Othello: The Black Commando (1982)

Othello: The Black Commando (1982)- * *1\2

Directed by: Max H. Boulois

Starring: Max H. Boulois and Tony Curtis

Now here’s Shakespeare as they should’ve taught it in school: with blow-ups, gun-shooting, bazookas firing, and at least one minor character screaming while shooting a machine gun! Just as “The Bard” intended, of course. During both dialogue scenes and action bits, many different Beethoven pieces blare on the soundtrack. The whole thing has an odd and stilted pace. 

We’ve got to give actor/director/Shakespeare dialogue adapter Max H. Boulois a lot of credit here. While the whole outing might not be perfect, we give him a lot of points for at least trying something different and not serving up a Jungle/War Slog as are so often churned out (both then and now). With Boulois as Othello, Joanna Pettet as Desdemona, and in a masterstroke of casting, Tony Curtis as Iago, Othello: The Black Commando is an oddity that’s worth checking out.

Now, with all this talk of Shakespeare and Beethoven, you might be forgiven for thinking you’re watching something highbrow. That’s not exactly the case. It’s still a B-grade actioner from the 80’s; lead star Max Boulois looks (and acts?) like a precursor to the late Kimbo Slice; for some unexplained reason, only in the beginning of the film, he can read Desdemona’s thoughts; and a band at a house party plays an unauthorized cover of “Oye Como Va”. Over and over again. On top of that, Tony Curtis goes wild with his over-emoting, Bronx-accented Shakespeare. Again, just as intended in the 1600’s. 

While Othello: The Black Commando never broke into a wide audience and remains pretty under the radar (at least in the U.S., despite a VHS release), the cast as a whole has a noteworthy Euro-cult pedigree. 

Because the film was shot in large part in Spain, Euro-Western stars Fernando Sancho and Aldo Sambrell make appearances, as does Nadiuska, who appeared in Leon Klimovsky’s The People Who Own The Dark (1976), among other genre items. Ramiro Oliveros, who plays Cassius, was in The Pyjama Girl Case (1978) and Cross Of the Devil (1975). Gerard Barray, who plays Stafford, appeared in The Twilight Girls (1957), just one of many genre titles in his long career.

But because Othello: The Black Commando happens to not be a giallo, but a crazy action/Shakespearean mash-up, it’s not likely to see a Blu-Ray release anytime soon. It’s never namechecked by the well-known writers on Euro-Cult cinema.

To wrap things up, Othello: The Black Commando isn’t like most action films of its ilk. And it’s certainly unlike any Shakespeare adaptations we’ve ever seen. 

But it’s from the greatest decade ever, the 80’s of course, and that golden era is still serving up surprises to this day. We’re more than willing to overlook any minor technical flaws and amateurish moves in order to celebrate that. So, with a gesture with our palms in the air in a quizzical expression of “what the…?” we do indeed celebrate this odd duck of a movie.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Equal Impact (1995)

Equal Impact (1995)- * *

Directed by: Jon Steven Ward

Starring: Joe Gates, Jay Gates, Nikka Bailey, Krist Geriene, Robert Z'Dar and Joe Estevez

Dave Conner (Joe Gates) and Josh Conner (Jay Gates) are twin brothers who also just happen to both be Tae Kwon Do experts. During their latest Martial Arts competition, they run afoul of evil Tae Kwon Do man Bobby Souk (Geriene). Souk may be a malevolent mulleted muttonhead, but he’s the least of the Conner brothers’ problems. It turns out that criminal mastermind Donald Moss (Estevez) is using Souk’s dojo as cover for his counterfeit ring. 

After a brawl in an alley with the Moss gang, Josh Conner takes some of the counterfeit money from one of the baddies. Now Moss is hoppin’ mad so he kidnaps not just Dave Conner (come to think of it, isn’t he a character on Roseanne?) but also Josh’s new love interest – and potential Bobby Souk bride – Alison (Nikka Bailey). Just when all seems hopeless, help arrives in the form of the mysterious and taciturn Ray Tobin (Z’Dar). Will our unlikely allies, as well as the baddies, both put forth an EQUAL IMPACT? And who will come out victorious?

We know we say this a lot, but where are the McNamara brothers when you really need them? Just when you thought the stars of Twin Dragon Encounter (1986) and Dragon Hunt (1990) had cornered the market on low-budget, twin-based kicking and punching, along come the Gates brothers. They seem downright plain by comparison. Even their names, Joe and Jay, seem lackluster. That being said, we’ll do our best to get over our pro-McNamara bias and try to be objective here.

As far as the quality level, try to imagine a cross between Radical Jack (2000) and Warrior Of Justice (1995). Some people may call it amateurish just because its budget is low and it isn’t structured very well. These same people might note that the lighting, sound, and acting are also not the best. But we choose to point out that there is entertainment value to be had with Equal Impact. There are some definite “laffs” along the way.

For example, not only does the movie feature the aforementioned twin brothers, but the baddie looks exactly like them. Why they cast yet another skinny Tae Kwon Do nerd who looks exactly like the supposed heroes is inexplicable. Add to that the poor lighting and the viewer quickly is seeing triple. They could have called the movie Triple Impact but that title was already taken. And yes, apparently there is such a thing as a Tae Kwon Do nerd. If you’ve never seen one, watch Equal Impact. You’ll soon see three. And you can’t even tell who’s who by their voices, because all of them have soft, reedy, non-intimidating pipes that wouldn’t even cause a mouse to flee away from them.

Naturally, the whole thing ends with a classic Final Warehouse Fight, and earlier on in the proceedings we get to witness one of the silliest barfights we’ve seen in years. They should really give out awards for these things. Maybe we could do it and call them “The Actionies”. Equal Impact could at least be nominated in many categories, and very well could win “Silliest Barfight”.

Of course, Joe Estevez and Robert Z’Dar are on hand as well. Hey, a job’s a job, and these guys clearly like to work. They seem not to be influenced by how small a film production may be. I guess if the price is right, they’ll appear. We’re happy they’re here, because they raise the interest level pretty considerably. Even though Z’Dar does more smoking and drinking than talking this time around, we remain big Z’Dar fans and will watch the movies he’s in with as little prejudice as he has when choosing his roles.

Because it was the 90’s, the whole thing ends with a wussy song. Gone were the days of driving AOR anthems to pump you up on the soundtrack. That was a strike against the movie, but the biggest problem with Equal Impact is its 108-minute running time. Why, why, WHY is this movie so long? Even glossy Hollywood blockbusters often fail to justify a movie with that length. What hope does Equal Impact have? What were they thinking? Because it has a bunch of funny/entertaining moments, if it was trimmed down to 80 minutes, we would be looking at a gem. As it is, it’s pretty overlong.

It should also be noted that, according to the credits, Flight Choreography is by a man named Edgar Bailey. Let’s put it this way: The Blue Angels are nowhere in sight. Nor is any aircraft. We’re pretty sure they simply misspelled the word “Fight”. Not a good sign for an action movie. 

As stated earlier, Equal Impact does contain some entertainment value, but it should have been shorter. It was also in dire need of some Steven Nijjar. But, then again, what movie isn’t?

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


One Way Out (1987)

One Way Out (1987)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Paul Kyriazi

Starring: Ivan Rogers, Rich Sutherlin, Sandy Brooke, Doug Irk, and Abdullah The Great

Detective Joe Weeks (Rogers) is a Cop On The Edge (or COTE), who naturally has to deal with a White Yelling Chief (or WYC), Captain Toback (Sutherlin). A man of strong and, some may say, silent emotion, Weeks takes many risks and chances in life. This is because after something unspeakable happened to his wife, he became not just sullen and withdrawn, but suicidal as well. 

Now teamed with an attractive female partner (Brooke), the two must break up the ring of crime lord Frank Hanna (Irk). But it’s not going to be easy, as Hanna has many goons to contend with and many trials and tribulations occur along the way – not the least of which is when Weeks has to turn in his badge and gun and go rogue. But will it be a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top? We implore you to find out…

We’ve met our new hero, and his name is Ivan Rogers. This awesome man wrote, produced, and starred in One Way Out – not to be confused with One Man Out (1989), One Man War (1990), One Man Force (1989), or many other similar titles. He’s a man of few words. Very few. There are many instances when you think he’s going to speak, as any normal person would, and then he doesn’t, which is funny. Because he has a soft voice and it’s post-dubbed, whenever he speaks, that’s funny too. You can’t lose. He’s a man who shoots first and doesn’t say anything at all later. He looks like a mélange of Philip Michael Thomas, Billy Dee Williams, Giancarlo Esposito, and Richard Pryor. We want to see more. 

Director Paul Kyriazi, known to action fans as the director of Ron Marchini outings Death Machines (1976) and Omega Cop (1990), here has a different strong, formidable main star. But it should give you an idea of what you’re in for: an awesomely 80’s ride filled with wonderfully “off” pacing, silly voices and sound effects, and a low-budget charm that can’t be beat.

The audio alone is fantastically entertaining. The voices are funny. The gunshots are funny. Every kick is funny. Every punch is funny. Scenes go on awkwardly/too long. And there’s a man that when he speaks his voice is distorted as if he’s going through the McDonald’s drive-thru. Just to be clear, he’s not. You gotta love it. Also they show the main title twice during the opening credits.

You know you’re in for something special when one of the other opening credits is “And Abdullah the Great as Mike”. And it only gets better from there on in. The score by Vincent Smith is also noteworthy. It’s funky, it’s synthy, it’s percussive, and there are a lot of really great cues. It really could use a re-release. Forget “Axel F”. Get ready for “Ivan R.” They even found time to use a Watchtower song, “Violent Change”, from the Energetic Disassembly album. It blares out of a boombox in one of the top 35 most ridiculous(lyawesome) scenes in the movie. One Way Out really delivers the goods. 

It’s a ton of fun in that AIP-esque, Leo Fong-meets-Chuck-Jeffreys-with-a-dusting-of-Miami-Connection kind of way. Just one of the millions of reasons the 80’s were great is that it was before all this annoying irony and people were actually earnest and hardworking. It just so happens that this movie, One Way Out, is an entertaining blast to watch and will put a smile on your face, guaranteed. And what’s wrong with that?

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Arizona Heat (1988)

Arizona Heat (1988)- * *

Directed by: John G. Thomas

Starring: Michael Parks and Denise Crosby

Larry Kapinski (Parks) is a man perfectly suited to be named Larry Kapinski. He’s rude, crude, and has a bad attitude. He’s a male chauvinist pig and naturally he thinks he’s God’s gift to womankind. His favorite hobbies include drinking beer and womanizing. He’s also a cop, and when his WYC (White Yelling Chief) teams him up with his new partner Jill Andrews (Crosby), they are, to quote the great Collision Course, “As different as hot dogs and sushi!”, but instead of being American and Japanese as in that film, in this case it’s American and Lesbian. Well, you know what we mean. We don’t want to be accused of being as sexist as Larry Kapinski.

While Jill and Larry are constantly bickering back and forth about the nature of men and women in society, an evil, insidious cop killer is roaming around Arizona. Will they be able to get along long enough to catch the baddie? Or Will Kapinski’s actions finally send the well-meaning Jill over the edge? Will anyone be able to stand the ARIZONA HEAT?

Arizona Heat can fall neatly in the “mismatched buddy cop” drama/thriller/action/comedy vein of the aforementioned Collision Course or perhaps Red Heat (1988). Even both titles include the word “Heat”. On the one hand, we want to applaud Arizona Heat for including a lot of un-PC dialogue. 

On the other hand, a lot of other dialogue in the movie is juvenile and sophomoric. It becomes very repetitive after a while. It spins its wheels and loses momentum. “Yes! We get it! You two are different!” you may be yelling at the screen as the movie is still drilling this point home at around the 80 minute mark even though we as viewers understand the conflict right from the jump.

To be fair, Arizona Heat does have some good qualities as well besides the lack of political correctness (although the fact that the Chief is in a wheelchair, and the fact that he teamed Kapinski up with a lesbian just for the sake of it would seem to indicate otherwise). 

The soundtrack features the time-honored wailing electric guitar riffs we’ve come to expect of 80’s actioners. There’s a quality (although silly) car chase scene and some shootouts. It was a change to see Michael Parks in a rare non-baddie role, and it’s always nice to see Denise Crosby. There’s a peppering of goofy humor throughout the whole thing, and the bottom line is they just don’t make movies like this anymore. It may be worth seeing for archival value alone.

Arizona Heat was director John G. Thomas’s next effort after Banzai Runner (1987). Perhaps the video store era should’ve been kinder to Thomas, because he didn’t direct anything after ‘Heat until 1994. Part of the reason for that might be Republic Pictures’s awful VHS box art. 

Whoever designed this cover completely failed when it came to highlighting the movie’s strengths, or really making it eye-catching in any way. While it was distributed well throughout the U.S., no one had any reason to take this generically-packaged tape off the shelf. That error was very much corrected by the fantastic European art. Not too many paintings feature a guy giving you the finger. Much less a likeness of Michael Parks. Much less next to Denise Crosby giving him the thumbs-down. Now that’s how you do fantastic artwork to promote your movie.

The end-credits song, “Caught In the Heat”, by Gary Stockdale, is a winner. So much so that they should have used it in the movie proper, perhaps a scene of Crosby and/or Parks training or working out. They could have taken out a scene of them bickering and put that in. That would have improved things. 

In the end, Arizona Heat is a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full situation. You could either see it as a movie with a lot of silliness and some unpleasant dialogue and situations, or you could see it as an 80’s artifact with some redeeming qualities. Either way, however, it’s the type of film that will never be made again. Let’s all concentrate on that aspect of it all.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Blue Tiger (1994)

Blue Tiger (1994)- * * *

Directed by: Norberto Barba

Starring: Virginia Madsen, Toru Nakamura, Henry Mortensen, Dean Hallo, Brenda Varda, Yuji Okumoto, Harry Dean Stanton, and a cameo by Michael Madsen

Gina Hayes (Madsen) is a loving single mother to her young son Darin (Mortensen). When Darin is shot in the crossfire of a Yakuza war, Gina drops whatever it was she was doing, learns Japanese, dyes her hair black, and puts on her leather revenge jacket. She obsessively and single-mindedly attempts to track down her son’s murderer, and her only clue (because the assailant wore a mask) is that he has a very recognizable tattoo on his chest.

She gets a job as a waitress in a dance club where the Yakuza hangs out, then begins the laborious process of coming up with reasons for all of them to get shirtless so she can identify the killer. When ailing tattoo master Smith (Stanton) emblazons her body with a certain red dragon, it signals that she is close to fulfilling her mission. But the Yakuza is getting wise, her friend Emily (Varda) is against her, and “Asian Crimes Inspector” Lt. Sakagami (Okumoto) is on her trail. With time running out, she must unravel the true nature of her newfound relationship with Seiji (Nakamura). Who – or what – is the real meaning of BLUE TIGER?

Virginia Madsen versus the Yakuza. Killer idea. Thankfully, the movie more or less delivers. It’s well-shot and technically is quality all the way around. It can certainly stand with other movies cut from a similar cloth such as American Yakuza (1993), American Dragons (1998), and White Tiger (1996). It’s noticeably better than Distant Justice (1992), another American-Japanese co-production from the same era.

While it does feature some beat-ups and shooting (including a noteworthy, classic-90’s drive-by), we’re not in PM territory here. The movie concentrates largely on drama, but is punctuated at appropriate times with well-executed action scenes. The Japanese actors acquit themselves well as usual, and the presence of top-flight actors like Madsen, fan favorite Harry Dean Stanton, and No Retreat No Surrender’s Dean Hallo really help things. Virginia’s brother Michael has a cameo as a gun dealer for the classic scene where the revenge-seeker (in this case Virginia, of course) goes to a gun range and learns to shoot.

Blue Tiger is a worthy addition to the revenge movie canon. Thanks to films like this one, video stores in a now-bygone era had added color and interest. It’s all very professional and serious-minded. Perhaps too much so: it actually could have been more exploitative and trashy, but that was eschewed. The plot is a bit slow-moving in the middle, but it rights itself. 

Blue Tiger is recommended, especially for revenge film fans.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty