Friday, 10 July 2009

Mannigan's Force (1988)

Don't you just love saying "Mannigan"?
Mannigan, Mannigan, Mannigan.

The place: the fictional Central American country of Cenagua (played by the Phillipines). The time: 1984 (played by 1988). In an opening scene familiar to most aficionados of war movies and/or gay porn, a group of hairy, muscular, armed men creep through the steamy jungle. The most hairy, muscular and armed of them all is Jack Mannigan (George Nichols). He and his force (ie Mannigan's Force) are helping a rebel group mount an attack on an enemy encampment and they must be really good because there's over a dozen of them crouching in open sight no more than 20 meters from the base and they aren't even spotted.

Mannigan leads the attack, leaping into the fray while screaming and blasting away with his huge, overcompensatory gun. The ensuing attack is full of bloody, Sam-Peckinpah-esque slow motion kills and burning bodies leaping out of exploding guard towers. I counted at least 90 kills, and most of them can be attributed to Mannigan himself, who mows down soldier after hapless soldier with an M16 in in each hand. This is strictly a shooting gallery style affair, with enemy soldiers completely forgetting they are armed as they run into a hail of gunfire. Lots of stunts, exploding huts and and bloody squibs. It's a good sequence.

Victorious, they head back to the rebel village. His men celebrate while Mannigan has a heart-to-heart with some local girl he's boning, saying he can't take her with him because he's a free bird and this bird you cannot chay-ay-ange. The next morning the enemy conducts a brutal counter-attack on the village. It's pretty hardcore, with women and little kids getting riddled with bullets in slow motion. Jeez. Mannigan's Force (and his girl) manage to escape the village and eventually find their way back to civilisation.

NOTE: Here's where you should probably turn off the film, because it seriously blows it's load in that opening sequence.

Some time later back in Cenagua, some enemy forces capture a military convoy and take some US hostages. While your standard group of international politicians/businessmen huddle in a briefing room, a guy demonstrates that Mannigan is a "karate expert, vietnam vet, mercenary, all rolled into one". He even includes some handy visual aids; slides of Mannigan posing in a karate uniform, army greens etc. They are all impressed by Mannigan's big muscles and agree that he is the man for the job, so they send a group of armed men to ambush him at home. You might consider that strange, figuring an official letter or polite phone call might be more appropriate, but tough guys like Mannigan and I, the only language we understand is violence. If the conversion doesn't start with a sweaty fist fight and a gunpoint confrontation, then we're just not going to take you seriously.

They offer Mannigan a million dollars, so he reluctantly agrees to the mission and puts out a coded newspaper ad to rally his force. All of his old buddies show up to lend a hand and there's a new guy too, a kung fu expert named Hang. Mannigan is unsure of him at first because he's one of the few men without any facial hair. Seriously, they are all sporting Magnum P.I. regulars. I would have called them Mannigan's Moustache Rangers.

Once they are back in-country they meet their local contact and formulate a plan of attack, but things aren't as simple as they seem. Turns out their chief employer is actually in league with the Cenaguan military forces, and he is using Mannigan's suicide mission as a decoy to placate his fellow colleagues while he trades arms and drugs with the Cenaguan General. Or something, I don't know. There were big chunks of dialogue that were in Spanish and the DVD didn't have any English subtitles (had burnt-in Japanese ones, though). I could tell that the Cenaguan General spoke Spanish phoenetically, which really isn't what you want in a military leader.

Mannigan meets up with his old girl (the only female character in the whole film I think), but she turns out to be a traitor working for the General. In 80s action films, one should maintain a healthy distrust of anything with a vagina. When they finally storm the base about a hundred of the General's soldiers appear out of hiding and I was all geared up for everyone to go out in a Wild Bunch style mass slaughter. Instead Mannigan's girl turns out to be a double agent for Mannigan's Force, taking the General hostage and helping them escape without a single shot fired. Total cinematic blueballs.

During the escape the General reveals that there aren't any hostages and that Mannigan's employer has double-crossed him, so Mannigan drives to the airstrip to confront his employer and plays a game of poorly-edited chicken with his jet. Mannigan barrel rolls to safety just in time to avoid the huge explosion, and then the film immediately ends. We don't find out how he manages to escape the General or his men. There isn't even a scene with Mannigan and his buds lounging by the pool after a job well done. Weak sauce.

The director is some dude named John Ryan Grace who left no corner uncut and spared every expense. The lighting is terrible and the acting is purely amateur hour, especially Mannigan who's displays of table-thumping anger are kind of embarassing. After the brilliant opening I thought I had discovered a lost gem of cheapie war films, but it's probably the worst case of premature ejaculation that I've ever seen. Nothing else in the film comes even a tenth of the way to matching that first action sequence. It's nice of them to put the best bits at the beginning so you don't have to fast forward, but I wish I'd known beforehand so I could have stopped watching about 15 minutes in.

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