Active Stealth (1999)

Active Stealth (1999)-

Directed by: Fred Olen Ray

Starring: Daniel Baldwin, Fred Williamson, Terry Funk, Hannes Jaenicke, Chick Vennera, Tim Abell, Joe Lala, and Shannon Whirry

When an evil Mexican drug lord (is there any other kind?) named Salvatore (Lala) and his henchman Morgan (Funk) take a member of our U.S. military hostage, we bring in the best men we have available to go on the rescue mission. Of course, that includes Captain “Murph” Murphy (Baldwin), a sullen and somewhat belligerent man who is haunted by his past. His wife Gina (Whirry) is supportive, but along with Chiccio (Vennera), Lt. Reb Carter (Abell), and “Hollywood” Andrews – because he wants to make it in Hollywood after his military career is over - (Robinson), the boys snap into action and use the awesome new stealth bomber for said mission. They even get help from “Special Guest” Andrew Stevens as Jack Stevens. Whoa. While south of the border, they make friends with a peasant woman and her young son as they find out Salvatore wants to “El Presidente” himself all the way to the top. Paralleling that back home, Captain Reynolds (Williamson) just may be part of conspiracy that also goes to the top.

Here we go again…if Stealth Fighter (1999), Desert Thunder (1999), Crash Dive (1996), its sequel Counter Measures (1999), Agent Red (2000), Air Rage (2001), and all the other Fred Olen Ray or Jim Wynorski-styled plane slogs from the late 90’s/early 2000’s weren’t enough for you, well, here’s another one. Not only does this not add anything to the genre, it actually takes away entertaining elements from the other ones. For example, there’s no precocious kid like a Sarah Dampf to at least make us chuckle here. We do get an Italian stereotype in Chiccio, but it’s just not the same. 

It’s not the “borrowed” footage from other movies that bothers us. We’re used to that by now. It’s the fact that this is a plane slog crossed with an El Presidente slog, two of our least favorite slogs. Just simply stitching them together does not a good movie make. It even knocks off one of our favorites, Commando (1985), with Lala and Funk taking on the Dan Hedaya and Vernon G. Wells roles respectively. There is a ton of groan-inducing dialogue, from the constant military jargon (a lot of which is inaccurate, from what we’ve been able to ascertain), to the noticeably-more-obvious-than-usual homosexual references when our heroes are trying to “bond”. It all will make you long for the glory of Delta Force Commando II: Priority Red One (1990).

And speaking of Fred Williamson, the star of the aforementioned film, let’s face it, this movie is unworthy of his talents. He’s not in it that much, but it even manages to tamp down and tame The Hammer. Not good. Daniel Baldwin puts in a perfunctory performance but seems more interested whenever there’s dialogue involving chili (there’s more than you might think). While casting Terry Funk as one of the baddies was a good idea, we would have liked to have seen Shannon Whirry in more than just the clichéd “worried wife” role. She should have taken a rocket launcher down to Mexico to blow up Salvatore. Then we’d be talking.

Sure, there’s a bunch of mindless shooting, and some helicopters “blow up” (is this stuff even real anymore?) but it’s very, very hard – if not impossible – to care. The Top Gun video game for Nintendo was more entertaining and well-made than this. It’s pretty much the dictionary definition of shelf filler.

The Stealth may be active but your brain cells will be inactive if you witness this muck. 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Mission Manila (1988)

Mission Manila (1988)- * * 

Directed by: Peter Mackenzie

Starring: Larry Wilcox, Robin Eisenman, Sam Hennings, Al Mancini, Tetchie Agbayani, Jack S. Daniels, Henry Strzalkowski, and Willie Williams

“Web” Webster (Wilcox) is a mustachioed American gentleman who travels to – you guessed it – Manila to try to find his missing brother. Evidently, a mob boss named Harry Costelo (Mancini) doesn’t appreciate all of Web’s poking around his turf, so he makes Web’s life harder while he’s there. Harry is a heroin runner and Web’s brother Tony (Hennings) is somehow involved. Web has help in his quest in the form of Susie (Eisenman), but what’s his true relationship to the other woman in his life, Maria (Agbayani)? Will Web be able to weave his way out of the sticky situation he’s found himself in? What will be the final result of MISSION MANILA?

Unfortunately, Mission Manila, despite all of the promise inherent in the presence of Larry Wilcox, is weak. Its dearth of action reminded us of other nigh-on actionless movies such as Best Revenge (1984) and Sweet Revenge (1987). Just try to imagine Cocaine Wars (1985) without the majesty of John Schneider, and that’s pretty much what we’ve got here. Director Mackenzie even worked with Schneider much later in his career with a film called Doonby (2013), so he must have a type. Mackenzie also directed the Asher Brauner vehicle Merchants of War (1989), and astute viewers will note some similarities between that and Mission Manila, if they care to put in the effort to do so. Interestingly, the aforementioned two movies - plus ‘Manila - are the only ones Mackenzie has directed in his career. 

‘Manila had all the ingredients for a winner: it was shot in the Philippines, it featured regulars of the action movies shot there such as Willie Williams, Henry Strzalkowski, and a rare appearance from the great Jack S. Daniels, a simple plot that could have allowed for a lot of action, and Larry Wilcox unmoored from the ball and chain that was Erik Estrada.

What we do get is a silly alley fight that lasts a few seconds, a brief shootout, the world’s stupidest (and most laugh-inducing) neck snap, and maybe a blow-up at the end. What about the other 90 minutes? Larry Wilcox’s big weapon (as featured in the trailer, leading us to believe he will be using it a lot, which he doesn’t) is a slingshot. Like some overgrown Dennis the Menace, Larry Wilcox has blonde hair and a slingshot. All of this could have been so easy to fix, it’s criminal. Wilcox and Eisenman should have rampaged all through Manila, shooting, beating up, and rocket launcher-ing many baddies. Would that have been so hard? Instead, Mancini insists on calling everyone a “ratbag” and Eisenman gets tied to train tracks like in the days of yore. Yawn. 

While it does have some interesting cinematography at times, that wouldn’t have caused anyone to pick Mission Manila off the shelf of their local video store back in the good old days. With all the choices we as patrons had at our fingertips, it’s hard to imagine anyone purposefully choosing Mission Manila. What ‘Manila really seems to be is a bellwether – a sign that the golden age of the 80’s was gone and the 90’s were here. In the very near future, action movies – in the Philippines and elsewhere – would become watered down.

Also Larry Wilcox goes to a bar called The Hobbit House with an all-midget staff. This must have been a real place, because a diminutive bartender named Goliath is credited as himself. So maybe this movie has some bright points after all.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Stickfighter (1994)

Stickfighter (1994)- * * * *

Directed by: BJ Davis

Starring: Kely McClung, Alex Meneses, Karl Johnson, and James Mitchum

“I have the authority of justice.” - John Lambert

John Lambert (McClung) is a Himbo cop with an attitude. After his beloved partner is killed during a drug raid, Lambert turns in his badge and gun and walks away from the force. He turns to his now-deceased partner’s sister, Luella (Meneses) and old buddy Mule (Mitchum), to help him fight the baddies in his own way. It turns out that a drug lord named Dirk Riley (Johnson) has put a contract out on Lambert and Luella, so they’re constantly on the run together even as Lambert uses his awesome Martial Arts moves on many, many goons. During all this, the LAPD is trailing Lambert’s comings and goings. Naturally, it all ends in the time-honored Final Warehouse Fight. Also everybody calls Lambert “Stickman” because he’s good at fighting with sticks, apparently.

Kely McClung – not to be confused with Edie McClurg – is our new personal hero. This is because Stickfighter is a certified classic of that silly/stupid/dumb/awesome/funny/classic-90’s type of movie that is hilarious, totally entertaining, and cliché-ridden in the best possible way. It has that great semi-pro feel complete with awkward staging, dialogue, and editing. Most of the actors appear to be non-actors, including our hero. He tries hard to be the classic wisecracking 90’s cop we all love and enjoy but he doesn’t have the timing to pull it off. Hilarity ensues. 

In the grand tradition of L.A. Wars (1994), Geteven (1993), Parole Violators (1994), The Crime Killer (1985), and even Night of the Kickfighters (1988), Stickfighter can proudly claim its rightful place in the pantheon of wonderfully weird one-offs that are brain-damaged brothers of their more well-known action contemporaries. In other words, the Alamo Drafthouse needs to find a print of this post-haste. The audiences will eat it up.

There is, more or less, non-stop action, and the pretexts for said action scenes are almost as great as the action scenes themselves. Guitar wails on the soundtrack accompany most of what we see. Many of McClung’s ingenious fighting moves have to be seen to be believed. Somewhere in the midst of all this absurdity appears Jim Mitchum, who boasts a series of fascinating shirts. He plays a Vietnam vet/strip club bartender who is buddies with Lambert. He was probably happy to be there. 

Interestingly, the first company logo we see before the movie begins is not PM or AIP, or something else, but none other than Pan Am Airlines. Of all the potential projects that Pan Am could have put its corporate muscle behind, why did they choose Stickfighter? And couldn’t they have given it a bigger budget? But the ultimate question remains: Did Stickfighter ever play as the in-flight movie on any Pan Am flights? Of course, Pan Am doesn’t exist anymore. Sure, you could blame Stickfighter, but I’d rather have Stickfighter.

Featuring quick cameos from Nils Allen Stewart and Arsenio “Sonny” Trinidad, we believe Stickfighter is nothing less than an underground classic. If you want to laugh and have a great time while suspended in a state of stupendousness, for the love of all that is good we’re begging you to watch STICKFIGHTER!

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Militia (2000)

Militia (2000)- * * *

Directed by: Jim Wynorski

Starring: Dean Cain, Jennifer Beals, Fredrick Forrest, Jeff Kober, Michael Cavanough, Brett Butler, and Stacy Keach

"Action? I love action movies!” – Col. Jim Donaman

Ethan Carter (Cain) is an ATF agent with an attitude. During a raid on the compound of the so-called MILITIA group Brotherhood of Liberty, Carter manages to shoot and wound its leader, William Fain (Forrest). Fain ends up going to prison, and most of the compound, including the majority of its inhabitants, are torched. Years later, Carter is chosen to go on a very special mission. He must go undercover as a member of Brotherhood of Liberty, and to accompany him, none other than Fain gets a get out of jail free card. The two unlikely allies have to find some missing anthrax because some baddies are going to attach it to a missile and launch it. Carter doesn’t want to work with ATF newbie Julie Sanders (Beals), but it’s going to take all they’ve got to stop arch-baddie George Armstrong Montgomery (Keach)…or is there a wider conspiracy afoot?

Militia was a pleasant surprise. Maybe it’s because we were expecting the worst when we went in, but we thought it was entertaining and likely the best Wynorski movie we’ve reviewed to date. Now, that’s not to say a lot of the elements he consistently uses aren’t here, including recycled footage from Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), American Ninja 2 (1987), Delta Force 2 (1990), and Terminator 2 (1991). Hell, why didn’t he just call the movie Militia 2? But the dialogue is pretty snappy, the pace is quick, and it’s somewhat fun to play “spot the footage”. It’s interpolated into the movie better at some times than at others, but Militia still has other strong points to boast…

It has a fine cast of character actors and they all do their jobs well. Fan favorite Dean Cain turns on the charm and the witty repartee as he goes into action as the fairly belligerent ATF agent, and Jennifer Beals as his sidekick provides him a worthy foil. Frederic Forrest gives Cain even more to worry about as the conflicted militia member with his political beliefs, and Jeff Kober is on hand as one of his fellow militia-ists. The centerpiece of them all is the great Stacy Keach, of course, and while he was excellent as the talk radio host-turned-aspiring-world-dominator, it’s the type of role Keach could do in his sleep. Our guess is he didn’t feel too challenged by the part. But it’s almost always a joy to see him in action. 

Honorable mention should go to one Michael Cavanaugh, who played Donaman, as he stood out in that role. The only puzzling thing in the cast department is the nothing role of Brett Butler, who has a mere cameo as a bartender. But since there was a lot of machine gun shooting, rockets being launched, and at least one exploding helicopter around her, perhaps she was attempting to show us the true meaning of “Grace Under Fire”!

One of the great things about DTV movies is that they can be cranked out relatively quickly, so they can stay on the pulse of what’s happening in real life. Fascinatingly, Militia, with all its talk of terrorism and governmental weakness and botchings, came out before 9/11. Also, there are references to incidents like Waco and Ruby Ridge so it can stay relevant and “ripped from the headlines”. And if all that doesn’t float your boat, you can always check out the local country store featured in the film, which advertises such things as “cash for roadkill” and something called “peppered cowboy jerky”. Figuring out what that is just may be the ultimate mystery of the movie. 

Militia must be the best – or one of the best – DTV action movies to come out in the otherwise rather dreary year of 2000. As long as you keep your perspective while doing so, we say check it out. 

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty