Red Heat (1988)

 Red Heat
(1988)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Walter Hill

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Belushi, Ed O'Ross, Brion James, Gina Gershon, and Peter Boyle

A violent, drug-dealing baddie named Viktor Rostavili (O'Ross) made a huge mistake. He shot and killed the partner of Moscow policeman Ivan Danko (Arnold). After Viktor flees to Chicago to continue his evil ways by associating with a gang called The Cleanheads, Danko follows. The no-nonsense Danko has only one thing on his mind: bring Viktor back to Russia to face justice. When he's teamed up with wisecracking Chicago cop Art Ridzik (Belushi), their personalities don't exactly mesh...at first. As cultures cross, mutual respect and cooperation grows. But are Danko and Ridzik in over their heads? Will they work together to bring down the baddies? You probably already know the answer...it's time for some RED HEAT!

Red Heat is a time-tested winner and an obvious 80's buddy cop classic. It was a mainstay on cable and on VHS during the golden age of the video store. Even people who aren't as die-hard into action movies (if you'll pardon the turn of phrase) as we are have likely seen it. Because it's a mainstream Hollywood production, it has all the high-quality production values you would expect it to have. The writing and direction by the great Walter Hill is, of course, excellent. It's total entertainment and a blast to watch from start to finish.

Arnold as Ivan Danko pioneered the "non-Russian playing a Russian" that Dolph specialized in later on in his career with such outings as The Russian Specialist (2005) and The Killing Machine (2010), among others. Now it's almost commonplace to do that, but Arnold was first. Speaking of similarities between Arnold and Dolph, Ivan Danko has the same "Russian Haircut" that the similarly-named Ivan Drago has in Rocky IV. Apparently filmmakers thought that having a square, spiky brush cut said to the audience "I'm a stony, humorless Russian". 

Of course, there is a lot of humor in the film, and it all works quite well. It's classic Arnie all the way. He makes a lot of great faces and has a ton of amusing stone-faced looks that he gives throughout the proceedings, mainly at Belushi. Those reactions are worth the price of admission alone. The timing and the chemistry between Schwarzenegger and Belushi is fantastic. It's a crucial element in any buddy cop adventure and here everybody nails it.

Red Heat can stand tall in the canon of the buddy cop action comedy boom of the 80's. It delivers what you want in spades. Remember when Jay Leno and Pat Morita were "As different as Hot Dogs and Sushi"? Well, as fondly as we remember Collision Course (1989), Red Heat is even better. I know, hard to believe. In part because of the power of Hollywood and Walter Hill, not only does the film have a great look to it, but there are plenty of fine character actors to fill out the cast. 

Standouts include Gina Gershon as Cat, the dance instructor caught in the middle of all the mayhem (and yes, there is one dance instruction scene), Peter Boyle as the harried police captain, Donnelly (aren't they always harried?) - although it must be said he doesn't really yell at Danko and Ridzik all that much, so he just barely misses the label of WYC but in spirit he really is. Laurence Fishburne is a fellow cop, Sven-Ole Thorsen is a shirtless Russian, and Brion James is, what else, a baddie underling. We could go on and on, but it all adds up to a lot of color and interest for the viewer.

I know we're having a lot of fun here today, but I do think it's important to quickly pause and remember the cultural context. In 1988, relations between the then-Soviet Union and America were typically frosty. TV news often reported on what was going on behind the Iron Curtain, and it usually took on an ominous tone. However, in just a year or two, the Berlin Wall was going to fall and presumably a thawing of the relations was in the offing. So the zeitgeist was perfect for a film like Red Heat, which mirrored that geopolitical situation in its own way. Perhaps less successfully, so did a film like Russkies (1987).

Anyway, they don't make movies like this anymore, which is a real shame. At least we have our VHS tapes, DVDs, and Blu-Rays to preserve this golden time of filmmaking. Just recently, Red Heat was released on 4K, which, as of this writing, not all that many films have been. The fact that it was chosen for a 4K release says a lot. I think its legacy is assured for a long time to come.

Also, it was nice to see the original bus chase. As you may know, both Rangers (2000) and Running Red (1999) used recycled Red Heat footage in their "bus-chase" finales. As we said, the legacy lives on. Featuring some classic sax on the soundtrack as the finishing touch to this 80's classic, it's very, very easy to love Red Heat.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Fight Valley (2016)

 Fight Valley
(2016)- * * *

Directed by: Rob Hawk

Starring: Miesha Tate, Cris Cyborg, Chelsea Durkalec, Kari Kramer, Susie Celek, Cabrina Collesides and Erin O'Brien

On the mean streets of Camden, New Jersey ("the murder capital of America", as we're informed), there is an undisclosed location where girls go to fight. Naturally enough, it's called Fight Valley. It seems only the shady underground fight promoters and the fighters themselves know where it is. When one of the ladies, who is a bit more untrained than the other, more hardened fighters, enters Fight Valley, trouble follows. Tori Coro (Durkalec) finds Fight Valley...but never leaves. Soon thereafter, her sister Windsor (Celek) endeavors to find out what happened to her.

The problem: Windsor comes from an upper-middle class or possibly rich background, and she doesn't fit in at all with the dwellers of the ghettos of Camden. Despite their socioeconomic differences, Windsor ends up befriending the "Knockaround Girls" - Tori's friends Jabs (Tate), Duke (O'Brien), Yanni (Kramer), and Jamie (Collesides). When it becomes apparent that the evil, Tong Po or Ivan The Russian-style baddie is a frightening woman named Church (Cyborg), Windsor and all the others train their hearts out for a big, final showdown in Fight Valley. Who will emerge - if I may borrow a phrase from Tori Spelling (as I often do) - vicTORIous? You'll find out soon enough...

Yes, Fight Valley is a low-budget Punchfighter with non-professional actors. But it's got heart, and, dare we say, charm. We here at Comeuppance Reviews are incredibly impressed that this film was completed and released to the world. It's on Amazon Prime, DVD, cable, and presumably it will hit other formats such as Blu-Ray at some point in the future. It was clearly a labor of love and we respect that. To all the haters out there who are crying into their Tapout shirts and proclaiming this is "the worst movie ever!!!!!" we say: you try doing what the makers of Fight Valley did. How many movies have you made? Oh, zero? Okay. Come back when you've actually risked something, created something, and released something.

In the meantime, all of us non-haters can brush aside the negativity and see that the Fight Valley cast and crew were trying. That goes a long way with us. Sure, it's not perfect and it has its flaws, but we say that about big-budget Hollywood productions. We try to judge everything on a level playing field. Much like Fight Valley itself. Viewers should expect going in that you're not going to get Master Thespian-level acting, but is that why you're watching Fight Valley to begin with? Just about everyone in the cast speaks with what you might call a 'flat affect', which we found endearing, not irritating. 

Compare that to Chokehold (2019), where the female fighters also had flat affects, but were also there to fight, primarily. Not win Oscars, Tonys, and Blockbuster Awards. Anyway, we wouldn't classify Fight Valley as a "Homie Movie", but it's THIS close. There are some strong Homie Movie influences on the production overall. Also, there's a good, old-fashioned training sequence towards the end that we enjoyed. Because it's 2016, the influence of Crossfit and moving tires around seems to have crept into the training montages. Call it a sign of the times.

The plot is your typical Punchfighting plot, and there's plenty of punching to go around. During the credits, in a little box on the side of the screen, we see behind-the-scenes stills that were taken during the production. It was endearing to see that. It's hard to beat the during-the-credits-and-in-a-box sequence of Attrition (2018), but, to be fair, no one could.

Fans of the real UFC fighters involved or anyone who enjoys female fight films will most likely be the target audience for Fight Valley.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Hell Hunters (1987)

Hell Hunters
(1987)- * * *

Directed by: Ernest Ritter Von Theumer

Starring: George Lazenby, Maud Adams, Russ McCubbin, William Berger, Eduardo Conde, Neila Cozza, Romulo Arantes, Candice Daly, and Stewart Granger

A woman named Amanda (Adams) is a Nazi hunter. She's hot on the trail of Martin Hoffmann (Granger), who, like a lot of his baddie brethren, absconded to Brazil. While in hiding on the outskirts of Rio, Hoffmann develops a serum (why are they always developing serums?) which would turn the world into faithful fascist followers. Amanda's daughter Ally (Daly) is attending USC nursing school and isn't at all familiar with her mom's Nazi-hunting ways. But, due to an unfortunate turn of events involving not just her mom but also her dad, Karl (Berger), Ally is forced to travel to Brazil to root out the Nazis herself.

Well, she does have help in the form of a hunk named Tonio (Arantes), a babe named Nelia (Cozza), and a Jack S. Daniels-style wild n' crazy guy named Nelson "Kong" Webster (McCubbin). This ragtag team of heroes will not only have to face off against Hoffmann, but also his goons, including lead goon Heinrich (Lazenby) and sub-goon El Pasado (Conde). The South American jungles can sure be hell...but will that stop the plucky HELL HUNTERS from completing their mission? Find out today...

Hell Hunters gets off to a bit of a slow start but gradually picks up speed. It slowly accelerates until its explosive conclusion, and, in the end, is a satisfying viewing experience. It's more or less an Exploding Hutter, but the Nazi hunting angle gives it a bit of a difference. The main thing that sets Hell Hunters apart from its jungle-dwelling cohorts of the day are the characters. Not only the prominent ones, but the little ones as well. There's always something wacky or at the very least mildly interesting going on. The supporting players help a lot, and the main cast puts it over the top. 

Stewart Granger is excellent as the main Nazi baddie. He puts in a charismatic, fun performance that only someone with a long career and a lot of experience could refine to that sort of point. Incidentally, Hoffmann has a framed picture of Hitler on his wall and a swastika flag in the dining room. Even his home decor screams "Man, I'm a devoted Nazi". He screens films of Nazi rallies in his den for himself and his buddies to watch as they smoke cigars, drink Cognac (presumably) and reminisce grandly about "the good old days". We haven't seen a Nazi this dedicated since John Savage had an evil glove drawer in Red Scorpion 2 (1994).

The assassin El Pasado is a real gem as well. He has one of the thickest unibrows we've ever seen, dresses in a white suit, and is heavily balding, except for a luxurious ponytail. Hey, it may look funny to you - and you'd be right - but you wouldn't want to see him coming for you in a dark alley at night. Thankfully, on the side of the good guys we have Kong. If anyone could possibly steal the movie from Granger, it's McCubbin. He's really a guy you'd want on your side. You can tell he likes to have a good time, and it's infectious.

The leading lady isn't Maud Adams as advertised, it's really Candice Daly from Cop Game (1988). Perhaps the people advertising the film were trying to play up the James Bond connection insofar as Adams and Lazenby are concerned. Hell Hunters isn't particularly Bond-esque but it does stand on its own two feet as an enjoyable jungle/Exploding Hutter. 

When the very first line of the movie is something along the lines of "no more mistakes!" - which typically we have to wait until about mid-movie to hear - and ends with a triumphant Exploding Helicopter, you know Hell Hunters is worth checking out.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Black Thunder (1998)


Black Thunder
(1998)- * *

Directed by: Rick Jacobson 

Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Richard Norton, Gary Hudson, Frederic Forrest, Catherine Bell, and Marcus Aurelius

A man named Vince Conners (Dudikoff) is "The Best". Because he's a test pilot (and also the best), he is tasked with retrieving a stolen plane from the evil Libyans. But it's not just any plane. This one is so stealthy, it can actually disappear from the human eye. It's called the Nova (which is Spanish for "it doesn't go", which is why Chevy didn't sell many in Spanish-language countries). So he ventures into enemy territory with his partner Jannick (Hudson). When Jannick is captured, held hostage, and tortured, Vince has to go it alone. He eventually has to face his ultimate nemesis: "Ratch" Ratcher (Norton). Will Admiral Pendleton (Forrest) ever get his precious plane back? Why is there always an Admiral Pendleton? And what is the true meaning of BLACK THUNDER?

Well, here we go with another plane slog. Why did they keep making these? Why are there so damn many of them? Why are they all so similar and bland? Sure, they tried a couple times to spice up this mush with a bit of nudity, but it's not nearly enough. It was 1998, when DTV was in the doldrums. Director Jacobson worked a lot with Don "The Dragon" Wilson on numerous projects around this time for Corman. But when it came to Black Thunder - which is a title that would seem more at home for a 70's Blaxploitation film - and a meet-up with two of our favorite people, Dudikoff and Norton, it seems that Jacobson couldn't summon up the energy to give these two guys a platform they were worthy of. It's a shame and a missed opportunity for sure.

Once again, there is no character development so we as the audience can't possibly care about what's going on. Which isn't much of anything to begin with. Putting in endless scenes of snooze-inducing plane footage is not a substitute for good characterization, plotting, or anything else, really. Why they thought it would be remains a mystery. And not just for this particular slog. For all the countless others as well. 

Even Dudikoff's normally cool hair is tamed into something not as cool this time. His wardrobe suffers as well - he was given a bunch of puffy jackets and high-waisted pants that make him look fat. Why would anybody do that to Dudikoff? Was someone jealous of how cool he is so they tried to sabotage him? Well, it only ended up hurting us, the viewers of this muck.

There are a small handful of positives (man, we're really trying to be nice here): there are some decent shooting-and-blow-up scenes (which should have been at the beginning and not the end, so it doesn't seem like "too little too late"), the aforementioned nudity (it was Corman after all and that's in the contract), the 90's CD-ROM flight simulator stealth graphics (i.e. the "invisibility"), and there's a baddie named Stone that looks like a cross between Sinbad and Ice-T. Sin-T if you will. Or perhaps Icebad.

Because of the above-stated reasons, Black Thunder is, surprisingly, better than two other similar films we can name: Active Stealth (1999) and Air Rage (2001). Granted, that's not the highest bar you can aim to reach. Like many other Corman outings, he had the good sense to make this 85 minutes long. Any more than that would really be trying anyone's patience. It may not be the best thing we've ever seen, but at least it's the right running time. We'll give them points for that.

Needless to say, a confrontation between Dudikoff and Norton deserved a better stage than Black Thunder provides. A bit more behind-the-scenes effort could have raised this above the typical plane slog, but clearly the filmmakers couldn't be bothered. Consequently, the viewer doesn't have much of anything to grab on to, and it's ultimately condemned to eternal "shelf filler" status. We would say Black Thunder is for Dudikoff, Norton, or Frederic Forrest completists only.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, DTVC!


Phase IV (2002)


Phase IV
(2002)- * * *1\2

Directed by: Bryan Goeres

Starring: Dean Cain, Brian Bosworth, Stephen Coats, Richard Donat, Heather Mathieson, Hannah Sampson, 

"No more Pop Tarts!" - Kaitlyn and Simon Tate

Simon Tate (Cain) is a former Navy SEAL and football player who, at the age of 30, decides to enroll himself at New England University with the aim of getting a degree in journalism. But Simon Tate gets more than he bargained for when he accidentally stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens many people's lives. Noticing a pattern among the mysterious deaths of some students of NEU (which is not to be confused with the German Krautrock band of the same name), he reaches out to Dr. Ben Roanic (Coats) for some possible answers. However, it seems Roanic knows too much about the mysterious "Phases" that a company called Stroyker Pharmaceuticals desperately wants covered up - at all costs.

Enter a team of goons and thugs headed by the scary Steven Birnam (The Boz). They're more than willing to silence anyone when it comes to Phases II-IV. When Tate gets too close to the truth, and it involves Senators and Senatorial candidates, the head of Stroyker, Karl Dean (Donat) demands that Tate be eliminated. His goons then kidnap Tate's wife Carla (Mathieson) and his young daughter Kaitlyn (Sampson), which leads to the ultimate showdown. Will we ever discover what's so important about...PHASE IV?

Not to be confused with the killer ant movie of the same name from 1974, this particular Phase IV offers up its own brand of enjoyment. There's a lot to love about Phase IV. It somehow manages to combine extreme silliness with a plot that's actually really good. The conspiracy at issue here is genuinely involving, and the film overall makes some very valid points about society. We don't want to give too much away, of course, but let's just say there's some real meat on the bone here and it's not your run of the mill empty-headed action. The filmmakers have a point to make, and they make it well. 

On top of that, we get some really entertaining action sequences, and two fan favorites in Boz and Dean Cain. Phase IV really features the Dean Cain we all want to see. He's likable, he's beating people up, and he really gets in on the action. He doesn't pull any punches this time. He fires off some classic wisecracks as the icing on the cake. The idea that the former Navy SEAL is not your classic news reporter that we often see, but is a journalism student on the campus newspaper was an off-kilter choice that we really liked. The backyard fight with Cain and the goons was a movie highlight, but all the action scenes and blow-ups were fun to watch.

As soon as the film starts, we're immediately thrown into the action as our goons are chasing down a very agitated man. This sets the tone of action, conspiracy, and humor pitch-perfectly, and it doesn't deviate for the rest of the film's running time. Normally we'd balk at 100 minutes, but this time around it's painless because it's pretty well justified. In that opening scene we're "treated" to some CGI snow and water, and we thought "uh oh". But hang in there and you'll see some massive improvements from there on in. Why they thought they needed CGI snow in the beginning, but nowhere else, remains a mystery. Much like the mystery behind Phase IV itself. 

It seems worth noting that the gaffer on the film was a dude named Dan "Bran Muffin" Grady. He seems like a cool guy that you'd want as your pal. Maybe if we lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Phase IV was shot, he would be. I bet the people are friendly there.

While it may seem improbable, we really loved Phase IV. All the ingredients really came together this time around. As of this writing, it's on Amazon Prime, so feel free to go check it out.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty