Immediately establishing himself as a firm ISCFC favourite, this is the latest in our series of Bruno Mattei / Claudio Fragasso reviews. Mattei directed, Fragasso wrote, and together they were responsible for a range of the most delightful action movies of the 1980s. One might also say they weren’t the most original team, ripping off the most famous Hollywood releases of the time – even though I’m sure they were both just working to order, with some money man saying “give me a cross between Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Rambo, right now!” – but what they lacked in originality, they made up for in incompetence and crazy choices.
Perhaps it’s just watching a lot of B-movies from the last few years, with their miniscule budgets, threadbare plots and unbearable amateur acting, that makes me appreciate the golden age of VHS. Or perhaps I’m losing my mind. But there’s something about this partnership and this era that just keeps producing so-bad-it’s-good gold. Gold, I tell ya! Or maybe it’s the use of Richard Harris.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, glorious actor of stage and screen, Golden Globe and Grammy winner, Oscar nominee, who’d go on after this to a couple of “Harry Potter” movies, must have owed someone a favour, or was in the Philippines on a drinking binge and decided to make a few quid, is in this as hero Michael Ransom’s old commanding officer, Major Vic Jenkins. If you’re wondering why an Irishman would be an American’s commanding officer in any army, then…you’re thinking too much. Lower those expectations!
Sadly, Reb Brown does not return, and in his place we have Brent Huff. I don’t mean to brag, but I correctly guessed he was a model-turned-actor, being sort of blandly good looking while having a low level of charisma; this is near the beginning of his career, although we’ve met him before, in the gloriously awful “9 Deaths Of The Ninja”. If you ever wonder what actors who aren’t in blockbusters or art-house films do, check out his credits list for the last 15 years, and marvel at the number of movies you’ve never heard of. But enough of his recent stuff – here he’s in a hotel room somewhere in the Far East, “Apocalypse Now” style, and is visited by a friend to discuss the disappearance of their old CO, Jenkins.
What’s important to point out is that no-one seems to have any idea what side anyone else is on. Jenkins is CIA, and is being moved round like he’s in witness protection, although why this is happening is never brought up. Ransom beats up Jenkins’ “handler”, and when he goes to rescue him discovers that the people there are his friends…only, apparently coincidentally, a group of actual kidnappers chooses that moment to capture Jenkins, and does so. So he goes back to the guy whose ass he kicked, who then agrees to send him on a mission to rescue or buy Jenkins’ freedom, and gives him $20 million worth of diamonds to do it. I sort of thought this was the point he was actually going to get a new Strike Commando team, as the fact they have more than one member is brought up in passing a few times, but once again the title just refers to him.
Ransom’s journey is a fun one, starting with a boat journey where he appears to be alone, only for bad guys to emerge from literally every nook and cranny on the (pretty small) boat and try to kill him. How long were they there? If they wanted him dead that much, why not just blow the boat up? Or shoot him while he was still on the dock? Sorry, can’t get bogged down in the details. When he arrives in…wherever the hell it’s supposed to be, he quickly meets up with Rosanna Boom (!), the gorgeous and tough woman who runs the Moulin Rouge, a local filthy “bar”. You can tell she’s not your average lady (and certainly not your average Mattei lady, who are basically used as wallpaper) by the way when we meet her, she’s beating a burly local in a drinking contest. Although I don’t think she’s involved at the beginning, she knows exactly where all the villains are – in fact, no-one has the slightest trouble finding anyone else at any point in “Strike Commando 2”.
I haven’t mentioned the main kidnapper / torturer, Captain Kraminsky, a clone of the guy from “Raiders” (only Russian rather than a Nazi) who we’re introduced to killing someone on a train, with a garrotte, in full view of dozens of people! When he tortures Ransom later, it’s a straight lift from “Lethal Weapon”, released the year before this, so given he’s torturing Rambo it makes it a rare example of a single scene which rips off three different movies.
You will be shouting abuse at the screen on a number of occasions, and that’s the primary thing to take away. I’ll give you an example, but it’s one of dozens: near the end, Ransom is escaping from the compound driving a truck – Rosanna’s tied up in the back, and there’s a ton of bad guys too, who I guess were waiting in the truck on the off chance he’d use it to escape in. He can see what’s going on, so we know there’s a window, and we also know that guns fire through windows. So what do the villains do? Why, they climb out the back and over the top of the moving van to try and climb in through the passenger door and kill him! It’s a fun scene, but completely pointless. It’s also gunfire-drenched, not as much as “Robowar” (which might be the most bullet-heavy movie of all time), but everyone absolutely loves firing guns and does it as often as possible. The slow-mo M60-led destruction of the drug factory is hilariously OTT, and I’d like to think was done deliberately by Mattei, who’s shown the occasional stirrings of a sense of humour.
There’s even more fun to be had by trying to figure out why the twist happens. It’s screamingly obvious, but try and work backwards through all the stages it goes through and see if it makes any sense. The ransom diamonds are sort of central to what’s going on, but why would a gang of heroin producers go through all that to get them? Do they not make enough money from the drugs?
In terms of those little things I like to spot, which put a smile on your face during even a terrible film, there’s a wooden tower, beloved of the jungle military base, which first gets someone shot out of it, then blows up (the only two things that can happen to a wooden tower in a movie like this). I’ll settle for one or the other, but we get both!
And in terms of things I like to avoid, the two main ones are the sped up fight footage, which lends everything a vaguely Benny Hill-like quality; and the music, which genuinely sounds like it was recorded for a circus, or a kid’s comedy movie. I was hoping for some of that light music to play over a scene of drug use, or violent murder, but sadly they chose not to go for something actually funny and interesting. I really can’t say enough bad things about that music, though, and I’d love to know why they picked it. Like, did they hire a guy, and this is what he came up with, but they didn’t have the money to send him packing and hire someone decent? Or did they pick up the wrong public-domain music LP from the shop?
But we can’t end this review on a bad note! Richard Harris lends a weird gravitas to his scenes, although he’s clearly not trying all that hard; but the biggest surprise was Mary Stavin as Rosanna Boom. She’s a former Miss World (1977) and is far far better than fellow model-turned actor Brent Huff. Plenty of glorious overacting from the rest of the cast, too, and that’s a recipe for fun.
So it’s another enthusiastic recommendation from me. Mattei and Fragasso rule, in my book, and we’ll be covering more of their stuff soon.
Rating: thumbs up