’ Play.

It all kicks off with a bang in classic 90’s style, and the whole outing is perfect for video stores of that time. It even has Jack Tripper himself, John Ritter, getting in on the action. How often are you going to see that? Sure, he provides the comic relief for Hawk, but he also gets emotional and angry at times. And he’s never annoying like the characters in the sequel. Ritter gunning down Islamic terrorists. Who’d’ve thunk it? Plus, we liked the fact that the mercenaries were the good guys.

Cementing the fact that this is classic 90’s action, we have the time-honored barfight and the Prerequisite Torture of the heroes. There’s even some surprise Killfighting. Not to be confused with Punchfighting, at one point Hawk and Ambler find themselves in a dark, underground arena where men take to a pit and try to kill each other, but this is not Punchfighting. There is minimal, if any, punching, and the crowd surrounding them is not clutching cash in their hands. Plus they had knives and were dueling to the death. Leave it to us to define the subtle differences between Punchfighting and Killfighting. But it was all part of the rich array of action’s glory days.

While the movie was from ‘96, the plot - offering up millions of dollars to find a terrorist - recalls the hunt for bin Laden, and Robert Culp strongly resembles Mitt Romney. Coincidence? Well, yes. But to corral a killer cast like this is truly a once in a lifetime assemblage (look out for genre mainstay Nils Allen Stewart and an early appearance from Jaime Pressly). Director Nesher, known for Timebomb (1991) and The Taxman (1999), among others, puts in his version of a Men of War (1994)-style plot, and we say it’s successful. The only real problem with the movie is that it’s too long. It didn’t need to be 102 minutes, and if it was shorter we might be looking at an all-time classic. As it stands, Mercenary is a very good all-around action movie that is more than watchable and likable.

Featuring a cover of La Bamba by the band Popdefect, watching Mercenary will take you back to one of the last great years for DTV action. Just make sure you avoid the sequel.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out write-ups from our buddies, DTVC and The Unknown Movies!


Automatic (1995)

Automatic (1995)- *1\2

Directed by: John Murlowski

Starring: Olivier Gruner, Daphne Ashbrook, Jeff Kober, Marjean Holden, John Glover, Troy Evans, and Annabelle Gurwitch

In a future where stylish Cardigan sweaters are the norm, so are human-defending robots. When the latest-model android, J269 (the perfectly-cast Gruner) stops an attempted rape of Robgen company employee Nora Rochester (Ashbrook), and accidentally kills one of the bosses in the process, the CEO, Goddard Marx (Glover) calls in a bunch of mercenaries to put an end to J269, such as Major West (Kober) and Epsilon Leader (Holden - they didn’t even give her a proper name, sadly). So now Nora and J269 have to fend off their attackers, all while INN (groan) news reporter Gloria Takamatsu (Gurwitch) reports on things. Will Nora grow to love J269? Will he live to be robotic another day?  Find out, or something...

Oh, The Terminator (1984) and Robocop (1987), what hath you wrought? If the makers of those movies could have predicted the slipstream of DTV crud left in their wake, would they have made them at all? Well, probably yes, but here we go with another run-through of a bunch of stuff we’ve seen before collated into a new package and now called Automatic. Of course, the melange wouldn’t be complete without a healthy dose of Die Hard (1988), and we also have a pinch of Blade Runner (1982), a dash of Universal Soldier (1992), and it’s reminiscent of competitors like Class of 1999 II (1994), American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (1993) and Fortress (1992), but Fortress is better. And Fortress (not to mention Robocop, of course) actually have Kurtwood Smith, rather than the Kurtwood Smith lookalike on display here.

Let’s not kid ourselves here: this is a sci-fi slog. Yes, Olivier does some Gruner-Fu on the baddies, and that does help, and there’s some gun-shooting, but it all could have been so much better. Jeff Kober is wasted in what is a glorified sit-down role, and Marjean Holden is a far cry from the butt-kicking of Ballistic. Even Annabelle Gurwitch has nothing to do. The whole mercenaries versus robots thing could have worked, if only the filmmakers didn’t cling to tried and true cliches like a desperate man to a life raft. Go nuts! Break free! That’s what we were hoping for with Automatic. It doesn’t even have a Timebomb-era Michael Biehn to power things along. Instead, it all takes place in one building, for the most part, and they never turn any lights on.

