Wheels Of Fire (1985)

Wheels Of Fire (1985)- * * *

Directed by: Cirio H. Santiago

Starring: Gary Watkins, Lynda Wiesmeier, Joe Mari Avellana, Steve Parvin, Laura Banks, Linda Grovenor, and Jack S. Daniels

In, you guessed it, a post-apocalyptic future, a man named Max…er, sorry, I mean Trace (Watkins) drives around in a souped-up car that drives fast. His sister Arlie (Wiesmeier, not to be confused with noted Army man-turned-actor R. Lee Ermey) is in a relationship with Scott Baio lookalike Bo (Parvin), and there’s not much to do for entertainment except watch tournament fights to the death and drive around aimlessly.

All that changes when Arlie is kidnapped by baddies Scourge (Avellana) and Scag (Daniels). Now with a renewed sense of purpose and a mission to carry out, Trace travels the badlands meeting and/or fighting both human and Morlock alike in his quest to rescue Arlie. Along the way he picks up some allies in the form of warrior woman Stinger (Banks) and more subdued woman Spike (Grovenor) but truly Trace’s best weapons are his flamethrower and his stellar jumping abilities. Best notify your next of kin, as this WHEELS OF FIRE shall contain things that explode!

The fact that Mad Max came out in 1979 was fortuitous for low-budget movie producers. The burgeoning home video market was just about to really take over and become ubiquitous. That gave filmmakers a few years to produce countless knockoffs, rip-offs, clones, and carbon copies. Of course, they range in quality. Some are good, others are mediocre, and some are just bad, like any other kind of movie. Thankfully, Wheels of Fire (AKA Desert Warrior, AKA Vindicator, not to be confused with the Canadian Vindicator that came out the following year) is one of the better ones. It’s still very hard to top the Italian ones, but our old buddy Cirio comes darn close.

Wheels of Fire is well-shot, with really good use made of the Philippine locations. Of course, it delivers everything else you expect of post-ap’s, including shooting, blow-ups, car chases, fights, rampant nudity, amusing dialogue, and cars with crazy crap glued to them. The fact that Trace’s main weapon is a flamethrower is also pretty cool and different. Sure, it’s all fairly brainless, but what did you expect? At least it’s from the 80’s and it’s all pretty redolent of that golden, magical time. 

This also completes our Jack S. Daniels collection. Upon the viewing of this movie, we’ve officially seen and reviewed all five of the films he’s appeared in. He’s a charismatic guy who is fun to watch on screen. He’s one of our favorite character actors, and he should have been in more stuff, but we’re happy with what he did do. 

As for our main star, Gary Watkins, he should have done more as well; he had a lot of potential as an action star but the market was pretty flooded at that time. Even though the filmmakers – from his clothing to his hair – tried to make him look like Mel Gibson, he still managed to put his own stamp on things.

While Cirio went back to the post-apocalyptic well with Dune Warriors (1990), Raiders of the Sun (1992) – which starred Richard Norton but contains footage from Wheels of Fire (including Jack S. Daniels and Henry Strzalkowski footage, among other Philippines-set movie regulars that was ported over into the new, interpolated material) – and a supposed abomination called Water Wars (2014), Cirio’s last credited work which Jim Wynorski took over and contains footage from all three of the above-mentioned post-ap’s, best to stick with Cirio’s first and best of the three, Wheels of Fire. 

While there isn’t a ton of substance on show here, on balance Wheels of Fire is not bad and is pretty entertaining. It retains that “VHS vibe” and manages to be a better and more worthwhile watch than a lot of its post-apocalyptic competitors.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Death Train (2003)

Death Train (2003)-

Directed by: Yossi Wein

Starring: Bryan Genesse, and Bentley Mitchum

When an annoying baddie named Weaver (Mitchum) and his gang of stereotype thugs (there’s a nerd, a woman, etc.) hijack a train, all hell breaks loose. They want to steal some diamonds and maybe shoot some hostages along the way. Stopping them from getting away is a man named Ryan (Genesse), a rogue agent of some law enforcement variety or other. He wears a long leather duster coat in the hot Bulgarian weather and he never runs out of ammo for his gun. Will he save the stereotype hostages (there’s a priest, a pregnant woman, etc.) and bring the baddies to justice? Has Ryan finally met his match with Weaver? And do you really care? We’re talkin’ Death Train here…

We never thought we would ever say this, but we finally found a movie that made us miss Derailed (2002). Death Train, sadly, has a lot of strikes against it: it came out in 2003, a death time for DTV, it’s one of the lesser Nu Image throwaways, there’s nil character development so you don’t care what’s going on, the movie is chock full of one-dimensional, stereotype characters, and on the whole it adds nothing new to the Die Hard/hostage genre and there are no surprises whatsoever. 

