Monday, 6 July 2009

Strike Commando (1987)


It's the final days of the Vietnam war. Public sentiment has turned against the government and the troops are weary and demoralised. In the fierce battle against Communism, the armed forces must turn to one man, the most highly-trained, unstoppable killing machine the American Army has ever produced... Reb Brown. Yes, the man who battled dinosaurs and robots in Yor: The Hunter From the Future, werewolves in Howling II and the Red Skull in Captain America is facing his most sneaky and dangerous foe yet... Charlie. But who to bring this epic tale of bravery, heroism and explosions to the silver screen? Clyde Anderson and Vincent Dawn? You can't fool me with your crazy pseudonyms, why it's none other than writer/director combo Claudio Fragasso and Bruno Mattei, bursting into the Vietnam-war genre with the force of an exploding straw hut.

The movie starts with the three-man Strike Commando team infiltrating a military base. Mattei shows his usual cultural sensitivity right off the bat by having the only black man on the unit talk about "stealing watermelons in Alabama" shortly before being shot. Of course the mission goes tits up and Colonel Radek (Christopher Connolly) activates the detonator early (according to the authentic Vietnam-War-era Casio digital wristwatch) despite the fact that their men are still on the base. Mike Ransom (Reb Brown) narrowly survives the explosion by leaping away in slow motion while screaming.

Ransom drifts down river until he is picked up by group of Vietnamese villagers in white-face (for some reason). Luciano Pigozzi (Pag from Yor) also appears as a French missionary, and he tells Ransom of two Russian commanders helping the Viet Cong, a bald muscleman named Jakoda and some woman who I'm not sure is even named. Ransom agrees take the villagers to a neighbouring village so they can be evacuated and along the way he befriends a native boy named Lao. Lao desperately wants to get to Disneyland and Ransom gives him a bizarre and highly inaccurate description, where popcorn and ice cream grow on trees and genies in magic lamps grant you wishes. Holy shit, that kid's going to be really disappointed when he finally gets there and finds nothing but rude German tourists, long lines and overpriced merchandise.

Ransom fights his way through enemy lines with knives, machine gun fire and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of hand grenades. Even Lao does his patriotic duty, slaughtering Viet Cong forces by the dozen. Does it end with Ransom running awkwardly through a rice paddy as mortars explode all around him? You'd better believe it! Once he's back in civilisation it's decided that they'll send him back behind enemy lines again to gather proof of Russian involvement, and Ransom is such a patriot he can't wait to get back out there and kill some Reds!

By the time he gets back to the villagers they've all been wiped out by Charlie but he arrives just in time to say goodbye to Lao. It's here that the film reaches it's emotional crescendo, with Ransom giving another tearful and nonsensical description of Disneyland, adding cotton candy mountains and swimming pools filled chocolate milk to the popcorn trees and wish-granting genies. Once the boy dies Ransom cradles him in his arms and screams the villain's name to the heavens... "Jakoodaaaa!!" There's your Oscar clip, right there.

Ransom heads to the enemy base for revenge and employs his usual tactic of spraying everything wildly with an M60 while screaming. Unfortunately it's a trap and Ransom is dumped in a bamboo cage with another POW and repeatedly tortured by Jakoda and his men. Reb Brown gets another opportunity to demonstrate his acting chops as yet another comrade-in-arms dies in his arms, and eventually they try to force him to broadcast anti-American propaganda over the radio (which for some reason they play over loudspeakers in American army bases). Our man Ransom is having none of it. He stages a brave escape and takes the female Russian commander hostage.

Ransom fights his way to the extraction point, taking down half a dozen Viet Cong with every burst of machine gun fire or hand grenade. It's not all that surprising that by the end of it, when a Viet Cong leaps out of the bushes, he exclaims "Jesus! You scared the shit out of me" and clobbers him with his rifle butt, all with the tension and urgency of a man squashing a bug. Of course the Russian commander falls for his American charms, but their love doesn't last long. It turns out that Radek is a filthy Commie traitor (I think it's safe to assume that anyone named Colonel Radek is evil) and when the two of them reach the extraction point he orders the helicopter gunner to open fire on them both, killing her.

Ransom escapes and takes off his shirt so he can blow up a Viet Cong riverboat, crawling back to shore just in time for a shirtless, greased-up fistfight with Jakoda. Mattei pulls out all the stops... punches that miss their mark by almost a meter, nose pulling, multiple nut kicks and an incredible charging head-butt that leaves them both battered and bruised. Ransom ends the fight by punching Jakoda so hard he falls off a waterfall that is clearly nowhere near where they were fighting. Awesome!

By the time Ransom gets back to Saigon to face Radek it's the last days of the war and things are looking grim. He kicks in the door of the base and starts spraying the place with machine gun fire (while screaming), but it seems that the traitorous Colonek Radek has escaped and gone into hiding. Ransom vows to track him down if it's the last thing he does. Like he says, "Dirty dog's gotta pay!"

We now leap ahead to present day Manila, which is lucky because that was when/where the movie was being shot. It's seems the thirst for revenge has kept everyone looking as youthful as ever and he meets up with his former commander at a cock fight where he obtains information about Radek's whereabouts. With his M60 and his trusty hand grenades (I wonder how he got those through airport security) he busts into Radek's headquarters and aimlessly sprays machine gun fire as henchman after henchman leap into his hail of bullets. With a high-pitched scream of "Aaaaahh! Die! Die!" he blows Radek into pieces with his grenade launcher.

Just when you think Ransom's well-deserved rampage is over, Jakoda jumps out of the bushes with a new set of metal chompers. Ransom shoves a grenade in his mouth, and Jakoda shouts one last "Americaaaanskiii!!" as his torso is turned into a fine red mist. Ransom catches his set of metal teeth and quips "These Russian dentists make some pretty good dentures" if that can indeed be called a "quip". As he walks into the sunset he narrates a strangely colloquial disclaimer about how any resemblance to persons living or dead is "purely accidental... yeah, very accidental, like one in a million, maybe." Especially Rambo, I bet Mattei hadn't even seen it when he made this film. Purely a coincidence, guys.

Whether it's firing a machine gun in slow-motion while screaming, engaging in a fist-fight while screaming or leaping away from a fiery explosion while screaming, Reb Brown proves he has the chops to be leading man material, so long as it involves screaming. Mattei, meanwhile, checks all the Vietnam war movie cliche boxes and then some. Especially the one about firing a machine gun in slow motion while screaming. He checks the fuck out of that one. And the battle wasn't over either, because the next year he come back for a second tour of duty when he made (along with four other films) Strike Commando 2.

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