Welcome, dear reader, to a mini-season of Rowdy Roddy Piper / Billy Blanks reviews. Okay, they only made two movies together, but the trailers looked so awesome I decided they deserved a bit of an introduction. Piper was a beloved former pro wrestler who moved into acting and made a pretty decent job of it, going back and forth between wrestling and acting for the rest of his life (he died in 2015). Blanks is a martial artist who got his break when, hired as a bodyguard for one of the actors in a movie shot in the Philippines in 1988, he impressed the producers so much they wrote him in. Despite being a shockingly bad actor, like malfunctioning robot bad, he had a pretty decent B-movie career until inventing the Tae-Bo fitness system turned him into a pop-culture phenomenon of sorts – we’ve already covered his performances in “TC-2000”, “No Retreat, No Surrender 4”, “Bloodfist” and “China O’Brien 2”. But what are they like…together?
Things kick off nicely, with a drug deal in a cemetery interrupted on multiple fronts – one, by Piper, as tough cop Frank Rossi, along with a van full of cops with shotguns; and the other, by Blanks, as the imaginatively named Billy, who’s the brother of the drug dealer’s lieutenant’s girlfriend Tara. That make sense? Blanks is, of course, a beast, but he’s also stealthy, managing to remove his sister from the crime scene without anyone realising he or she were there. Well, no-one on the good guys’ side, anyway. Piper witnesses the main drug dealer (or who we think is the main guy) gut his partner with a knife, just for good measure. Blanks takes Tara home and they have a big row cos she loves Gantry (the dealer’s lieutenant, played by Damon D’Olivera, who’s told to kill her but refuses) and their discussion on his background leads us to an aside…
…Special Forces soldiers in the movies! Low-budget cinema is lousy with guys who went through the super-tough Special Forces training and then quit the Armed Forces ten minutes later to become security guards or cab drivers or just drifters. I can’t help but think Special Forces needs better screening for its potential trainees, as they must lose so many guys who don’t seem like they’ve retired or even soldiered for that many years. Plus, they all suck at taking orders and playing by the rules, two things that’d be pretty important for a soldier. Anyway, Billy is one, which is the thing that explains how amazing he is at martial arts.
Clearly, former SyFy Channel director Paul Ziller (“Metal Shifters”, “The Philadelphia Experiment”) and co-director Steve DiMarco (best known for TV) had seen “They Live” a few times, and wanted the kudos that classic got from its never-ending fight scene between the two stars. Frank and Billy go at it in a bar – Frank is there to see if he can get intel on the drug gang, Billy to retrieve his sister again – and it’s both not as long and nowhere near as good as its inspiration. Clash of styles, you see, even if it’s amazing to see Frank bust out some straight pro wrestling moves! But anyway, after holding guns on each other a few times and a bit more fighting, Piper comes round to Billy’s way of thinking, that way is murdering people rather than arresting them. When Tara disappears, Billy becomes a straight-up Punisher, slaughtering his way through the dealer’s front businesses.
Bobbie Phillips (“Murder One”, the “Chameleon” series of movies, and far too good for this trash) is the TV reporter who edits footage to help Frank out, and eventually becomes his love interest. She both causes and solves most of the problems – including doing an interview with Tara and Gantry, causing her to get kidnapped and tortured to give up their location. The dealers think they tipped off the cops, for some reason? If you’re wondering “why, in the middle of a gang war, would a TV station interview those two people?” then you’re on the same page as me.
The crime-boss is an ISCFC favourite, Nigel Bennett (“Earth: Final Conflict”, “Forever Knight”) as Kasagian. He’s just your generic bad guy in this, no real character or interests, and he’s actually pretty divorced from the main plot as there’s a top drug dealer who does all the fighting. And boy oh boy, is there a lot of fighting! Every now and again, it looks like some plot is going to break out, but then they realise Blanks is definitely not an actor but he can kick ass so they just have him doing a load more of that. My notes just have “so, fighting, eh?” about ten times. One of the scenes, where Kasajian sends some badass dudes round to kill Billy, is almost perfect, as they appear to be twins with the same cheesy perm, moustache and Zubaz pants. Let’s see if I can find a screenshot of those fine gentlemen.
Ultimately, it’s a solid B-movie, in the tradition of “Lethal Weapon” and “They Live” – if you’re going to borrow, might as well do it from the best. Piper is great, of course, Philips is excellent, Blanks is there, and while it’d have been cool to see Philips do more fighting (she’s an accomplished martial artist in her own right, not that you’d ever guess from watching this) there’s not tons of complaining to do here. You know what you’re going to get, and you get plenty of it.
Rating: thumbs up