Instead of Derailed’s Van Damme, we have Bryan Genesse as our main hero. During the first half of the movie, he looks like a cross between Brendan Fraser and Jason Bateman. Bizarrely, during the second half he metamorphosizes into Daniel Baldwin. Just weird. As his bad-guy foil, Bentley Mitchum truly resembles David Cross. He even seems to take on some Cross-isms in his speech patterns as well. Just why we’re supposed to find a David Cross lookalike intimidating as an evildoer in any way remains unknown as of today. 

On top of all this muck, we have a mish-mash of mismatched train footage, culled from such movies as Danger Zone (1996) – remember Robert Downey Junior’s classic line from that one – Operation Delta Force (1997), Sweepers (1998), and City of Fear (2000). Nu Image must really like trains. Any episode of Thomas the Tank Engine is more compelling than this. It truly is a train slog.

Yes, there is an exploding helicopter, lots of shooting, and some beat-ups, but those elements alone do not a good movie make. There are some unintentionally funny parts as well. Those are some of the nicest things we can say about Death Train. We always try to see the positive, but this is really straining us. The movie needed a Wesley Snipes or a Kely McClung – somebody with some interest or charisma to keep things on track. Pun intended. 

Not to be confused with the Arnold Vosloo Death Train (2005), if you’re looking for a train-based action movie, do watch or re-watch Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995). Death Train is…wait for it…a trainwreck.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Slash (1984)

Slash (1984)- * * *

Directed by: Jun Gallardo

Starring: Rom Kristoff, Gwendolyn Hung, Nick Nicolson, and Mike Monty

“KONG SEN!!!!!!” – Slash

Starting during the Vietnam War, Peter “Slash” Harris (Rom) and Major Andrew Scott (Mike Monty, not to be confused with Dolph in Universal Soldier) are buddies during the thick of the fighting. Later on in life, Scott becomes a CIA agent. He works with a woman named Barbara (Hung), and they go between Cambodia and Thailand fighting the commies. After Barbara steals some secret KGB files from a hidden safe, she’s kidnapped by baddies. Scott’s reaction is only natural: he calls Slash to go and rescue her and/or the files. As a one-man fighting force, Slash proceeds to mow down countless faceless nameless bad guys along the way. Will Slash be saying “welcome to the jungle”? Find out today…

Like the other Jun Gallardo films we’ve seen, Slash has a lot of what you might call “third-world charm”. We’ve mentioned this in other reviews, especially for the films by Arizal (who’s a heck of a lot more talented than Gallardo in our opinion), but the main gist is this: making an action movie under near-impoverished conditions didn’t stop them from giving it their all. Gallardo probably figured that he couldn’t deliver deep dialogue exchanges and well-thought-out plot developments to audiences, so he’d make up for it with non-stop machine gun-shooting and explosions. 

From the second the movie appears on the screen, there are shooting and blow-ups, and it basically doesn’t relent from there on in. Of course, this is yet another jungle-set exploding hut movie, where lush, verdant settings are torched into oblivion and an inexhaustible supply of uniformed assailants are continually mowed down.

There’s so much smoke on screen at the outset, the white titles are not legible to the audience. Did the filmmakers not notice this during the editing process? Anyway, all our Philippines-set regulars are here: Mike Monty, Nick Nicholson, and the rest of the gang. As our stand in for Rambo, we have Rombo – Rom Kristoff. It’s enjoyable to watch him scream, shoot machine guns, and scream while he shoots machine guns. 

His rocket launchers inexplicably make a laser noise when fired, and there is a memorable exploding helicopter along the way. Naturally, guard towers blow up and huts blow up. The villain of the piece doesn’t show up until way late into the proceedings. He should have been around earlier so as to set up the good guy-bad guy dynamic and tension. 

While not in any sense a bad movie, Slash doesn’t do much to separate itself from the pack as far as these exploding hutters go. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really stand out from the crowd even though, as noted earlier, clearly a lot of time and work went into the non-stop action scenes. 

If you just can’t get enough of this type of stuff, Slash will satisfy your machine-guns-in-the-jungle craving. However, those seeking substance or something different may come away disappointed. But the third-world charm remains.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Instant Death (2017)

Instant Death (2017)- * * *

Directed by: Ara Paiaya

Starring: Lou Ferrigno and Jerry Anderson

Finally in civilian life after a lifetime in the military, vet John Bradley (Ferrigno) is having a hard time adjusting after leaving the Special Forces. He feels reconnecting with his daughter and his granddaughter would do him a world of good towards that end, so he flies from New York to the UK to be with them. 

Unfortunately, Bradley was in the wrong place at the wrong time, as he inadvertently witnesses some of the bad dealings of uber-baddie Razor (Anderson) and his drug gang. In order to get to him, Razor sadistically goes after certain members of the Bradley family in some truly horrible ways (we won’t give anything away).

Now on a no-holds-barred mission of revenge, John Bradley reverts to his old ways – fighting is the only thing he knows. Thankfully, he knows it well and he’s using his “particular set of skills” to take out the trash of London’s underworld. With the police and military after him as well as the gangster baddies, will John Bradley be able to deliver INSTANT DEATH?

Thank goodness for Taken (2008). Not only is it a fantastic movie in its own right, it single-handedly made it acceptable for aging stars to return to – or join for the first time - the action fray. The term “GeriAction” seems to have been coined shortly after the release of The Expendables (2010), and everyone from Liam Neeson to Clint Eastwood to Sean Penn have been showing young whippersnappers that with age comes experience…fighting experience!

With that in mind, it was only a matter of time before Lou Ferrigno became involved. Instant Death has a lot going for it: a simple and effective revenge plot that unfolds quickly over its 80-minute running time, Lou puts on a revenge outfit and proceeds to decimate the entire baddie population, and Razor is a really bad baddie. All the ingredients are there. But why – why – must they use so much CGI?

If they were going for a gritty 80’s vibe, why not use squibs, practical effects, and real fire? That would have been so much cooler! Correct us if we’re wrong, but did we see a CGI train? The movie already has a low-budget, down n’ dirty look (which is completely fine by us and not at all a criticism), but the CGI effects were a wet blanket for us. Not so much that we didn’t enjoy the movie on the whole, but we couldn’t help but think it would have been more satisfying for the viewers without it.

Much like how Robert Rusler saved Air Strike (2002), Lou Ferrigno does the same thing here. (That must be why you read this site; you’re not going to see a sentence like that anywhere else). Sure, the fight choreography came off as a little stiff at times, but undoubtedly this is a career-best performance from Lou. He must have been thrilled to get the call to be in this movie, and he really gives it his all. It was a joy to watch his lumbering, Schwarzenegger-esque fighting and line deliveries. 

Let’s face it, the idea of Lou Ferrigno in a revenge movie against London gangsters is pure gold. We’re super happy this was made.

Despite our anti-CGI stance, we applaud director Paiaya and the rest of the cast and crew for carrying this movie off. You could tell they were striving for something good and Instant Death overall is a satisfying watch.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Repo Jake (1990)

Repo Jake (1990)- * * *

Directed by: Joesph Merhi

Starring: Dan Haggerty, Dana Bentley, Steve Hansborough, Walter Cox, Robert Axelrod, Joe Garcia, Steve Wilcox, R.J. Walker, and Andrew Reilly

Jake Baxter (Haggerty) is a mild-mannered and likable repo man who moves from Minnesota to Los Angeles for a business opportunity in the world of repo’ing. As an ex-Marine and former race car driver, there’s very little that scares Jake Baxter. On his first day in L.A., he thwarts a purse snatcher and develops a romantic relationship with the intended target, Jenny (Bentley). He then moves into the same apartment building as her and begins his new life.

Now working with a classic ragtag bunch of misfits, including aspiring rapper Darnell “Jam” Jones (Hansborough), the hapless Lippy (Cox), Wiseguy Skidmark (Garcia), the sleepy Waldo (Walker), and fellow racer Blondie (Wilcox), among others, Jake fits in well with his new bros. But what he doesn’t realize is that danger is afoot in the form of nefarious gangster Kovar (Reilly) and his vicious underlings, including Lincoln King (Axelrod). 

Amongst their many criminal activities is illegal gambling on something called the “Slam Track”, which is itself an illegal car race. Will Repo Jake return to his racin’ ways? Will he and Jenny survive the threat of mobsters? Will any cars blow up? Only REPO JAKE knows the truth…

It’s “humor and Haggerty” as PM tries a more lighthearted tone this time around. The main influence here seems to be D.C. Cab (1983), though Dan Haggerty does throw that purse snatcher through several windows and there are some other light-violent bits. It is PM after all. As much as we all love Lee Canalito, the choice of Dan Haggerty as main star is an inspired and welcome one. His screen presence and genial good-humoredness carries the movie. It would have suffered a lot without him.

Clearly car repossession was very hot back in the video store days, as Don “The Dragon” Wilson was one in Bloodfist IV: Die Trying (1992) and Corey Michael Eubanks was as well in Forced To Kill (1994). And lest we forget Repo Man (1984). As usual, PM was ahead of the curve and made what is arguably the ultimate direct-to-video repo movie. 

As a side note, let’s not forget that in 2011 the show Repo Games premiered, where deadbeats who didn’t pay their car payments agreed to answer trivia questions in a desperate bid to keep their vehicle. Repo Jake puts all this modern-day cynicism in perspective. We would all like an ally such as Jake Baxter on our side.

While the mixture of wacky humor and evil gangsters forcing drug-addicted women into prostitution is certainly an uneasy one, Repo Jake is a good example of the type of movie that isn’t being made anymore, and which gave color and interest to your video store choices. It also shows PM was adventurous and willing to try new things. 

In the end, Repo Jake is an enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes or so, especially for PM buffs.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty