Operation Golden Phoenix (1994)


Operation Golden Phoenix
(1994)- * * *

Directed by: Jalal Merhi

Starring: Jalal Merhi, Loren Avedon, Karen Sheperd, Al Waxman, and James Hong 

It is said that whoever collects the sacred "Golden Phoenix" medallions of Lebanon will be led to a secret hiding place where riches will rain down upon them. That's why rivals Mark Assante (Merhi) and Ivan Jones (Avedon) are both after the medallions. It seems Ivan is the baddie in this situation because he's working with a diabolical mastermind named Chang (Hong). The quest for the medallions goes from Beirut to Toronto to Lebanon, where Princess Tara (Sheperd) comes into play as another treasure hunter. Naturally, there are plenty of fights and blow-ups that happen along the way. Who will find the treasure at the end of OPERATION GOLDEN PHOENIX?

Much like how Reese's Peanut Butter Cups were once touted as "Two Great Tastes that Taste Great Together!", now, finally, we have Jalal Merhi and Loren Avedon co-starring together as ultimate rivals in a battle for the ages. It has been said that - allegedly - these two men were difficult to work with, so it makes sense that they could only work together. Neither Merhi nor Avedon were ever the most likable action stars out there, and that doesn't change for Operation Golden Phoenix, but you may be surprised to know that we liked the film overall. Here's why. 

It's very, very silly. It's also, in the best, most complimentary sense, stupid. It attains the kind of silly-stupidness that makes it enjoyable to watch. The opening shootout scene, with all its shooting, blow-ups, and fights, is a remarkable cross between technically very well-done and impressively executed stunts and pyrotechnics, with amusing "facepalm" staging. 

Another movie highlight comes when Merhi has a fight on a bridge. Dressed in a denim button-down shirt and jeans, Merhi looks alarmingly like Jay Leno. This might not be notable in and of itself, but his opponent strongly resembles Freddie Mercury. If you've ever clamored for a Leno-Mercury brawl to end 'em all, your prayers have now been answered.

Which leads to perhaps one of the greatest strengths of OGP. (Don't worry, we're not going to ask if you're "down with" it). The scenery is really impressive in this movie. At times it's downright stunning. The filmmakers chose some really breathtaking locations to stage the fight scenes. The bridge setting was good, but it was just the beginning. The final fight takes place at what looks like an old archaeological site that would be perfect on an episode of Ancient Aliens. If memory serves, Baalbek has been mentioned on that show.

Other highlights include the scene where Assante (not Armand; in this case it's Mark) gets arrested and put in a holding tank. He's surrounded by toughs, and guess what happens? A fight breaks out, but what's funny is that the holding tank is notably (excessively?) large enough to accommodate a healthy brawl. 

Additionally, both of the main characters are exclusively called by their full names. It's always, "Ivan Jones did this" or "Ivan Jones did that". He's really just Ivan to us. Al Waxman, so memorable from The Hitman (1991), has a sort of thankless role here as Chief Gordon (of course his name is Chief Gordon). It also would have been nice to see more of Karen Sheperd in the film, but we're just happy she was involved.

Also when the main professor is kidnapped so he can translate what's on the medallions (using an old Apple computer, of course), for some unknown, unfathomable reason, this poor man is shirtless. He looks to be in roughly his 60's and resembles Uncle Leo from Seinfeld, but he's shirtless. No explanation is given. He spends the entire rest of the scene that way. It's one of the many mysteries of the Golden Phoenix, perhaps even more so than the medallions themselves.

All of what we've just described - and more - is all topped off by some extremely funny line readings, accents, grunts, yells, screams, dubbing, and other strange sounds from the participants involved. It keeps the movie afloat most of the time. Yes, it does slack a bit in the middle, but that happens a lot in these B-actioners. The final fight and the shirtless professor more than make up for it.

Surprisingly, OGP got a VHS release not on a small label, but on a major - MCA/Universal. Even with that, the VHS is not an easy one to come by. Perhaps the big company got cold feet with their release and had no faith in the film. Then they just didn't print that many copies for wide release. That seems to happen a lot. So with that in mind, if you ever see the tape anywhere, definitely pick it up.

We have to say that Operation Golden Phoenix was a pleasant surprise. We didn't go in expecting much, but we came out smiling. While Avedon and Merhi might not be your favorites, don't let that stop you from checking this movie out. You'll most likely enjoy it a lot.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Logan's War: Bound By Honor (1998)


Logan's War: Bound By Honor
(1998)- * * *

Directed by: Michael Preece

Starring: Chuck Norris, Eddie Cibrian, James Gammon, Joe Spano, and Jeff Kober

When Logan Fallon was just ten years old, his parents were killed by the evil Talgorno crime family. His dad was district attorney, and he was putting together the ultimate case against the mobster baddies, so they rubbed him out. While still a young tot, he vowed to kill them all. His uncle Jake (Chuck), who Logan was sent to live with, hears this vow and doesn't object in any way. Jake is a former Army Ranger who trains Logan in Martial Arts, weaponry, and other self-defense tactics.

When he comes of age, the fully mature Logan Fallon (Cibrian) also joins the Rangers because, as his Uncle Jake said, "It's just something I have to do". After winning various medals in combat, Logan decides it's time to execute the mission he's been waiting all these years to complete. He poses as a mob wannabe for the Talgornos and Sal Mercado (Kober) takes him under his wing. Now in the perfect position for revenge, Logan puts his plan in motion. Will he be BOUND BY HONOR to see it through?

Logan's War: Bound By Honor - not to be confused with Logan's Run or Gordon's War - is an entertaining TV movie featuring one of our favorite heroes, Chuckington H. Norris III. At least that sounds as aristocratic as his stature in the action universe would indicate. It must be said that one Eddie Cibrian is the main star here, not so much the Chuckster. But his role is an important one as the mentor to Logan.

He was a kickboxing and boxing champ in the Army, and that's helpful and all, but the kicker (no pun intended) arrives when he informs Logan that he has something called "Proximity Sense". This is an almost-supernatural sixth sense that allows him to sense danger before it happens. He sees red (literally) and then can plan his actions accordingly. That was one of the cooler aspects of Logan's War overall. Yes, it has a very "This is 1998 on CBS" look to it, but it's better than you might think it is. 

The first section of the film starts out in 1983 when Logan was just a kid, but then transitions (and what a transition; it's a movie highlight) into the adult Logan we all know and love. Proving Chuck Norris's eternal qualities, it appears Chuck doesn't age one bit in all those years. The man is truly timeless. 

His young charge, Cibrian, looks like the hybrid of people we've always wanted to see: Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Mario Lopez. Yes, he has qualities of both Zack Morris and A.C. Slater. Too bad he wasn't a student at Bayside High. Then Kelly wouldn't have to choose. He also has a certain Antonio Sabato Jr. air about him, and there are certain similarities to Wolverine (1996) we couldn't help but notice.

It all feels like an extended episode of Walker: Texas Ranger, or perhaps the short-lived spinoff Sons of Thunder. The plot is similar, the look is similar, it was shot in Texas, and Chuck even wears similar clothes. 

There are also notable comparisons that could be made to Chuck outing The Hitman (1991). Firstly, that the plot involves a hitman, but also the subplot involving Cibrian teaching the little boy with the abusive father how to fight. Perhaps piggybacking off of this, the original working title was The Hitman: Bound by Honor, and the title in Germany is Enter the Hitman. If you can imagine a telefilm version of The Hitman, perhaps this is it.

You know you're dealing with pure Americana here because there are several scenes that transition with an eagle in flight. The mobster scenes are amusing, and James Gammon as Chuck's brother-in-law Ben stands out, even amongst genre mainstays like Jeff Kober and Joe Spano swirling around him. It all comes to a winning climax that pushes the action envelope as much as possible for the TV of the day.

If you're looking to expand your Chuck Norris vocabulary, Logan's War: Bound by Honor is a good place to start. Of course, it helps if you're a fan of TV movies, but there's no reason to dismiss this particular Chuck outing. We certainly enjoyed it.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Tactical Assault (1998)


Tactical Assault
(1998)- * *

Directed by: Mark Griffiths 

Starring: Robert Patrick, Rutger Hauer, and Isabel Glasser

Col. Lee "Tiger" Banning (Patrick) and Captain John "Doc" Holiday (Hauer) are high-flying Air Force warriors, and they used to be buddies. Seemingly for no reason, Doc flips out - while in mid-flight - and begins harassing, taunting, and firing upon a harmless civilian airplane. Banning is forced to act and he shoots down Doc's plane so he can save all the innocents on board. 

Some time later, while on assignment in Hungary, Banning's actions come back to haunt him. Even though he did the right thing, he still feels bad and questions himself. His wife Jennifer (Glasser) is pregnant with their first child and things generally seem to be looking up for the Bannings. 

However, Doc - who is still a psycho nutjob - makes it his mission to ruin Banning's life. So he begins stalking them and doing all sorts of creepy things. Naturally, it all comes to a head in the ultimate confrontation between Doc and Banning. Which one will be the victim of a TACTICAL ASSAULT?

Tactical Assault is a cross between a Plane Slog and a "...From Hell" movie. You know, like a Babysitter from hell, Temp from hell, Crush from hell, Ex-Wife or Girlfriend from hell, or any person who generally stalks and harasses you because they're crazy. These sorts of movies were huge in the 90's and many were made for TV, specifically Lifetime. (Director Mark Griffiths made a lot of TV movies, so perhaps he was really in his wheelhouse here). If you read this site regularly, you can almost guess what we're about to say next. Well, here it goes: we didn't like the Plane Slog scenes, but we did like the From Hell scenes. 

The From Hell moments worked far better and were massively more entertaining than anything else on show in Tactical Assault, namely the Air Force lingo, people on the ground looking at screens and saying coordinates, and seemingly endless scenes of guys in the cockpits of their planes. Unless you're a plane fanatic, there's nothing much to sink your teeth into as far as those scenes go.

Things begin to fire on more cylinders (we won't say all of them) once the stalking/confrontations begin between Tiger and Doc. The ace up the movie's sleeve, of course, is the fact that they got two heavyweight actors - Patrick and Hauer, of course - to try to anchor the proceedings. It was nice to see two fan favorites like them face off, but in our opinion they could have jettisoned most of the Plane Slog stuff and just concentrated on the From Hell stuff. That would have raised the level of Tactical Assault considerably. 

Of course, Zero Tolerance (1994) remains our favorite Robert Patrick film, and it's hard to go from that to this. We kept wanting to see him shoot Mick Fleetwood in the head. Or something like that. While there are some blow-ups and some plane-shooting, this really concentrates more on the drama of the relationship between Banning and Doc. That's good for the actors, but things only really pick up around the 70-minute mark, when Rutger Hauer begins chasing Robert Patrick around in a stolen tank. Sorry, Doc and Banning, I should say.

The drama is underlined by the Jennifer character, who drops a lot of coffee in the film. There is more than one scene of her being so startled or afraid that she drops her coffee. She should have picked up a sword and stabbed Doc or something to that effect. Multiple coffee-drops just don't cut it anymore.

Director Griffiths is the mastermind behind not just Hardbodies (1984) but also Hardbodies 2 (1986). So since he's so fond of genre mash-ups such as Tactical Assault, how about a Plane Slog/80's Teen Sex Romp? Or perhaps a Romp/From Hell? The possibilities are endless. The whole "Air Force Captain From Hell" idea is not a bad one at all but there's a ton of waste in Tactical Assault. It should have been 90% From Hell and 10% Plane Slog. That would have helped a lot. Instead it's more like 70% Plane Slog and 30% From Hell. That balance should have been corrected.

So, while we appreciate that Griffiths was trying to do something different with the tired Plane Slog template, and that he got quality actors to do it with, in the end it just doesn't come together like it should. For that reason, we can't really recommend Tactical Assault.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

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


Dead-Bang (1989)


(1989)- * *1\2

Directed by: John Frankenheimer

Starring: Don Johnson, Penelope Ann Miller, William Forsythe, Mickey Jones, Tim Reid, Bob Balaban, and Frank Military 

Jerry Beck (Johnson) is a COTE (Cop On The Edge) in L.A. He's having a bad day. His ex-wife slapped him with a restraining order against his kids, his granny glasses broke so he has to tape them together, and an evil baddie named Robert "Bobby" Burns (Military) killed a cop and is now on the run. Beck follows his trail to Oklahoma City, and then to Boulder, Colorado. All the while, a straitlaced FBI agent named Arthur Kressler (Forsythe) is on the hunt as well. He doesn't approve of Beck's rogue ways. Beck and Kressler uncover a white supremacist plot as they track Burns and try to bring him to justice. Will Jerry Beck finally get his man? Will all the shooting end with a DEAD BANG?

Dead Bang is a cop drama with some action moments in a typical Hollywood style. Legendary director John Frankenheimer gives it that professional sheen, along with a standard mainstream running time of 100 minutes. In the great year of 1989, many people were vying to be the latest, hottest action star, and Don Johnson was no different. He did a lot of action on Miami Vice, so naturally he probably figured he could translate that to the big screen, because it seemed like everyone else was trying their hand at it at the time.

'Vice's final season was in '89, and Johnson filmed Dead Bang during the 1988 writers strike. It seemed his future as an action star was assured. He could finally join the ranks of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Seagal, Jeff Speakman, Edward Albert, Richard Norton, and Jay Roberts, Jr. Dead Bang is as good a showcase for his skills as any, but it seems he never officially became a tried-and-true, through-and-through action star. But that's not the fault of Johnson, Frankenheimer, or Dead Bang. 

If it was shorter and Johnson had beat up or shot more people, that would have improved things. Dead Bang as it stands is not in any way bad, but things could have been tightened up a bit. A strength the film has is its supporting cast. Bob Balaban as a nerdy parole officer, Tim Reid as the Colorado Chief, Mickey Jones as one of the baddies, the Michael Pare-lookalike Frank Military as Bobby Burns (not to be confused with Seagal's Professor Robert Burns), the aforementioned fan favorite Forsythe as the FBI agent, among others.

There was a sort of wasted opportunity with Linda, Penelope Ann Miller's character. She didn't get to do very much and was seemingly here and gone in a flash. It would have been nice to see the relationship between her and Beck develop, and apparently there is more Linda footage on the cutting room floor. Maybe one day we'll get an extended Dead Bang director's cut. Until then, all these supporting characters, and others besides, kind of come and go in a rather picaresque manner.

It all comes to a head with an engaging climax in a tunnel. There's a shootout with the baddies in the time-honored manner. This was one of the movie highlights. Dead Bang is shot very well and the acting is above average. Of note is that Jerry Beck is a real life LAPD Detective and he appeared on the show COPS. His name appears in the credits of Dead Bang several times. We don't know what he thinks of the movie, but he probably approves, because who wouldn't want to be portrayed by Don Johnson? 

In the end, Dead Bang is Hollywood action-drama that is executed well, and it's good. Not great, not awful, just good. There's nothing wrong with it, it's competent, but it doesn't rise to the level of awesome like it should have. John Frankenheimer would go on to make a better all-out action film with Ronin (1998). If you've seen that, then feel free to check out Dead Bang, as it does have a certain 1989 charm to it. But it's missing that one little extra ingredient to put it over the top.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty