Plucked at random from a huge pile of old VHS tapes, I feel I may have re-discovered a classic, of sorts. If you have any room in your heart for movies with covers like this – where an angry man, often with a headband, fires a large gun, while there’s baddies, a large vehicle and jungle in the background – then you will 100% love this. Made in the Philippines during that country’s domination of the B-movie filming industry (memorably chronicled in the documentary “Machete Maidens Unleashed”), it stars a couple of ISCFC favourites and manages to pack in more stuff into its 106 minutes than most trilogies.
The Strike Commandos are a special unit of the US Army, doing all the super-dangerous missions during the Vietnam war. Well, we’re told this more than shown it, because during a particularly tricky mission to…blow up a Vietcong military base, probably?…they’re all captured or killed, with the exception of one man, Mike Ransom (Reb Brown, “Space Mutiny”, “Yor – The Hunter From The Future”), who jumps into the river and manages to escape. I cheered as soon as I saw one of those giant wooden towers so beloved of rural military bases – has there ever been one of those in a movie that didn’t have either get blown up, have someone take a dive off it after getting shot, or both? I was rather surprised they set the unit up as these badasses only to have almost all of them not survive the first five minutes, but there you go. They even mention forming a new Strike Commando unit about halfway through, but that idea’s dropped like a hot potato.
Anyway, all this nonsense is obviously a trap organised by the US’s own Colonel Radek, as obvious a villain as I’ve ever seen, but the movie tries to sort of pretend it’s not him for a bit. Although, seriously, “Strike Commando” moves at such an insane pace that you’ve barely got time to ponder anyone’s allegiances before you’re already in another location, with a bunch more jungle-gunfire. There were legitimately three points in this movie where my friends and I checked the time, expecting it to be almost over, and the first time was before the halfway point! Ransom has some serious adventures, let me tell you. Actually, let me not tell you, because I kinda want you to track this down and watch it.
Okay, I’ll tell you about the first bit, because it’s loads of fun, and because it illustrates something of the oddity of this movie – made in the Far East by an Italian director with an American star. Ransom survives the first mission, and finds himself in a jungle village, which is full of local people who are also opposed to the Vietcong. They ask him to kill a soldier in cold blood, and he straight-up refuses, so they just do it – a smarter movie would have Ransom realise how war makes monsters of us all. But two minutes later he’s friends with everyone and agrees to lead them all to the American lines so they can be rescued! Luckily Ransom’s issue with killing in that particular instance isn’t encountered again in the rest of the movie, as he is a slaughtering machine! Oh, and the village also has one of my favourite “That Guy” actors, Luciano Pigozzi (billed in many movies as Alan Collins), as a friendly French fella. There’s a kid who wants to know about Disneyland, there’s a woman who falls in love with him, every single cliché is trotted out.
So Ransom escapes the battlefield and goes back to the base a few times, but is sent back out by Radek, who conspires to have him killed out there. There’s some amazing set pieces (including a scene where Ransom is running across a paddy field to get to his helicopter, and the Vietcong keep firing rocket launchers and heavy artillery at him, but always 20 feet behind wherever he is, handily) and an absolute ton of cannon fodder. There’s also a plot of sorts, where Ransom is trying to prove Russian involvement in Vietnam, and Radek is…well, obviously a KGB agent and trying to hide that fact. The Russians are represented by two people – the gigantic Jakoda and the female Olga. I was trying to give Olga a personality, but she sadly doesn’t have one – Ransom kidnaps her to take her back to the US, and basically instantly she reverts from the presumably well-trained soldier to a pathetic simpering damsel in distress, unable to defend herself or hold a gun.
As “Strike Commando” rips through its plot, you might – if you were particularly uncharitable – notice one or two “homages” to more popular or well-known jungle-based action movies. It wanders through “Missing In Action”, “Rambo”, “Apocalypse Now” and no doubt dozens of others I’ve not been lucky enough to catch. Okay, it rips them off mercilessly, just in a weird and wonderful way.
What none of those movies have, though, is a lunatic leading man who spends more time screaming in incoherent rage than he does talking. Reb Brown, memorably mocked by “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, is firing with both barrels here, giving a performance which is crazy even by his standards. Anything remotely bad happens? He screams. Mild disappointment? He screams. Luckily, he appears to be the only person in the entire sub-continent who can shoot straight, as he takes on absolute legions of baddies and mows them down without so much as a second thought; while there are numerous people who not only don’t respond when he starts firing at them, but even those who do, and have a gun, and are extremely close when they start firing (there are lots of these people throughout) are still unable to hit our brave hero.
There’s a real cockfight caught on camera, a whole bunch of possibly innocent people getting blown up because they happen to be in the same building as the villain, a Russian calling someone “Americanski!” on multiple occasions, telling a dying child that ice cream grows on trees at Disneyland, grenades being used for every problem, one of the weirdest, worst-shot, dumbest-looking final fights ever, and I’ve still barely scratched the surface of the magnificence that is “Strike Commando”. We have director Bruno Mattei to partially thank for this, previously seen by the ISCFC as director of the abysmal “Hell Of The Living Dead”; but we’ve got genuine bad movie royalty here, with writer Claudio Fragasso (who also wrote “Hell…”). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, “Strike Commando” was written by the same man who gave the world “Troll 2”.
Now, as I hope you’ve picked up, under no circumstances do I want you to think this is a good film. What it is, though, is a very entertaining one, much like the wonderful “Troll 2”. It has enough plot for three movies, but there’s still filler, weird little segments where it’s just a dull conversation in a room, as if they needed to save money that day. It has a range of bonkers central performances. It never met a cliché it didn’t like. I can’t praise it highly enough, but, full disclosure: the other two members of this week’s Awesome Movie Monday, both sensible fellows with a fine taste in movies, thought it was terrible.
Rating: thumbs up