That, perhaps, is the most infuriating thing about this and other movies of its ilk. It’s not hard to turn the lights on. This is the basics - it’s a movie. We’re supposed to SEE it. How are they not grasping this? Children’s movies and comedies are always well-lit. There’s no excuse. Maybe they’re trying to obfuscate its low budget, but that backfires because the whole no-lights thing screams “low budget”. Who cares if it’s low budget? Own it, don’t try to vainly hide it. And while the outing, as a whole, is overly talky, it’s good to see they predicted the rise of the Roomba by several years.

Automatic is typical 90’s product, which we’re usually in favor of, but there’s so much missed potential. Consequently, it holds a very loose grip on the audience, and surely was just another tape collecting dust on a video store shelf. And not entirely unjustifiably.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out write-ups from our buddies, DTVC and The Unknown Movies!


The Circuit (2002)

The Circuit (2002)- * *

Directed by: Jalal Merhi

Starring: Olivier Gruner, Ilya Morelle, Jalal Merhi, Loren Avedon, Gail Harris, Michael Blanks, Bruce Buffer, Bryan Genesse, and Billy Drago

Dirk Longstreet (Gruner) truly has it all. A great job as a college track and field coach, a great first name, a great last name, and an overall vibe that tells the world, “I’m Dirk Longstreet”. Trouble arises when his younger brother Jeremy Longstreet (Morelle) begins attending illegal underground Punchfighting matches known as “The Circuit”. Deeply in debt to Circuit ringleader Vixton Hack (Genesse), who really gives Dirk Longstreet a run for his money in the awesome name sweepstakes, Hack tells Jeremy he can work off his debt by fighting in the ring. The problem is, Dirk was an undefeated champion of the Circuit in his past, but he walked away and started a new and better life for himself, and he wants to forget the old days. 

So even though he’s in top physical shape, he begins training with Circuit boss Lenny (Drago) so he can defeat current reigning champs the Kwan twins (Simon Kim and James Kim). Meanwhile, a typical female reporter, Nicole (Harris) has been tracking the Circuit and even gets close to Dirk on false pretenses. Her editor, Editor Bill (Merhi) (That’s how he’s credited) wants to pull her off the story, but her connections with cop Det. Sykes (Avedon) have her closer than ever to exposing The Circuit to the public. What in the world is going to happen?

So many shirtless men punching each other, so little time. Fascinatingly, the main thing about The Circuit that would seem to anger most people, was, to us, one of its greatest strengths. That being the dialogue, which is written insipidly, delivered stupidly, and recorded unintelligibly. Half the time you’re yelling “WHAT?!” at the screen. When you get some dialogue spoken clearly, as ring announcer Bruce Buffer does (yes, Michael’s brother - ring announcing must be in the Buffer family DNA) we get such gems as: “a warrior for many years, the Ninja Warrior.” Hm. How inspiring. Another example is said by a random goon: “Dirk Longstreet’s in the house!” Maybe when Dirk Longstreet starts his rap career as MC Dirk Longstreet, he can sample that and put it on his album. He can always team up with Chino XL, who appears in the Circuit 2 (2002).

Of course, there are the time-honored training sequences, shots of audiences screaming while clutching their cash, and the prerequisite barfight (s). But thanks to his past that he’s trying to escape, Dirk suffers from “punchdreams”, where he has nightmares of being punched. Truly that’s the next frontier of Punchfighting movies. A cross between Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Fist Fighter (1989). Producers out there, take notice. The Circuit doesn’t go that direction, of course, but viewers may suffer from Restless Legs Syndrome. It doesn’t help that the movie has these annoying, eye-singing flashes that unnecessarily appear between scenes. Unless Jalal Merhi has some sort of deal going with LensCrafters to surreptitiously drive business their way from eyeball-damaged Punchfighting fans, there’s no need for this.

Speaking of Merhi, he has a sit-down role (as he does in The Circuit 2) as Editor Bill. Thankfully, when his parents named him, they knew he would be a newspaper editor. That was fortuitous. Kind of like how fish grow to fit the bowl, or subconsciously, people come to fit their name, like Jay Woelfel, the director of the horrendously awful Iron Thunder (1998), which is indeed woeful (as we pointed out in our review). Thankfully, Merhi doesn’t do much (though even what he does do is unlikable), and neither does his buddy Loren Avedon. Apparently these two guys are so hard to work with, they can only work with each other. They’ve been exiled to the outer reaches of DTV slop, as has Bryan Genesse, who here resembles a card-carrying member of the Trenchcoat Mafia. A general rule of thumb is, if Genesse is involved, you’ve hit rock bottom. 

Fan favorite Billy Drago is...here...and Michael Blanks plays a guy named- wait for it - LL Cool J! Isn’t that against copyright law? How are they able to get away with that? Regardless, his name in the movie is LL Cool J. Clearly the writers of this movie were doin’ it, and doin’ it, and doin’ it, but not so well.

No one alive knows why, but there are THREE The Circuit movies. Now we just need to track down the hard-to-find third entry. For the sillier and less-substantial end of the Punchfighting genre, there’s always The Circuit.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

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


Savate (1995)

Savate (1995)- * * *

Directed by: Isaac Florentine

Starring: Olivier Gruner, Ian Ziering, Ashley Laurence, Michael Palance, James Brolin, Donald Gibb, Marc Singer, Rance Howard, and R. Lee Ermey

Joseph Charlegrand (Gruner) is a French Legionnaire and a pioneer of a fighting style developed by the Legion, known as Savate. He and his fellow military men would practice their Savate and get into good-natured tournaments to hone their skills. But then along comes the dastardly Ziegfield Von Trotta (Singer) - who wears a monocle so you just KNOW he’s evil - and he heartlessly kills one of Charlegrand’s comrades. It turns out that Charlegrand must travel to the United States in his quest to find Von Trotta and get revenge for his friend’s death. This is the immediate post-Civil War period in Texas, mind you. Charlegrand becomes friendly with a brother-sister pair of homesteaders, Cain (Ziering) and Mary Parker (Laurence). 

The evil mayor of the town, Benedict (Ermey in an uncredited role) wants the land and threatens to raise taxes to exorbitant levels. The townsfolk resist, and Benedict has some gunslingers such as Mitchum (Palance) to enforce his will. But Benedict also holds an international “Tough Man” competition with a cash prize. Perhaps Charlegrand should enter the competition, as no one in the wild west has seen kicking in fights before. Will he find Von Trotta, get revenge for his friend, beat Mitchum and the boys, help the homesteaders, fall in love, win the competition, and become a hero to the small town? It seems like a tall order, but will the power of Savate win the day? Find out later...

Fan-favorite director Isaac Florentine sure seems like he was having fun directing this one. He playfully reworks some classic Western (and especially Spaghetti Western) tropes, themes, and, for lack of a better word, cliches, and serves them up in his own, inimitable style. In other words, it’s “SWOOSH”-ing sound effects in the old west. It’s all pretty tongue-in-cheek and relatively upbeat - Florentine’s tribute to the movies he obviously loves and grew up with.

Sure, as moviegoers we’ve seen this plot countless times before, from Desert Heat (1999), to The Final Alliance (1990), to, well, just about anything you can name dating back through the history of cinema. But that’s not the point. Florentine has transposed modern-day fighting skills over an old west setting, and we thought that was pretty cool. You get to see Olivier Gruner as a cowboy. That alone is worth a look, and the concept of ‘Western Kickboxing’ is just so nutty, you have to love it. The music by Kevin Kiner is an unashamed and unabashed Spaghetti Western...well...bonanza, complete with Edda Dell’Orso-style vocals.  It really helps things along. But before you get too excited, there are, of course, some drawbacks.

A lot of times in the movies we’ve seen, there’s no one, clearly delineated baddie. Here, there are too many! You’ve got Von Trotta, Benedict, Mitchum, and any number of fighters in the Punchfighting ring (yeah, the Tough Man competition is Punchfighting. Old West Punchfighting.) Ermey is uncredited, Ashley Laurence doesn’t really do anything at all in the second half, Singer’s character isn’t really set up as well as he could have been, and was James Brolin even in this? His screen time is so minuscule, it’s barely a cameo. And, as usual, at times the movie drags a bit. But, as a display for stunts and fights, which we assume is the main point, it certainly succeeds, and we appreciated the offbeat angle of it all.

Somehow, Ian Ziering looks younger here than he does on 90210 (though to be fair, on that show the male leads were 39-year-old high school students), and he even does some light Ziering-Fu. Clearly this is Ian (pronounced eye-an, of course), at his best. Donald Gibb brightens things up and brings to mind the Bloodsport (1988) parallels, and, in a rare treat, Ashley Laurence says “Get off my land” instead of a cantankerous old man. So that was nice.

While PM was the production company, the movie was released on VHS in the U.S. on A-Pix with the undistinguished title The Fighter. For a reasonably enjoyable homage to Spaghetti Westerns featuring some B-movie names and some notable moments and ideas, Savate comes through.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

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