The Mad Bunch (1989)

The Mad Bunch (1989)- * * *

Directed by: Mats Helge

Starring: David Carradine, A.R. Hellquist, Frederick Offrein, Helen Arnesen, Jonas Carlzen, Tommy Ellgren, Harley Melin, Mats Hudden, and Timothy Earle

Professor Foxwood (Carradine) is a man who wears glasses and is a “peace researcher”, whatever that is. This Professional Peacenik gets a dose of the violent world around him when he is kidnapped by some baddies. His wife Melinda (Arnesen) isn’t sure of the best way to rescue her beloved husband, but with both the CIA and KGB involved, things get complicated fast. So she settles on the natural way to solve this problem – she hires THE MAD BUNCH to retrieve him. Who are The Mad Bunch, you ask? They appear to be a non-professional bunch of “heroes for hire” who, instead of playing cards or going bowling together, form an unofficial group of mercenaries. They’re going to have their hands full with this mission, as nothing is what it appears to be, especially with the mysterious Jason Cartland (Offrein) involved. Will they bring Foxwood back alive? Or will something get in their way? Find out today…

Not to be confused with The Wild Pair (1987) or The Bad Pack (1997), The Mad Bunch is another peek into the wacky world of our favorite Swedish writer/director Mats Helge. It all kicks off with a killer opening, as the words SWEDISH ACTION FILM FORCE appear on the screen as our Mad Bunch load their guns and do other things to show they are ready for (Swedish) action! One of the Bunch has a jacket that says Attention This Isn’t The Exercise written from the shoulder to the elbow of said jacket. What can you say, on top of being mad, they’ve got style as well. 

Mats (Carlzen), Moose (Ellgren), Tom (Melin), Billy (Hudden), and, of course, Eddie (Hellquist) are THE MAD BUNCH. It was a pleasure to see A.R. Hellquist again, as we are fans of his Kurt Russell-esque performance in Helge’s Animal Protector (1989). Frederick Offrein, who seems to be in every Helge movie, is here as well. We never fail to mention that he looks exactly like Kenny Rogers. That’s probably because every time we see him, no matter what movie or what role, he looks exactly like Kenny Rogers. He’s a smoother, classier Kenny this time around, which shows his range. To see him is to love him.

As for David Carradine, he’s not really in it that much. Our guess is that he went to Sweden to film Animal Protector in ’89 and stayed on for this glorified cameo because he was already there. It was the golden year of 1989, so why not get the most out of Carradine? In the audio department, we have to say that this movie is really a treat for the ears. Not only do we get catchy tunes by Helge mainstay Dough Anderzon – including some classic 80’s sax – but we also get a mélange of accents by pretty much all the characters. In addition, the sound effects are great. Whoever did them – everything from jumping on the sand of a beach to a neck snap – they were clearly done with gusto. Kudos to whoever masterminded these sounds.

A movie highlight comes when The Mad Bunch are training on a beach, and a young boy who looks to be about eleven years old comes to join the fray. It’s scenes like this that set the movie apart from its competitors (along with every other stylistic choice by Helge). That’s why it’s especially surprising that this movie, along with most of the rest of Helge’s output, never received a VHS release in America back in the video store days. It’s a real shame, as I believe U.S. cult film fans would have eaten it up. Well, at least we can all enjoy his work today, and that’s what really matters. 

While it might not exactly scale the majestic heights of The Ninja Mission (1984) or Russian Terminator (1989), The Mad Bunch is pure Helge and is well worth seeking out.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Las Vegas Warrior (2002)

Las Vegas Warrior (2002)- *

Directed by: Natasha Baron

Starring: Suk Woo Nam, Laurie Hanley, Jason Simpson, Nic Amoroso, and Earl Wadden

Suk (Suk Woo Nam as himself?) was not named after this movie. Rather, he is the best fighter on the underground Punchfighting scene in “Vegas”. Whenever the corrupt bosses who run the fights need a win, they call in Suk. A reporter for a TV station named SVS (are we sure it’s not the CBC?) named Chase Somete – and because the audio quality of this movie is so bad, it sounds like everyone is calling her Jason X – brings along her cameraman, the lovable Andre (Simpson) and the prissy and annoying soundman Jimmy Olsen (presumably no relation to the Daily Planet reporter) (Wadden), and off the three of them go to initiate their investigative reportage about Suk. However, the three get more than they bargained for as they go deeper and deeper into the shady world of Punchfighting. With the help of a local fish salesman named Gill (get it?) (Amoroso), will Chase and her compadres get to the truth about Suk and the Las Vegas underground fight scene?

Las Vegas Warrior is a dreary outing that has about as much fun and excitement as an overcast Canadian winter. Just because a movie has the words “Las” and/or “Vegas” in the title, it does not necessarily mean said movie was shot there. It could be Canadian, for instance. To be fair, this also goes by the name Fightclub Warrior, although that title has its own problems. But why not call it “New Brunswick Warrior” or something like that and stay true to your Canadian roots?

Anyway, this movie makes the similarly-themed The Circuit (2002) look like a masterpiece. In addition to the aforementioned poor sound quality, we also have equally dingy, video camera-esque picture quality. The whole thing is extremely low-rent and the rock-bottom budget is evident in every scene. Not that the latter is in itself a bad thing, but director Baron seemingly didn’t know how to use what she had to her advantage.

For example, most of the characters (except for the jovial Andre) are whiny. This includes our heroes Chase and Suk. For no reason whatsoever, there are these two-second flashes in between some random scenes. Maybe they thought they would liven things up or make it seem hip and cool. Irritating the already-tired eyes of the viewers is not cool, people. These unnecessary flashes were also used in The Circuit. Coincidence? Well, probably. But it’s not a good sign of confidence in the strength of your movie.

Plotwise, there’s no big, final villain. No one to build up to. No Matthias Hues, Ralf Moeller, or Wolf Larson for Suk to fight. Just…nobody. The soundtrack to all this is almost as whiny as the characters themselves. Early 2000’s-style crud-rock by bands called Dog Eat Dogma, Universal Freak, and Les Respectables pollute our ears the entire time. To be fair yet again, the other music on the soundtrack is credited to a Ferocious LeFonque. This may be a character on RuPaul’s Drag Race, but we’re too busy watching Las Vegas Warrior to know for sure.

Another problem is that this movie needed a name. ANY name. In our review for Expert Weapon, we lamented the dearth of Joe Estevez in that film. If we may quote ourselves, “When your movie NEEDS MORE JOE ESTEVEZ, you have a problem.” To update that for today’s proceedings, we would say forget more Joe Estevez, when your movie needs any Joe Estevez, you’ve got a problem. Hell, get any Estevez. Get Phil Estevez. Get anybody! Just…help!

In the end, the low budget of Las Vegas Warrior could have been transcended with a better script, more exciting and diverse fight scenes, and less amateurish technical qualities. Unfortunately, none of that happens, and the result is flat and dull.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Dragon Hunt (1990)

Dragon Hunt (1990)- * * *

Directed by: Charlie Wiener

Starring: Martin McNamara, Michael McNamara, and B.Bob

Seemingly continuing on right after the end of Twin Dragon Encounter (1986), Dragon Hunt sees the malevolent Jake (B. Bob) and his merry band of thugs, The People’s Private Army (perhaps an oxymoron there?) pursuing their obsession with The Twin Dragons (Michael “Mic” McNamara and Martin McNamara). Angered at the twins’ forcing him to now have a metal hand, Jake is more off the deep end than ever before. He recruits mercenaries and soldiers of fortune from far and wide and offers them 200,000 Canadian dollars if they can kill the twins. This Game becomes Most Dangerous when the twins are indeed kidnapped and caged, but then set free in the wilderness so they can be hunted by everyone from ninjas to overalls-wearing good-ole-boys. Of course, using their awesome Martial Arts and survival skills, the twins proceed to turn the tables on their pursuers and the hunters become the DRAGON HUNT-ed, eh?

The Macs are back! Finally! The McNamaras upped their game for this sequel to the jewel that is Twin Dragon Encounter. The cast is bigger (and “better trained” according to Jake), more diverse, and with bigger action setpieces such as machine-gun shootouts, blow-ups and even an attempted helicopter explosion. Consistent with this expansion, the movie is also even more disjointed and insane than its predecessor, with nutty narration by B. Bob as Jake, including much singing. He does a rousing rendition of “The Teddy Bears Picnic” that really adds a lot to the soundtrack. 

Speaking of the soundtrack, what would a sequel to Twin Dragon Encounter be without more catchy, rockin’ tunes by Billy Butt? Not only does he contribute a title song (with lyrics that reference happenings in the plot; we love when movies have those) but two new songs, “Survivor” and “Makes a Man Cry”. The song “Faces” from the first movie returns, but we think it’s an all-new re-recording.

The whole thing is wonderfully silly and you can’t help but enjoy it. It even gets AIP-esque at times, and while the movie was released in 1990, it has a copyright date of 1989 and surely has the ’89 spirit we’re constantly talking about. They really did a lot with their low budget and we respect that. The first credit we see after the last scene is, and we quote, “This Film Was In No Way Assisted by Telefilm Canada Or the Ontario Film Development Corporation”. So not only did they assert their true independence with the making of this movie, they went out of their way to give the finger to the powers that be! You don’t see that anymore, and it should be applauded and treasured.

However, the downside to that is that this is the lesser-seen of the two classic McNamara movies. It got no U.S. distribution on VHS because Vidmark passed. We’re really not sure why, seeing as they saw fit to release the first one, but maybe this was just too out there for them. Or maybe new management or something stupid like that. But it did come out on Cineplex Odeon Video in Canada, and a few French and German territories, but that’s about it (except for rare television screenings, but we’re talking about physical releases).

In many ways an improvement upon its predecessor, at the very least it’s just as good and worth seeing. 

Reasonable people may differ on which is the better McMovie, but one thing is certain: all the charm remains intact in this sequel, and it’s best to just see them both.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Wolverine (1996)

Wolverine (1996)- * * *

Directed by: David Jackson

Starring: Antonio Sabato Jr., Matthew Cox, Traci Lind, Danny Quinn, and Richard Brooks

Harry Gordini (Sabato Jr.), his wife Monica (Lind), and their nine-year-old son Joey (of course his name is Joey)(Cox) travel from L.A. to Rome for a little family vacation. Unfortunately, in the worst case of “mistaken suitcase” ever, some evil, drug-dealing baddies led by Adolfo Jones (Quinn) end up getting the Gordinis’ suitcase filled with Joey’s extensive collection of diving gear, while the innocent family gets a case filled with 200 million dollars’ worth of a new street drug. Jones really wants the suitcase back and is willing to go to any measures to get it. Meanwhile, Special Agent John Baines (Brooks) and the FBI/police are hot on the trail of the gang. Who will find the Gordini family first – the cops or the baddies?

However, before that question is even considered, it is revealed that Gordini is no mild-mannered college professor. He is a Navy Cross-decorated Navy SEAL with the code name Wolverine. He was dubbed that by his compatriots because he is “the best” and trained to be an ultimate killing machine who stubbornly refuses to give up stalking his prey. When Monica and Joey are kidnapped (and in the case of Joey, more than once!), the tables are turned – who will reach the baddies first, Gordini or Baines? And just when you’re figuring that one out, you realize that there are several more twists and turns to go! Will Adolfo Jones or Agent Baines bring out the worst – or possibly best – in the man known as WOLVERINE?

Wolverine is a watchable, competent, and coherent outing that is quite TV movie-esque, which makes sense, as this was a pilot for a potential series. It could have worked well in syndication. Unfortunately, it was made before the golden age of television – i.e., now – and our current proliferation of cable channels that could have housed it, complete with all the violence and nudity the writers could have wished for. So, yes, the violence is pretty tamped down; there is some shooting and some neck snaps that are more funny than brutal. But they managed to squeeze out as much action as they could under the extremely limiting circumstances.

To be honest, there isn’t a ton of action in Wolverine. What action there is, of course, is more than welcome. But it’s a pretty entertaining movie in its own right and the cast carries it off well. We’ve got Antonio Sabato Jr. on board, naturally, and he’s shown time and again he can be a heroic lead we can all get behind. Traci Lind as his wife makes a good match for him, and, plotwise, as we the viewers get to know more about her character, things start to make sense (no spoilers here). 

There has to be a little kid named Joey, so one of those is here of course. He’s more interested in playing one of those zero-graphics hand-held video games from Tiger Electronics than seeing the amazing sights of Rome or, really, doing anything else. But then when he finally gets to go diving, well…we won’t say what happens, but let’s just say the baddies pull out their ultimate weapon.

Richard Brooks was another welcome face, as were some of the European actors, but it does seem hard to believe someone would go way out of their way to track down Wolverine. (Unlike in real life, where he would go way out of his way to track you down). If you see the DVD cheap somewhere, sure, pick it up, but don’t expect anything other than something decent. Just decent, that’s it. It’s not bad by any stretch, but it won’t blow you away, either. 

Maybe if Wolverine was unchained from TV censorship, that might have happened. But as it is, it’s just good, no more, no less. Some 90’s tech on display and some people sounding like they’re calling our hero “Gordita” aren’t going to change that.

In other words, it’s no Thrill (1996), but what can be?

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett