Commando (1985)

Commando (1985)- * * * *

Directed by: Mark L. Lester

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vernon G. Wells, Rae Dawn Chong, Alyssa Milano, Bill Duke, David Patrick Kelly, and Dan Hedaya

When the awesomely-named John Matrix (Arnie) retires from a life of globe-trotting Special Ops commando work, all he wants to do is spend time with his beloved daughter Jenny (Milano). Instead of feeding the local deer and eating unknown sandwiches, Matrix’s past comes back to haunt him: the diabolical Arius (Hedaya) uses a team of mercenaries, including Matrix’s former associate, now evil, Bennett (Wells), as well as Sully (Kelly) and Cooke (Duke), among others, to force Matrix to depose a South American dictator so Arius can step in and make himself El Presidente. They’ve kidnapped Jenny and are forcing Matrix to do the job. Rather than submit to their demands, Matrix uses his considerable skills to turn the tables on the baddies and rescue his daughter. Along the way, he teams up with an unlikely partner, an innocent bystander to all the chaos named Cindy (Chong). John Matrix will prove himself to be the ultimate COMMANDO as he executes his ultimate mission: rescue Jenny! Will he do it? Well, you probably already know…

Perhaps the pinnacle of the 80’s action boom, the great and mighty Commando is everything an action movie should be…and more! It’s a completely entertaining, winning, engrossing, fun spectacle that features non-stop over the top action and hilarious one-liners from Schwarzenegger. Heck, this movie practically invented the “action movie one-liner” that we all take for granted today. However, it must be said the Arnie used two of them in The Terminator (1984) as well, but hey, there’s plenty to go around. Director Lester even reportedly counts this as his favorite of his own movies, which isn’t at all surprising. If I directed it, it would be my favorite too. (One supposes Hitman’s Run wouldn’t give Commando much of a run for the top position, but Lester also directed the excellent Showdown In Little Tokyo, so that must be a strong #2 in his eyes).

Commando is a vivid evocation of the 80’s rise of Arnie and the action movie in general. It was a great time in movies when if the filmmakers had to make a plot choice between either something logical, or something manly/muscular/action-oriented happening on screen, logic was chucked to the side because it’s far less important. Mr. Schwarzenegger remains charming as ever here, whether he’s reading Creem magazine and opining about Boy George, or shooting/blowing up/knifing/chopping/slicing/impaling people or getting into car chases or other death-defying stunts. James Horner’s score should also be singled out for mention, as it alternates between synth stabs during the action scenes, and the time-honored 80’s sax elsewhere. It’s really the perfect score and fits the movie well.

Kudos also go to the writers and director Lester for ensuring that this did not turn into an El Presidente Slog, as we call them, which it easily could have. Yet more props go to the excellent (and extensive) stunt performers on the film. As mentioned earlier, Schwarzenegger doesn’t have to carry the whole movie on his back like so many logs or phone booths. A top-notch cast is assembled around him to ensure quality all around. Someone should ask Alyssa Milano today what she thinks about Commando. There’s even a Rambo-style “Trautman” character that doesn’t get much screen time, perhaps because he’s not as important as all the Arnie action.

It should go without saying, but the cinematography is crystal-clear as well and you can see everything perfectly (unlike the movies of today). So when you see Arnie blowing up Jeeps with a rocket launcher, you really see Arnie blowing up Jeeps with a rocket launcher. It’s all a ton of fun, with a rich vein of humor throughout. The whole outing, seen from today’s perspective, harkens back to a time when you really got your money’s worth from your movie theater ticket. As a slam-bang, total-entertainment spectacle, you walk away feeling satisfied. Perhaps even uplifted, as Power Station’s “We Fight For Love” pumps on the soundtrack as the credits roll.

The thing is, if you DON’T like Commando, that might be a sign that you need psychological help. Symptoms of NLC (Not Liking Commando) should be listed in the DSM-V Manual of Mental Disorders. If you ever find yourself not liking this movie at any time, for any reason, please consult a medical professional. Commando rules!

NOTE: When buying the movie, seek out the 2007 American DVD. It’s the director’s cut and contains more violence. 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Tuxedo Warrior (1982)

Tuxedo Warrior (1982)- *

Directed by: Andrew Sinclair

Starring: John Wyman, Holly Palance, and James Coburn Jr.

“Tuxedo Warrior, when will you ever learn?” - Sally 

"He doesn’t go looking for trouble…he is trouble!"

Cliff (Wyman) is a surly strongman who only appears to like three things in life: to sit in his bar in Zimbabwe and drink whiskey, to manhandle the local female population, and to play aggressive, solo shuffleboard with flaming shot glasses of an unknown alcohol. He also has a pet monkey named Crapshot. (Though it may be Crackshot. Wouldn’t Crackshot make more sense?) Cliff’s life gets slightly more complicated when…well, normally we don’t do this, but perhaps it’s best if we let the amusingly overwrought, overheated, and, frankly, deceptive description on the back of the New World VHS box do the talking. Quote:

“The action races as fast and furiously as charging rhinos in Tuxedo Warrior, an adventure of passion, greed, and desperate struggle set in the hot cauldron of turmoil that is Africa today. Cliff (John Wyman) is an adventurer. Strong, heroic, but worn and scarred. His bar, The Omega, is a hangout for lost souls and dubious characters located near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. A gang of diamond thieves is on the loose, headed his way. An old flame and her husband have robbed a bank and are on the run. The authorities are searching for the diamonds and stolen money. Cliff is caught in the center, dangerously enmeshed in divided loyalties. Running the thin line between heroic friendship and illicit activity. Part lover, part fighter. He’ll blow you a kiss or blow you away. It’s non-stop action in overdrive through untamed territory where the most dangerous animals are human.”

To correct the record, it’s non-stop boredom in overdrive. And I certainly don’t want Cliff to blow me a kiss or blow me away. While sporting a small handful of silly barfights, chases and gun-shooting, Tuxedo Warrior is far closer to a dialogue-heavy, romantic soap opera like Days of Our Lives or As the World Turns than anything resembling an action movie. 

The best you can say is that it was trying to be an “adventure” movie (as opposed to action), but it’s just dull. Another sign of the desperate, the casting of celebrity relatives – in this case Holly Palance and James Coburn, Jr. – doesn’t really help the proceedings. Especially when Palance spends time talking to a dartboard. Plus, it’s hard for Cliff to seem menacing when he’s wearing a shorty robe.

In what is perhaps the ultimate missed opportunity, nobody in the movie refers to the Tuxedo Warrior, Cliff, as “Tux” for short. But perhaps it’s all for the best, as we all know Jackie Chan is the true Tuxedo warrior. Much like other movies featured on this site such as The Opium Connection (1966), Slaughter Day (1973), Battle Force (1978), or The Second Victory (1987), to name a few, Tuxedo Warrior falls into the category of staid, safe drama and not action. We’re here to pass on the info – don’t get suckered in by the title and the promise of action that compares itself to charging rhinos like we did (and have done so many times before). When your movie – and its audience - cries out for an appearance by Simon MacCorkindale, and said MacCorkindale does not appear, despair quickly sets in.

Final notes: Tuxedo Warrior is a Manson International production, and features some music by Rusty Egan of the band Visage. It’s all in the background and doesn’t improve things like you think it might. Chalk up another disappointment. There also may be some similar shooting locations to Damned River (1989). Also there’s an actress, in her only credited movie role to date, whose name is Carmel Pocket. She has a great name. But not great enough to save the movie, unfortunately. We only hope she did some candy commercials in her on-screen career.

In 1986, when the New World VHS was released, there were many videos on store shelves. Tuxedo Warrior was one of them. 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


The Last Boy Scout (1991)

The Last Boy Scout (1991)- * * * *

Directed by: Tony Scott

Starring: Bruce Willis, Damon Wayans, Halle Berry, Billy Blanks, Danielle Harris, Bruce McGill, Chelsea Field, Kim Coates, Taylor Negron, and Noble Willingham

Joe Hallenbeck (Willis) is a jaded private detective just trying to keep his family life together when he takes on the case of Cory (Berry), a stripper involved in a blackmail plot. When Cory’s boyfriend Jimmy Dix (Wayans), a former pro-footballer for the L.A. Stallions gets involved, the two unlikely partners become embroiled in a conspiracy that goes…you guessed it, all the way to the top. Along the way, they have to avoid many perilous situations, trouble from goons, and perhaps a surprise appearance from Dick Butkus. Will Joe Hallenbeck truly be THE LAST BOY SCOUT?

Shane Black for President, man. Shane Black for freakin’ President. That pretty much sums up our feelings for this great film, and if you haven’t seen it in a while, we say it’s time to revisit it. We guarantee you won’t be disappointed. The great Mr. Black was the writer behind Lethal Weapon (1987), and here he develops that style even more – it’s cool, it’s funny, it’s tough, it has action, it’s totally entertaining, everything works, and everything ties up beautifully. As a writer of intelligent, masculine movies, Black is the heir apparent to John Milius. We’re happy to give the movie this sort of enthusiastic praise.

It all opens with a slam-bang opening featuring fan favorite Billy Blanks, and never lets up from there. Even the accompanying video/song “Friday Night’s a Great Time for Football” by Bill Medley sets the tone well. Bruce Willis is at his absolute best as the burned-out, grizzled private detective - smoking heavily, spitting out un-PC dialogue, and engaging in the sort of witty repartee you just don’t see in movies anymore. Damon Wayans, also at his best, is “action Wayans”, and we should have seen more of that later in his career. Despite their supposed character flaws, both men remain likable, and the viewer is highly invested in their fate.

While the movie was allegedly beset by production problems and changes, it remains extremely coherent and you’d never know that if you didn’t read about it somewhere. If it’s this good as it is now, one has to wonder would it be as good if there was no studio meddling – or maybe better? We’ll never know, but let’s appreciate what we have. It’s also packed with many familiar names in the supporting cast, and although a lot of action movies feature a daughter, Danielle Harris as Hallenbeck’s daughter Darian has to go on record as the one with the most edge. She has a lot more attitude than the normal tot (she’s 13 in the movie but we tend to call them tots). There’s even a WYC (White Yelling Chief) to top off the overstuffed package of punching, shooting, chasing, blow-ups, plot developments, and clever dialogue.

Sadly, they don’t make movies like this anymore, but at least we have gems like this. What Shane Black has done is essentially fashion a Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade tale, but updated for 1991. The results are stellar, and we strongly recommend The Last Boy Scout, a movie that has proven itself over time to have reached classic status.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


The Collectors (1999)

The Collectors (1999)- * *1\2

Directed by: Sidney J. Furie

Starring: Casper Van Dien, Rick Fox, Charlene Francique, and Catherine Oxenberg

A.K. (Van Dien) and Ray (Fox) are likable hitmen dispatched to New York City by a New Orleans-based crime syndicate in order to collect gambling debts from a bunch of non-paying customers. While in the midst of their mission, A.K. begins to question the course of his life and thinks he might be too much of a nice guy to be a hitman. Ray, the pragmatic and level-headed one, tries to talk him out of his philosophical quandaries. None of this stops the duo from getting into a whole heap o’trouble, as not only do they have to deal with degenerate gamblers, they have their enemies to deal with as well. Not to mention the fact that the police are hot on their trail, and no one is hotter than Detective Bailey (Oxenberg) – the officer that A.K. feels is in love with him because when she shoots at him, “she misses on purpose”! Will our unlikely heroes make it out of this mess alive?

Out of all the – as we call them – Tarantino Slogs to come out in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, The Collectors is probably one of the better ones. Van Dien and Fox make an engaging, if somewhat unlikely, pair and the movie overall is entertaining. But there’s a caveat (isn’t there always?) – you have to be tolerant of a very low-budget DTV look and feel, and also have no problem with post-Tarantino banter amongst the characters.

As audience members, we couldn’t help but warm to Van Dien as he has his crisis of conscience. He has Zack Morris-style sass and plenty of wisecracks that make him seem almost like a teenager. Despite the fact that there are shootouts and murders going on, he wouldn’t be out of place at Bayside High. Ray isn’t just his partner in crime, they’re also jogging buddies and they wear prominent fanny packs. They also drink a lot of Snapple and Pepsi and clink their Snapple bottles together to celebrate a good idea they both come up with. When they both appear on screen for the first time, wearing suits, sunglasses, and with sax blaring on the soundtrack, it’s hard not to think they look cool together. This is one of Fox’s first non-basketball-related movie roles, and he seems to make the most of it. As a basketball-playing man, he’s obviously much taller than anyone else he talks to on screen. He must have enjoyed returning to his native Canada to shoot this movie that takes place in New York City. 

Speaking of sax on the soundtrack, someone must have decided that jaunty music must play at all times throughout the movie. ALL times. The WHOLE time. This undercuts any action (which is pretty minimal anyway) and any seriousness that may be remaining. But that may be the point: while The Collectors is clearly modeled after Pulp Fiction (1994), the overall tone is far sillier, with a bunch of wacky characters, nutty situations, and humor which works at some times but not others. Probably one of the more interesting facets of the movie was the love triangle between A.K., Ray, and Ray’s prostitute girlfriend Lyla (Francique), which is simultaneous with A.K.’s longing for Detective Bailey. Perhaps that could have been emphasized more, but then that would have left less time for the more audience-pleasing aspects elsewhere.

Maybe this is because it was Canada doubling for NYC in many places, but there is a very prominent sign with this misspelling: 9th “Precint”. This is the “Precint” that Detective Bailey operates out of. It’s surprising no one caught this, because “precinct” is a very French-sounding word, and they were in Quebec, after all. We do tend to point out misspellings in credits and such, because, not to be too nerdy about it, but it’s still hard for us to believe a film could be finished and released with no one catching these things. Ah well, c’est la vie.

In the end, we would say that The Collectors is more than watchable, despite some obvious drawbacks threatening to sink it completely. 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty