I know we all want to end racism and fascism, but for too long we’ve been unable to think of a solution; thankfully, “Best Of The Best 3: No Turning Back” has provided us with one. When I spread its message, peace will reign and those dreadful ways of thinking will wither and die. The answer? Beat the chief racist in a fight.
The film spends the first 18 minutes establishing the town of Liberty, a small place with an exceptionally large Aryan Brotherhood-style organisation, its front being a Pastor (R Lee Ermey, playing a rare non-drill sergeant role) and its base a huge compound, with warehouses full of explosives and firearms and hundreds of shaven-headed recruits. Their first serious move is burning down a church and killing its black priest, after spraying racist graffiti on the side of the local Baptist school, and into this powder keg rides Tommy (star/producer/director Philip Rhee), because his sister lives there, and she’s married to the local Sheriff, Jack (Christopher McDonald, one of the great “That Guy” actors).
I’ll just let that sink in a moment. Low-hanging fruit first – his sister seems to have appeared out of nowhere, re: the previous movies; and his friends from them aren’t so much as mentioned. I also wondered why a movie series thus far about martial arts competition of one form or another suddenly turned into the most heavy-handed of all heavy-handed anti-racism dramas; it turns out the script was originally nothing to do with this series, and was supposed to star a black soldier, coming back from the Gulf. Philip Rhee read it, loved it and asked for a rewrite so it could star him, logic be damned.
So, it’s 18 minutes before we even meet Tommy, and past 30 minutes before he gets into his first fight. The film spends most of its time hammering home that racism is really, really bad, with the good people of the town “winning” a Town meeting after a stirring speech from the elderly black woman who drives the school bus; after that it descends into child kidnap, Tommy and Jack storming the compound on their own, and so on. That middle section, though. Boy oh boy is it unbearable. Tommy has a fight at the local funfair while dressed as a clown, which is actually quite funny as it’s played really seriously, with people wielding knives and kids looking frightened everywhere; oh, and the dog dies.
Gina Gershon is the local schoolteacher / underbaked love interest, and her lovely dog (who’s called Rosie, despite the visible penis) is shot by the Nazis when they break into her house looking for Tommy. BASTARDS!!! The only acceptable dog death in recent cinema is in “John Wick”, because it’s the plot driver, but here it’s just the result of this conversation. “Hey, Philip, I’m not sure the race-hate-spewing Nazis in this film are quite evil enough. Got any ideas about how we can really push them over the edge?” They do try and cheer you up after shooting the dog by showing her house full of glass tables, vases and flimsy bookcases, though, just to make sure you know someone is getting put through all those things by an angry ass-kicker in a few minutes.
Despite being the boss, R Lee Ermey isn’t the chief villain. He’s the acceptable face of Nazi extremism! The real villain is his deputy Donnie (Mark Rolston, another “That Guy”), and the final fight really indicates how little this movie has to do with its two prequels. Donnie is a mean-looking guy, but is a little out of shape and is a good 10 years older than Tommy, who’s also ripped and, y’know, a professional martial artist. So, in any sensible world, this fight would be over in seconds. “Best Of The Best 3” is not that world, though, and Tommy fights like a tired old boxer to drag it out for a few minutes before finally winning out. Sorry, spoilers, I guess? It would have been a bold choice if the racists won, though. While this is going on, there’s some pretty cool explosions and bus stunts going on too, if that’s your cup of tea.
Gina Gershon, who made this at about the same time as “Showgirls” and “Bound”, probably wishes she hadn’t, as fame was just round the corner for her. Rhee has regressed as an actor, and doesn’t suit this “man rides into town” sort of movie at all. But Rolston’s performance is magnificently unhinged, and the way he delivers speeches must be seen and heard to be believed. And it’s really got that deep, un-ironic emotion running through it, much like part 1. Rhee wants you to know just how poisonous hatred can be, and he wants to tell you a lot. A LOT. Even the between-scenes fades are brutally obvious – the spinning of a child’s toy transforms to that of a belt-fed machine gun.
Even after going on numerous anti-racist marches in my life, and being a proud member of Unite Against Fascism, this movie makes me feel like I’ve not done enough. It’s really tough to enjoy a movie this preachy, and even tougher to enjoy the third instalment of a martial arts franchise that doesn’t really have any martial arts in it.