East L.A. Warriors (1989)

East L.A. Warriors (1989)- * *1\2

Directed by: Addison Randall

Starring: Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Tony Bravo, Kamar De Los Reyes, and William Smith

The streets of east L.A. are plagued with gangs such as the Anglos, the Boppers, and Los Lobos (not to be confused with the band of the same name). It seems every night there is a report on either the TV news or the radio about the latest gangland slaying. One night at a birthday party in the park, there is yet another drive-by shooting. Amongst the victims of this particular drive-by is the pinata. Of course there was a pinata. And it was blown to kingdom come by one of the most evil and ruthless gangs around. But which one was it? Young Paulo (De Los Reyes) wants answers.

So, naturally, Paulo goes to local tough man Aurelio (Bravo). He asks Aurelio to turn him into a “warrior” and, of course, Aurelio refuses the first couple of times. However, before long, they’re training on the beach together – but Aurelio harbors a secret that just may shatter their friendship forever. Meanwhile, something called the “gang games” are being held at a secret warehouse location. 

Said games are basically Punchfighting matches that are held in a ring and fought between rival gangs. The big-cheese organizer of the gang games is Chesare (Hilton-Jacobs). While the cops just want to stop the violence, Chesare just wants to continue it on his own terms. And what does William Smith have to do with all this? Will the streets of east L.A. ever be safe again for either man or pinata?

It was 1989 and PM was on the upswing. While their best years were still ahead of them, East L.A. Warriors is an example of how they were diligently cranking out entertaining low-budget fare as they grasped to find their true purpose and calling. That would come later with gems such as Rage (1995), Riot (1997), Recoil (1998), and The Sweeper (1996), amongst others. But in the meantime, we get “The Karate Vato” as a certain type of kid is mentored by a guy who looks a lot like Tom Savini.

Many people wear doo-rags, hair nets, only button the first button on their shirts, and consistently call each other “ese”. If you watch this movie with the closed captioning on Amazon Prime, there are many times where the subtitles read “[inaudible]”. And nowhere is this more true than when William Smith speaks. It’s hard to understand him in English – and here he attempts Spanish! Also, by turns, other characters call him “Mr. Montana” or “Mr. Martelli”. Whatever his name may be, Smith only does an inconsequential role as a restaurant manager. We were happy to see him as always, but why not give him a better role?

Speaking of classic PM actors attempting to speak differently, we have Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs showing his range as Chesare, a guy with an accent (presumably Hispanic or Spanish-adjacent). What was good about Chesare’s gang games is that the filmmakers saved them for the very end of the film. That was smart because it avoids the boring repetition experienced in many tournament movies. In other fight news, there is a flashback where Aurelio and another man fight each other with hammers. This predates The Raid 2 (2014) by many years. As we always say, PM movies are always ahead of the curve.

It’s amazing to think director and co-writer Addison Randall made both this movie and the great Shotgun in the same year. It was 1989, after all, a boom time for DTV product. It’s perhaps even more amazing to know that Randall – for the first and only time in his career – also wrote and sang the end-credits song “Living to Die”! That’s right, Addison sings! Is there anything he can’t do? The PM movie Living To Die (1990) with Wings Hauser came the next year, and does not feature the song. We may never know why. 

While the action-packed, car-flippin’ days of classic PM were just a few scant years away, East L.A. Warriors represents a time after City Lights but before golden titles like Last Man Standing (1996). Is it a social-realist film about the harsh world of gang life? Is it a Punchfighter? Is it a Karate Kid knockoff? Can it be all three? Normally a jumble such as this could be a total mess, but in the world of 1989 PM it works well enough. And it’s better by far than Street Hitz (1992).

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Midnight Warrior (1989)

Midnight Warrior (1989)- * * *

Directed by: Joseph Merhi

Starring: Kevin Bernhardt, Bernie Angel, Marty Brinton, and Lilly Melgar

Nick Branca (Bernhardt) is a freelance TV news cameraman who cruises the streets of L.A. at night looking for news events to sell to the networks. Along with his buddy/co-worker/old salt Sam (Brinton), the two, well…nightcrawl as they search for – and flirt with – disaster. However, Nick is going through some changes. He’s putting aside his womanizing ways and ventures to settle down with “neighborhood girl” Angelina Mantucci (Melgar). He also saves someone from a burning car and becomes the hottest news of the day himself. 

While Nick wants to downplay the event, unscrupulous and downright evil news producer (aren’t they all?) Buddy Arnstein (Angel) wants to exploit the event for, you guessed it, higher ratings. All of this comes to a head in a shocking act of violence that only Nick Branca has the guts to report on…permanently. Or something like that. Will we all discover the true meaning of fake news? Or will Branca be the ultimate MIDNIGHT WARRIOR? (And what about Sam?)

As we’re always saying, the low-budget independent productions are always ahead of the curve. Because they can’t hide behind bloated budgets and superhero franchises, they actually have to have ideas. These filmmakers are forced to react quickly to the events of the day, as well as think ahead to the events of tomorrow. Case in point, one Midnight Warrior. It predates not just the above-referenced Nightcrawler (2014), but also another video store classic with a similar theme, the much sillier Parole Violators (1994). 

Director Merhi and the whole PM crew apply their signature style to this tale of romance, violence, and media jackals. It’s essentially a drama, but because it’s PM there’s bound to be a blow-up or two. There’s even a “love theme from Midnight Warrior” on the soundtrack. At least that’s what we called it. The main title theme song by Jastereo Coviare and Azelie Corliss is incredibly catchy, and is used well on the soundtrack. You’ll be at work or somewhere else and just randomly start singing “war-ey-or!” because it’s still stuck in your head. Sade should have covered the song.

Other highlights include shady backroom deals, a scene outside a video store called Video Force (presumably they had a big action section), and Kevin Bernhardt’s hair. We last checked in on Bernhardt with Kick or Die (1987), which was quite a while ago. He makes a decent 80’s coolguy. He’s not to be confused with Daniel Bernhardt, however. PM-only actor Bernie Angel wonderfully chews the scenery as the heartless (and ironically-named) Buddy, while Brinton as Sam almost steals the show. 

In the end, Midnight Warrior is a decent example of what PM does, and is a good exemplar of how the low-budget independents can be quite ahead of their time. While it leans more on drama and isn’t really a slam-bang action movie, Midnight Warrior – despite some minor pitfalls – is worth checking out.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


L.A. Crackdown (1989)

L.A. Crackdown (1989)- * * *

Directed by: Joseph Merhi

Starring: Pamela Dixon, Kita Harrison, Tricia Parks, Tyrone Van Haynes, and Jeffrey Olsen as Paul

“I always have salad with chicken.” – Paul

“I am Paul.” – Paul

Karen Shore (Dixon) is a policewoman and chief member of something called the Social Youth Organization. Karen is earnest and caring when it comes to the downtrodden girls of L.A. who are mired in drugs, prostitution, pornography, and other forms of sleaze. She’s so nurturing and motherly that she takes Angie (Parks) and Fiona (Kita Harrison), two wastrels caught in the grimy underworld, into her home to try to rehabilitate them. 

That puts her at loggerheads with her husband Paul (Olsen), who doesn’t want them there, but ends up getting caught sleeping with Angie (what did Karen think would happen?) – eventually Karen decides to take the law into her own hands and go right to the source of the drug epidemic – the pushers. This despite the admonishments of Wallace (Van Haynes). Will Karen crack up? Or will there be an L.A. CRACKDOWN?

L.A. Crackdown is a prime example of a City Lights production (for those who don’t know, that’s the company that preceded PM Entertainment), and it’s written and directed, as usual for City Lights, by Joseph Merhi, who also gets a killer death scene as a baddie named Speed. Watch out for that. Actress Pamela Dixon never did a movie outside the City Lights/PM universe. Surely that must say something.

A lot of what we said in our review for The Glass Jungle also applies here – it simultaneously works as a time capsule, and as an example of a truly independent low-budget film made by people who just wanted to make entertaining movies. That shows in every scene, and despite some flaws (amateurish technical aspects, stodgy plotting, acting that defies any logical definition), we as viewers do NOT see movies like this being made anymore. Products like this should be, if not cherished, certainly investigated and re-evaluated. If they were ever evaluated in the first place.

What we’ve got here is a social drama with gun-shooting. Like a lot of movies of the time, it seems influenced by Miami Vice (which, let’s not forget, was a phenomena of that time). Interestingly, the movie seems especially informed by the episode called “Little Miss Dangerous”, which first aired in ’86. That episode starred musician/actress Fiona. Could that be a coincidence? Or maybe a subtle tribute?

In any case, like a lot of low-budget independent movies, it starts to flag a little way past the halfway mark. It needed a main, super-evil baddie as a central villain, like a diabolical pimp or something like that. That would have given the movie more of a motor and a motivation for Karen’s actions. On the funny side, the two girls are labeled as “juveniles” but they seem considerably older. Like Beverly Hills 90210 older. Or maybe, as is usually the case, movies like this are just ahead of the curve.

Like most City Lights/PM productions, the music is by John Gonzalez, and it’s excellent and adds a lot. Gonzalez contributes some of his best-ever cues here, with some funk that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Mega Man video game. 

L.A. Crackdown - which actually got a sequel that was made the same year and further continues the adventures of Karen – may not be perfect but it’s at least interesting. And that’s more than you can say for a lot of movies, especially ones made with much higher budgets. We can see they were trying and putting forth effort. It’s time the City Lights canon sees wider viewership.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Forced To Kill (1994)

Forced To Kill (1994)- * *

Directed by: Russell Solberg

Starring: Corey Michael Eubanks, Kari Whitman, Michael Ironside, Rance Howard, Clint Howard, Mickey Jones, and Don Swayze

Johnny (Eubanks) is a dedicated repo man who looks a lot like a young Patrick Dempsey. He’s so into his repo’ing, he’s built a whole life for himself and his fiancĂ©, Heather (Whitman) and they’re on the road to marriage. When Johnny’s boss tells him to drive a Jaguar from L.A. to Utah, Johnny hits the road without a care in the world.

Suddenly, he runs afoul of stereotypical rednecks Rance (Howard) and his sons Dwayne (Swayze) and Neil (Jones). This crazed family takes note of Johnny’s fighting skills, so naturally they put him in chains and force him to fight/train in local Punchfighting competitions. Sheriff Wilson (Ironside) is certainly aware of the situation…but what side is he on? All the locals, including higher-ups in the government come to these illegal Punchfighting matches. But when the sinister good-ol’ boys kidnap Heather, Johnny goes out for revenge, and this time he’s not just forced to fight, he just may be…FORCED TO KILL.

We’re all familiar with the classic Coreys of the 80’s. Those being, of course, Haim, Feldman, and Hart. But like one of the lost tribes of Judah, there was another Corey who is only being uncovered today: Corey Michael Eubanks.

Unusually for a PM film, Forced To Kill is just kind of lackluster. The filmmakers probably just assumed that they had an awesome ace in the hole by getting Bob Eubanks’s son to write, executive produce and star in the film. And while Corey Michael Eubanks (henceforth to be referred to as CME) is indeed a gem, this movie has some structural problems that even he can’t overcome. 

The simple plot is extremely repetitive and there are no real surprises. At about an hour in, we get into boring tournament sequences that just aren’t that interesting to watch. There’s no one, singular, charismatic, evil villain such as a Brakus to provide a foil to CME. On top of that, to have stereotype redneck characters as these baddies are is just played out. Although, to be fair, if you’re going to get some redneck baddies, it was smart to get Don Swayze and Mickey Jones, who specialized in that sort of thing.

In other cast news, we do get two Howards for the price of one – both Rance (playing a guy named…Rance) and Clint Howard are on board. One of the better scenes appears when a bunch of aging punks (not quite in their 40’s as is usually the case but they appear to be getting there fast) begin bullying Drifter (Clint Howard) and CME intervenes and beats up the bullies.

Director Solberg is primarily known as a stuntman but he doesn’t hold it together too well behind the camera. A lot of what we see is stodgy and the pacing is off. We don’t even get as many CME wisecracks as we should. On the bright side, we do get some classic PM car flips and blow-ups, this time done up in a country-fried style rather than of the usual urban variety. While we appreciate the difference, it just wasn’t enough to keep the movie afloat. 

In the end, Forced To Kill (not to be confused with Trained To Kill or Forced To Fight) is Punchfighting by numbers. That was disappointing because some of the talent on screen is capable of much better. On the whole, it’s not weird, wild, and wacky enough for our tastes. While the movie isn’t bad, it’s really just okay - we can only wholeheartedly recommend it for Punchfighting completists. Or Don Swayze completists. We know you’re out there.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 

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