Savage Harbor (1987)


Savage Harbor
(1987)- * * *

Directed by: Carl Monson

Starring: Frank Stallone, Chris Mitchum, Karen Mayo-Chandler, Greta Blackburn, Nicolas Worth, Anthony Caruso, and Lisa Loring

****1300th Review!****

Joe Hardwell (Stallone) is a well-meaning guy but his job as a seafaring man takes him out of his hometown of San Pedro, CA for months at a stretch as he travels from port to port. Consequently, Hardwell has trouble forging lasting personal relationships. Despite his tough exterior, it appears he is a lonely man. He has his buddy Bill (Mitchum), who is also a sailor and a trusty companion. When back in town on shore leave, they hang out at the Tradewinds bar. It's there that Bill meets the dancer Roxey (Loring) and their relationship is as turbulent as the waters the two men sail on.

Still looking for love, Hardwell happens upon a woman being assaulted in a car. He foils the attack and he quickly finds a connection with Anne Teasdale (Mayo-Chandler). After a whirlwind courtship, they plan to get married. There's only one problem. The evil gangster and pimp Harry Kane (Caruso). He exploits Anne's troubled past and soon has her hooked on heroin and enslaved in the sex trafficking industry. 

When Hardwell comes back from his latest stint abroad, he finds Anne missing. Now he has to traverse the seedy underworld of drugs and prostitution to find her and rescue her from Kane. So Hardwell and Bill do just that, until something happens that really puts Hardwell over the top in a rage and he vows to take down the whole Kane gang. He has to navigate some rough waters in his quest for a relationship, but will Joe Hardwell ever find safe harbor...or will it be a SAVAGE HARBOR? Find out today...

Despite what some people may say, including Frank Stallone himself (more on which later), we found Savage Harbor to be an entertaining and enjoyable outing and a lot of fun to watch. It reminded us of one of our favorites, Death Flash (1986) - though, to be fair, it's hard to beat Death Flash. But Savage Harbor comes close. It has a similar plot and a similar vibe. 

It all begins with a very funny shootout on the beach and it wraps up with a nice revenge conclusion. There are some amusing beat-em-up scenes and a couple of good car chases/stunts thrown in as well. Fan favorites Frank Stallone and Chris Mitchum keep things afloat. Mitchum is his typical laconic self and Stallone has a lot of charisma, as always. 

In the film, his big dream in life is to own an avocado farm. That represents his desire to get away from all the craziness of the modern world and find some peace and solace. We can all relate to that. Also, in 1987 he was really ahead of his time. Now everyone eats guacamole and avocado toast. Joe Hardwell would be a millionaire today.

We also really enjoyed Karen Mayo-Chandler as Anne. She has a Caroline Munro-esque beauty and charm and she wears a lot of great outfits. She also appears in a noteworthy dream sequence. She was asked to do a lot over the course of the film and she acquitted herself well. Greta Blackburn shows up as a helpful prostitute. Both Mayo-Chandler and Blackburn were in Party Line (1988), also released by Vinegar Syndrome. It was nice to see Nicholas Worth (playing his usual heavy) and Lisa Loring on board, and both the director and producer (Monson and Mardi Rustam, respectively) played roles as well. It was truly a low-budget, all-hands-on-deck type of situation. It's all very entertaining so it works for us, the viewer.

It originally came out on VHS in the U.S. as Death Feud, but truly all the thanks and credit should go to the great Vinegar Syndrome for releasing Savage Harbor on Blu-Ray. The transfer is beautiful and now everyone can see it in all its HD glory. The disc includes a very honest and candid interview with Frank Stallone where he, in a very self-effacing and comic manner, derides the film and says how "bad" it is. Numerous times. You don't see that too often in DVD/Blu-Ray extras. It's a fun watch, much like the main film itself. If you pick up the Blu-Ray, be sure to check out the interview.

Featuring some catchy songs on the soundtrack, Savage Harbor (AKA Death Feud) is a delight for fans of these sorts of down n' dirty B-movies of the 80's. We give it a strong recommendation.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


TNT (1997)


(1997)- * *

Directed by: Robert Radler

Starring: Olivier Gruner, Randy Travis, Rebecca Staab, Bre Blair, Ken Olandt, Kane Hodder, Simon Rhee, Sam Jones, and Eric Roberts

Alex Cheval (Gruner) is a member of TNT, or the Tactical Neutralization Squad. They're a group of Iraq War vets who are sent around the world to deal with sensitive issues that require them to beat up and shoot people. When one of the ops goes horribly wrong, Alex walks away from the group. Now known as an average guy named Mark, he gets a job as an aerobics instructor in a small town in Colorado. He's buddies with the local sheriff, Jim (Travis), and is in a relationship with Jamie (Staab), who has a daughter from a previous marriage (Blair).

Unfortunately for Alex/Mark, his new, idyllic life is about to be shattered. His former compatriots in TNT now work for an evil mastermind named Robert Victor Russo (Roberts), and because Russo doesn't want any loose ends, he turns loose the former TNT boys on Alex. Alex is then put in the position where he has to take on his former comrades-in-arms, highly-trained elite soldiers who want him dead at all costs. They include, but are not limited to, Greel (Jones), Basu (Olandt), and Choi (Rhee). Will Alex Cheval be able to protect his new family and his new life from the assailants formerly known as TNT?

From looking at the cover for TNT, which features a solo, shirtless Gruner, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a Punchfighter. Surprisingly, it's actually not. It's more your standard 90's DTV actioner that starts off like one of those boring "war slog" movies, but transitions to a better scenario where the baddies are trying to get Gruner as he lives his suburban life. 

Sure, there's a certain moment that's highly reminiscent of The Specialist (1994), but there's one thing TNT has that The Specialist does not have: Randy Travis. It was an inspired casting choice, and his speaking voice is as comforting and soothing as his singing voice. Because TNT features a very Radical Jack-esque barfight, we're graced with the presence of a country singer, and it features a former elite soldier trying to start a new life in suburbia, not to mention the similar overall feel, it was hard not to make comparisons to 'Jack.

The barfight takes place at an establishment classily named Bullwinkle's. The daughter character in the movie mentions how they have a rockin' jukebox. One of the toughs Gruner beats up is Kane Hodder, who gets to show off a bit of humor, which is rare to see from him. On top of Bullwinkle's, the name of the gym where Alex works is The Penitentiary. So obviously the business owners in that particular small town have good senses of humor.

While there are plenty of B-Movie names on display, we wouldn't classify this as "Lone Tiger Effect" because TNT isn't bad, it's just a bit too bland for its own good. Eric Roberts, sporting a stylish beard, is just another cast member along with the rest. He doesn't get any particular time in the sun here.

Director Radler, known for Best of the Best (1989), Best of the Best II (1993), Showdown (1993), and The Substitute: Failure Is Not an Option (2001), delivers enough of the action goods so that TNT would find itself on video store shelves and in the cable listings. It doesn't exactly go "above and beyond the call of duty" to entertain us, but it does the minimum and features some of the silly moments we all love.

In the end, TNT is okay, all right, and fine, but it needed a bit more oomph to really make itself stand out from the pack.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out write-ups from our buddies, DTVC and The Video Vacuum!


Whatever It Takes (1998)


Whatever It Takes
(1998)- * * *

Directed by: Brady McKenzie 

Starring: Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Andrew "Dice" Clay, Michael Bailey Smith, and Fred "The Hammer" Williamson 

Neil DeMarco (Wilson) and Dave Menardi (Clay) are dedicated undercover officers on the L.A. beat. After their last mission goes wrong, Neil takes it hard and hits the bottle. But, thanks to Menardi's encouragement, and the urgency of the matter, DeMarco pulls himself together for their latest assignment. It finds them tackling one of the world's greatest evils: steroid use. 

Working with some DEA agents, our heroes must infiltrate the world of meatheads. The latest 'roids on the street are said to bulk you up three times faster than any product ever before. But it's not all gyms, fitness instructors, and muscleman contests for DeMarco and Menardi - the big boss of them all is evil gangster Paulie Salano (Williamson), and his hulking sidekick Kevin (Smith) is always ready to do his bidding. Will our heroes finally stop the flow of Human Growth Hormone once and for all?

Much like the color wheel, there are many gradations of stupid. We've tackled this subject many times before, but it always seems to keep cropping up again and again. Thankfully for any and all viewers of Whatever it Takes, it's a very fun, funny, ridiculous shade of stupid that will entertain you thoroughly.

With the opening credits over close-ups of muscles as people work out, then leading into a classic 'drug shipment gone wrong' scenario - in a warehouse, no less - you know Whatever it Takes is going to deliver the goods, in that mindlessly 90's sort of way that we all love and enjoy.

Andrew "Dice" Clay doesn't exactly look the part of a cop, which is all part of the fun. Also Andrew "Dice" Clay gets to shoot guns and kill people. If that's not worth the price of admission, what would be? Oddly, Nils Allen Stewart, here in a cameo, plays a guy named "Andrew Clay". Coincidence? Clay makes his wisecracking cop role seem completely effortless, and he even includes a bizarre rant about farmers, of all people, at the tail end of the movie, as if it were an outtake from one of his comedy specials. Of course, he's no stranger to contests, as he was in No Contest (1995), of course.

Matching The Diceman's charisma is Fred Williamson, here in a rare badguy role. He has a great speech in the garden at his home towards the end of the movie. His sidekick Kevin looks like a 'roided up Shep Smith.

As far as The Dragon is concerned, he's involved in a very silly barfight, and has two dialogue scenes that include people flexing in the background. As if what they were saying wasn't interesting enough, and every possible frame of film had to be filled with meatheads at all times. We get to see a fight between The Dragon and The Hammer, and clearly director Brady MacKenzie (in his one and only credit) must have realized this was something fans have wanted to see, so he doesn't skimp. The fight is long and dragged-out, in a good way.

Whatever it Takes was ahead of its time. Not only did this pre-date the "juicing" scandals of Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, it also beat The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All (1999), which had a steroid sub-plot, to the punch. Not to mention the James Franco comedy Whatever It Takes (2000). The existence of that film made it even trickier to procure this one from online retailers. Adding to that frustration, the tape was put out on the Pioneer label, which didn't get a lot of distribution here.

With our three favorite nicknames all together in one movie - The Dragon, The Diceman, and The Hammer, how could we refuse Whatever it Takes?

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


Sgt. Clarin: Bullet For Your Head (1990)

Sgt. Clarin: Bullet For Your Head
(1990)- * * *

Directed by: Willie Dado

Starring: Max Laurel 

"The rebel marine at large"

Danny Clarin (Laurel) is just your average toughguy who gets into your average barfight. After mopping the floor with his opponent, he's spotted by some Marine recruiters who happen to be in the bar that night and they ask him if he wants to become a Marine and he instantly says yes. Much like Lana Turner being spotted in Schwab's Drugstore. With notably more punching. After completing his grueling training, Clarin is awarded the opportunity to be a non-commissioned Marine. His first task is to take down the bandits - who call themselves rebels - who are terrorizing a local village.

His engagement with his beloved Mary is put on hold because of this new mission. But, because the bandits are backed by some powerful interests behind the scenes, this job is not going to be easy. Already tough as nails, Clarin gets really mad after the baddies kill his mother and brother. Now burning with revenge, he leads his band of men through a gauntlet of shooting, blowing-up, punching, and maybe some more shooting. While many, many people are trying, will Sgt. Clarin eventually end up with a bullet for his head?

Max Laurel finally gets a nice starring role after usually being the support guy here with Clarin. Laurel had a hell of a year in 1988, having appeared in The Last American Soldier, Last Platoon, Cop Game, and one of our favorites, Robowar, along with Clarin. He's great in the film, whether marrying his true love Mary, being subjected to the time-honored Prerequisite Torture, saving naked children from the firebombs of the baddies, or in his default position of shooting people, blowing up their huts, or punching them in the face. He comes off as likable and a solid hero. While lots of people can walk through a jungle and mow down baddies with a machine gun and/or a flamethrower, only Laurel can do it in cutoff jean shorts and still look like a badass.

By the time of Clarin's release in 1990, the exploding hut subgenre was changing somewhat after its 80's heyday. In this case, it's a mixed bag; on the one hand, the technical side of the blood effects had improved, leading to cool-looking machete slashes and even a decapitation or two.

On the other, director Willie Dado presumably had the ability to look at the films made by his predecessors and learn from their mistakes. He should have known not to make the film too long. At almost 100 minutes, the film is too long. That might seem like a reasonable running time for a "normal" movie, but in the case of something like this, with no real plot to speak of and many, many, many scenes of jungle-shooting, it seems overlong. Especially before the climax, it spins its wheels.

We get that Dado was trying to make his own version of Platoon (1986) - and, perhaps not coincidentally, got Laurel to star because he was in the aforementioned Last Platoon - but, try as he might, it's not Platoon. But we give him points for trying.

The whole thing has that "third world" vibe, and while it's sad to see how impoverished The Philippines is, it makes for fascinating and compelling viewing. It just overstays its welcome, that's all. The movie's not bad in any way, shape, or form. But it seems like the sort of thing that would especially appeal to rural Asian audiences. 

For better or worse, it seems like Americans and Europeans expect something a little bit different in their film viewing. Perhaps that's why Clarin has had almost no release history. Outside of its initial Philippines run and a belated 1994 Japanese VHS release, it seems very few people - and almost no Westerners - have been able to track down this quasi-lost film until the advent of YouTube. For that reason alone, it's certainly worth a watch.

We're lucky now to be able to see this piece of action film history. While overlong and plotless, exploding-hut aficionados will likely love it and Laurel's performance is a gem. The positives outweigh the negatives this time around, so we'll go aHEAD and recommend it.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty