SFX Retaliator (1987)

SFX Retaliator (1987)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Jun Gallardo

Starring: Chris Mitchum, Linda Blair, and Gordon Mitchell

Steve Baker (Mitchum) has anyone’s dream job: he’s a special effects technician on movie sets, specializing in pyro. In other words, he travels to jungles far and wide in his tricked-out van and sets up the controls that provide the explosions. When the director calls “action!”, that’s exactly what Baker provides. His life gets more complicated, however, when he has a chance meeting with a woman named Doris (Blair). It seems Doris is on the run from mobsters, the lead baddie being Morgan (Mitchell). So, Baker fights off the baddies the only way he knows how – using his bag of “SFX” tricks. You’d think the bad guys would learn not to mess with Steve Baker, but at least they get one valuable takeaway: don’t upset his cobra.

The ever-reliable and ever-laconic Chris Mitchum teams up with The Firing Line (1988) director Gallardo to turn in this entertaining winner of a movie. There are some extremely cool sequences, and, speaking of cool, it’s hard to get much cooler than Chris Mitchum, especially in this movie. His nonchalant attitude is a joy to watch. He’s surrounded by a swirl of silly accents, sillier dialogue, and plenty of mindless shooting. That’s what highlights the “SFX” scenes that much more; other exploding-hut-type movies don’t have that type of innovation, so ‘Retaliator stands out from the crowd. Much like how Steve Baker’s awesome van would stand out in traffic. 

Besides sporting a canny concept, SFX Retaliator boasts some other benefits as well. Firstly the cast, with the always-welcome Mitchum supported by fan favorites Linda Blair and Gordon Mitchell. Unfortunately, Blair doesn’t get to do a heck of a lot, but Mitchell resembles an angrier Hugh Hefner as he barks orders to his underlings. Which is pretty much all he does here. On top of our three leads, another great aspect is the soundtrack. Not just the incidental music, which is quite enjoyable, but the main theme song heard during the opening credits as well. Featuring the lyrics “Retaliate, retaliate, retaliate…RETALIATE!!!” it’s hard to go wrong.

The whole outing is like something Arizal would direct, and features a low-budget exploding helicopter. Criminally, SFX Retaliator has never been released on any format in the U.S. (or even in the U.K. as far as we know). This could have been, at the very least, a cult classic if someone like Vestron or Lightning Video had put it onto video store shelves in 1987. Sadly, that was not to be, and as of this writing, SFX Retaliator sits patiently waiting for rediscovery. A company like Roninflix or Vinegar Syndrome should release it on Blu-Ray. Until that happens, there’s always YouTube. 

SFX Retaliator is a lot of fun and well worth your time.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Open Fire (1989)

Open Fire (1989)- * * 

Directed by: Roger Mende

Starring: David Carradine, Kansas Carradine, Bruce Ly, Ashley F. Brooks, and Hugo Stiglitz

“Get out of my way.” – Joe Rourke

When Wyoming governor Joe Rourke (Carradine) visits the small South American country of Los Flores for some sort of goodwill diplomatic mission, he thinks everything will run smoothly and relations between America and this small, godforsaken country will be better than ever. 

To add icing to that particular cake, his wife Gabby (Brooks) is traveling separately by bus to Los Flores with a group of multi-ethnic singing tots called the World Peace Singers. The Rourkes’s plan to meet up and save the world seems assured. But then, of course, tragedy strikes: a band of paramilitary commandos shows up and starts shooting everyone in sight and blowing up every available food and/or fruit cart. They then kidnap the singing children (most of whom we never hear speak, much less sing). (Come to think of it, perhaps we dodged a bullet on that one, unlike Joe Rourke). Yes, you read that parenthetical sentence correctly, Joe Rourke gets shot and is bedridden for a while.

Luckily, an all-female group of fighters known as the Panther Squad steps in and begins fighting the rebel army. Their coach is Master Ly (Ly). That’s right, they have a coach. Mainly because their prior experience consists of standing in the town square and doing synchronized light calisthenics for the bored townspeople. But they look cool in their matching black jumpsuits. After holding off the fighters as long as they can, “Action Governor” Joe Rourke emerges from his recuperation and begins kicking and shooting the baddies. Will Rourke and the Panther Squad save the children and/or Joe’s wife? We know neither he, nor the baddies, are afraid to…OPEN FIRE!

Based on the above description, this movie sounds cool, right? Well, unfortunately, not so much. The elements are all there, but they’re not really capitalized on to their utmost. The problem is that not much actually happens in this movie. Yes, there is a ton of shooting and blow-ups, especially towards the end. The movie doesn’t skimp on the action. But there’s no real plot or emotion to glue it all together. It’s all pretty brainless, and for us to even say that, you can imagine it must be pretty darn brainless.

The main baddie is apparently named Pecos and he looks a lot like Miles O’Keeffe. He doesn’t say anything and he just strokes his pet falcon, which is supposed to be intimidating (?) – the guy who plays him wasn’t in any other movies. Carradine’s daughter Kansas does a nice job as one of the kidnapped children, and she wears a great shirt of the type kids would wear in 1989. She’s in danger of being upstaged by the little black kid who wears a full three-piece suit even though he looks to be about three years old and he’s in a sweltering South American country. He looks very confused. Fan favorite Bruce Ly makes a brief appearance, and during a lot of it he’s toting a machine gun. While interesting as a novelty, I think I speak on behalf of all the Ly fans out there when I say we’d rather see him doing Martial Arts. Just another misstep of this blip of a movie.

Because of its “in one eye and out the other” forgettableness, perhaps that’s why it never secured a VHS release in America. And that’s saying something, because 1989 was a high-water mark year for VHS here in the USA, a time when there were many video stores and they were all clamoring for content. Just why Open Fire wasn’t deemed good enough – despite its reasonable competence and presence of not one but two Carradines, Bruce Ly, and Hugo Stiglitz, and its exploitable subject matter (mainly the Panther Squad, although there’s no nudity) – remains an open question.

Lest we forget one of the main things that makes Open Fire watchable – the funny dubbing. Many characters “talk” without moving their mouths, or voices are heard from offscreen and you don’t know who is supposed to be talking, or the voices don’t match who we’ve heard speaking previously. 

There’s also a first for us (at least so far as we can remember) – REPEATED overdubbing. You’ve heard us talk about repeated footage. Now we’ve got repeated talking! Not once, but twice (at least), David Carradine “says” the line “Get out of my way”. Then he proceeds to kick or shoot a baddie. He doesn’t do a ton of punching. He was probably maintaining character because he got shot. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Anyway, it’s the SAME line reading. They just replayed it. Well, why mess with perfection?

In the end, Open Fire (not to be confused with the Jeff Wincott film of the same name of a few years later) is your standard jungle blow-em-up with a handful of unintentionally funny moments. But it’s hard to sustain interest over a 90-minute running time.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Street Crimes (1992)

Street Crimes (1992)- * * *

Directed by: Stephen Smoke

Starring: Dennis Farina, Michael Worth, Max Gail, Joe Banks and Patricia Zehentmayr

Brian (Farina) is an L.A. cop and Tony (Worth) is his new rookie partner. Tony takes a lot of good-natured ribbing by his buddies on the force, especially Flannigan (Gail) and Happy (Banks) due to the fact that he disdains the use of guns and prefers Martial Arts. That, and the fact that he’s a teetotaler who doesn’t constantly slam brewski’s at the local bar. To add insult to injury, he also loves healthy food.

Almost by chance, Tony and the local “homies” turn an abandoned boxing gym into a community center by staging bouts for everyone to come and see. Little by little, the place gets fixed up and the homies get a true home. Meanwhile, Tony and Brian’s daughter Susan (Zehentmayr) strike up a romantic relationship. Susan just happens to be blind, but that doesn’t get in the way of their love. 

The crime boss of the area, Gerardo (Morris, a dead ringer for Ernie Hudson, not the Rico Suave guy) doesn’t like that people are now helping in the community instead of buying his drugs, so naturally his solution is to kidnap Susan and challenge Tony to the big final fight, settling a score from years earlier. Will Tony clean up the streets…and the STREET CRIMES?

PM delivers the quality yet again with Street Crimes, a completely enjoyable outing that really delivers the goods. Dennis Farina is perfectly cast as Brian, and he’s as charming as all get-out, whether he’s happily chowing down on a burrito with uncommon gusto, busting the baddies, or cheering on his friend and partner in the kickboxing ring. You really care about him and his daughter, and by extension, his partners, especially Tony. 

Tony is the kind of young man who takes milk cartons out on patrol and still shouts HI-YA! while he’s fighting the baddies. You have to appreciate his youthful enthusiasm. Like any of us, he goes to buy a new car at night right before the dealership closes, and gets involved in thwarting a holdup of said car dealership. He also wears what appear to be acid-washed sweatpants. While on duty. We didn’t realize you could acid-wash cotton, but, hey, you learn something new every day.

