Iron Thunder (1988)- * * *
Aka: Contemporary Gladiator
Directed by: Anthony Elmore
Starring: Anthony "Amp" Elmore and George M. Young
Iron Thunder tells the tale of Anthony "Amp" Elmore's journey from wide-eyed Shotokan Karate student - where his sensei (Dorsey) tells him to punch walls and floors and take cold showers - to the top of his profession as a kickboxer. His buddy Kingfish (Young) becomes his manager, and despite all the pressure to become a traditional boxer, Amp perseveres in the rough and tumble world of kickboxing. He eventually lands a sponsorship from Coors beer and works his way up the ranks. But will he hit the wall when faced with his toughest opponent yet? Elmore really took control of this presentation of his life story; he's the writer, producer, director, and star, and also he sings on the soundtrack (and dances). Is there anything Anthony "Amp" Elmore can't do?
In a typical kickboxing movie, the hero's manager doesn't get into the center of the ring before the match and sing the ENTIRE national anthem. But Iron Thunder isn't your typical kickboxing movie. This passion project by Mr. Elmore runs 67 minutes and has a lot of homemade charm. Sure, despite its brief running time, there are many extended kickboxing matches, but how could anyone dislike this movie? There are many funny, entertaining, and even endearing moments, and the many nonprofessional cast and crew members give it a lot of heart. It was Razor Sharpe before Razor Sharpe.
It all starts out during the Vietnam era - that's right, despite the film's limited resources, the first section of it is a period piece - and Amp's father disapproves of his kickboxing ways. But Amp follows his own path. Without so much as a title card reading "Present Day", we surmise there has been a leap forward in time solely because in the next scene, Amp's afro and Dashiki are now gone.
It's here we get the entrance of George M. Young as Kingfish. Young steals the movie, which isn't easy to do when Anthony "Amp" Elmore is the star. Young is genuinely funny, energetic, and charismatic as Kingfish. (Perhaps his name is meant to evoke a certain other boxing manager...Don Kingfish anybody?) It's truly a shame that Iron Thunder is his only screen credit. Hopefully he did stage plays or something, because he had the humor and screen presence to take his career quite far.
Iron Thunder is also filled with characters spouting hilariously unintelligible dialogue, funny yelling, and classic musical stings on the soundtrack. What's not to love? Now, this is important: do NOT confuse this movie with the awful Iron Thunder (1998) with Richard Hatch. That remains one of the worst movies we've seen on this site to date. Just one more nail in its coffin is its unoriginal title. Amp was there first! Sure, the original title was Contemporary Gladiator, but it came out on Xenon Home Video as Iron Thunder. In the golden year of 1989, no less. If you watch only one movie with the title Iron Thunder, make sure it's the one with Elmore.
After the end credits, it states: "COMING SOON: IRON THUNDER II". Sadly, this never materialized, but it shows the level of ambition at work here. Despite having not a lot to work with, not only did Elmore and his crew make a movie and get it into stores, but they planned a sequel! You've got to love their drive and determination.
In the end, while people more used to mainstream cinema might not appreciate its style, those of us out there who are fond of these underground classics will find a lot to love with Iron Thunder.
Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty