Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Cobra Mission (aka Operation Nam) (1986)

A fine example of the foreign policy that has
made America beloved around the world

The 1980s brought us a slew of revisionist Vietnam war flicks, painting our veterans as brave heroes fighting a war that the cowardly government just wouldn't let them win. Fabrizio De Angelis (as Larry Ludman) made a whole bunch of them, most notably the Thunder Warrior trilogy starring Mark Gregory (yes, Trash from Bronx Warriors!) as a disgruntled Native American/Vietnam vet. Kind of like Billy Jack meets Rambo only less awesome. Cobra Mission, also known as under the bizarrely generic title Operation Nam, is one of De Angelis' vetspoitation films, but it doesn't take the direction you might think.

When our hero Roger (Chris Connelly from Strike Commando) is introduced he is sitting on the couch playing video games, late for his own daughter's wedding, so immediately I knew that this is a guy I can relate to. Then during the wedding reception he loudly reminisces with his two Vietnam vet buddies Richard (Oliver Tobias) and James (John Steiner) about the "big, free-swinging titties" at Vietnamese whorehouses. If that's garden party conversation I'd love to hear his wedding speech, but unfortunately when his daughter complains about their behaviour they skip out on her wedding and hit the local watering hole. Naturally, one of them punches out an old man after he starts sass-talking about Vietnam vets. Ladies and gentlemen, our heroes!

Still, it's understandable that they'd be a little grouchy. Despite the best efforts of Sly Stallone, Chuck Norris and Gene Hackman, it seems there are still a few missing POWs back in-country, ten years after the fact. With the government turning it's back on them, our trio of disgruntled vets decide they might as well be the ones to bring our boys home. Screw military support, intelligence, equipment or a plan of any kind. Those are for pussies. However, before they get back to the jungle and fight toe-to-toe with Charlie, they've got to pad the run time by busting out a parade of Italian B-movie regulars.

Firstly they decide to talk it over with their former CO Major Morris. Instead they find Colonel Mortimer (Gordon Mitchell from Endgame, playing pretty much the same guy) who reveals that Major Morris has been drummed out of the armed forces because of his obsession with the missing POWs. When they get to Morris' house we discover that he is none other than famed B-movie director Enzo G. Castellari. When they mention the POWs he pulls out a bunch of maps and charts, but I was more interested in the sweet tiger painting on the wall of his swinging pad. Stylin'!

Next they hit the Veteran's hospital to pick up Mark (Manfred Lehmann), the fourth member of their crew. He says that he's only pretending to be crazy so he can avoid taxes, get free meals and bone hot nurses. If you can get past the confinement and electroshock therapy, I guess it's a pretty sweet deal. You might doubt the veracity of his claim since he jumps at the chance to get back in action, but I guess this is one of those Catch 22's that everybody is always talking about.

Next stop, Thailand! Firstly they visit their former war buddy, who is the owner/dealer (he should learn to delegate) at a local casino. He doesn't come with them but he lets them win some cash to finance their mission. Then they meet up with Ennio Girolami (Bronx Warriors 2) playing an asshole who takes money from distraught parents of MIA soldiers, in this case Luciano Pigozzi (Yor: The Hunter From the Future), under the false pretense of mounting a rescue mission. Roger rightly calls him a "suckfish" who'd "fuck [his] mother for a dollar", beats the crap out of him and takes the money. I'm not sure if he returns it to the parents, but since he's mounting a rescue mission of his own you could argue that he's earned it.

Finally they meet up with Donald Pleasance, appearing as a French priest, who spends his time wandering around looking completely stoned, babbling about how they are doing God's work by slaughtering the Viet Cong. After he gives them a bunch of guns and helps guide them along the river and into the heart of darkness (tense stand-off with a Viet Cong riverboat ending in a bloody massacre? Check!) their mission has officially begun! Although "mission" probably isn't the right word as it implies some sort of planning or strategy. Basically their plan is to just wander around South-East Asia until they bump into somebody who knows something about the secret POW camps.

They hit up the nearest village, heroically issuing death threats and bravely shaking them down for supplies, and pretty soon they stumble across a POW being menaced by Viet Cong soldiers. They follow them back to camp and wait for the right time to strike, but unfortunately one of the officers reminds Richard of a guy who gave him a bareass naked whipping back when he was a POW, so he goes nuts and starts shooting everybody. Luckily these Viet Cong are pretty dumb so everything turns out okay. Roger stands outside a doorway and mows down dozens of troops as they rush outside like lemmings, while Mark pitches a grenade into a bunker window and shouts "You've got mail!". I believe a couple of straw huts explode, too. The POWs are reluctant to follow them for some reason, but eventually they all pile into a truck escape. James turns out to be the hero of the day, blowing up a (model) helicopter with his M16 and then, when faced with a roadblock, loading up the truck with live grenades and barrel rolling to safety, blowing them sky high. Then he flips them the bird, giving us the little something extra that Italian productions are known for.

Back at the village Roger chats to one of the POWs, who expresses a regret that he's never been to the big apple. Roger says that he'll "Take you to New York, introduce you to a couple of girls and fuck your brains out." I think he'd probably prefer the girls for that, but thanks for the offer, Rog. Meanwhile, Mark hits on a Vietnamese girl by comparing her to girl who was killed in a bombing run during the war. He really needs to work on his pick-up lines. She takes off her top (good), exposing her hideously scarred chest (bad), and shouts "American napalm!" before shooting him dead. Not sure if she's supposed to be the same girl Mark was talking about, but if so she's aged remarkably well, at least until Richard rushes in and shoots her.

Their journey back along the river is fraught with the usual gun violence, explosions, stabbings and profanity ("If you don't talk I'll cut your nuts off, fucker!"), all topped off with a delicious frosting of casual racism. A couple of POWs are killed, and eventually they are forced back onto land and ambushed by dozens of Viet Cong soldiers, tanks etc. Even with action movie physics on their side they are fucked, but luckily Colonel Mortimer shows up in a chopper to save them. He reveals that the government knew about the POWs the entire time, they've been kept there as part of a peace agreement. Roger and company can leave, but the POWs have to stay. It's a surprising bummer of an ending, with the sole surviving POW kneeling on the ground in despair as the helicopter flies away and dozens of Viet Cong close in. As someone sadly intones, "Forget it, man. It's Vietnam." making it the most ballsy and inappropriate Chinatown reference of all time.

But the nihilism doesn't end there! Following this scene are some title cards explaining the grim fates of our surviving heroes. Roger dies in an auto accident, James dies in a helicopter crash and Richard ends up in a drugged-out coma at a Veteran's mental hospital. Presumably a puppy was kicked and a kitten was put in a microwave too. Featuring brutal violence, racism, unlikable protagonists, suprisingly anti-American politics and unrelenting nihilism, Cobra Mission is the perfect film to pull out at your next 4th of July family barbecue. God Bless, America!

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