What’s interesting about Street Crimes is that it’s a mix of cop drama, straight-up action, Punchfighting, Martial Arts, and clean-up-the-community movie, with a healthy streak of humor in there to leaven it all out. Max Gail provides a lot of the comic relief, but it’s running through there subtly, as are the more romantic bits between Tony and Susan. 

There’s even some social commentary about drugs, child abuse, racism, and community-police relations thrown in for good measure. Somehow, it’s all seamless. It never once feels like a mishmash, despite all the disparate elements. That was super impressive, and easily could have gone south. Thankfully, not only does it all hang together, it ensures the viewer never gets bored. You’re really invested in what’s going on.

Street Crimes is classic 90’s video store action fun. It’s bright, everything works well, and the time flies by. Stephen Smoke only directed two movies in his career, this and Final Impact (1992) – both in the same year! 

Looking back, it is hard to beat 1992. All we can say in closing is that, when Tony is walking to the final fight with Gerardo, and all the local homies suddenly join him out of the steam and smoke of the night, and they’re all walking with determination towards their destiny as the John Gonzalez music pumps on the soundtrack, you realize that Street Crimes is nothing less than a triumph.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Bloodfist 2050 (2005)

Bloodfist 2050 (2005)- *

Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago

Starring: Matt Mullins, Glen Meadows, Beverly Lynn, and Joe Mari Avellana

Plot: See Dragon Fire (1993). Or, better yet, see Bloodfist (1989).

Okay, okay, we won’t be as lazy as Roger Corman and we’ll do our job. Sometime in 2050, Los Angeles is still a hellhole. (It was a hellhole in 2032 in Dragon Fire). Alex Danko (Mullins) travels to L.A. to get to the truth about his murdered brother. In order to get closer to the underground Punchfighting circuit where his brother fought, he gets a trainer and begins fighting in “The Pit” himself. After many bouts, which honestly don’t have much to do with his slain brother, he finally figures out the nefarious plan. But will it be too late?

Despite what you might, understandably, be thinking, this is not the 2,050th sequel to Bloodfist. It’s only the ninth installment in the series. Noticeably, the great Don “The Dragon” Wilson is nowhere in sight. Perhaps he cottoned on to the fact that this is as junky as all get-out and has a downmarket and cheap look to it.

It all opens with some stock footage from Dune Warriors (1990) and there is some attempt at marrying this with the 2005-shot footage. Some of it looks sped-up, as do some of the fight scenes. It’s also highly likely that there are repeated and/or stock shots of crowds as they cheer on the fighters. Edited in to all of this are the Corman specialty, stripping scenes. Between the stock footage, recycled footage, sped-up footage, and stripping footage – and keep in mind this movie is (mercifully) only about 75 minutes, we as viewers aren’t left with a whole heck of a lot.

Plotwise, Bloodfist 2050 is the same movie as Dragon Fire. It is a lower-rent version of Dragon Fire. Think about that for a second. When you’re a lower-rent version of Dragon Fire, there is a definite problem. Yes, it’s post-apocalyptic for no discernible reason. Yes, it’s a Punchfighter. Yes, all the exact same plot points are covered. But the question is: why? Instead of Dominick LaBanca, now we have Matt Mullins in the lead role. It’s clear he can do Martial Arts – but the attempt to do Hong Kong-style heavily choreographed, heavily stylized, fast fight scenes come off as humorous because they’re unnecessarily acrobatic for the cheapjack overall vibe.

Also, Mullins looks like a skinnier Freddie Prinze, Jr. but with Obama-styled ears. To make matters worse, his buddy in the movie, Randy (Meadows) looks exactly like him. At least the buddy role in Dragon Fire was filled by a dude who looked nothing like the main dude. Here they’re practically twins. Philippines movie mainstay Joe Mari Avellana did his best as the ring announcer and he resembles Johnny Depp here, strangely enough. The elderly assistant from Dragon Fire is nowhere to be seen. Just another example of how Dragon Fire is better (we never thought we would ever say that…)

Honestly, this is not Cirio’s finest hour. He let us off the hook somewhat because the movie is so short, but the whole outing is amazingly dumb and unnecessary. Does Corman think so little of us as viewers that he can just regurgitate the same movie again and again, and we’ll just consume this stuff and thank him for it? It would have been nice if we, the loyal viewers of this type of material, were given a little more credit. But, oh well, they can’t all be Stick Fighter (1994), I suppose. 

Bloodfist 2050 is a stain on the series as a whole, and only worthy if you are a completist of Punchfighters, a completist of the Bloodfist series, or you want to watch something short that’s so dumb it’s almost funny. Or you want to do an A-B comparison with Dragon Fire. Otherwise, it’s probably best to avoid this one, which shouldn’t be too tough.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty