C.A.T. Squad: Operation Python Wolf (1988)

After a first movie which I was quite surprised by my enjoyment level of, the three main cast members return, along with director William Friedkin, for a sequel. I have no idea of the genesis of this, whether they were two separate pilots for a TV series that never got made – one very dark and serious, the other a little lighter; a couple of TV movies that Friedkin made because he had nothing better going on that year; or the first six episodes of a TV show edited into two chunks and sold overseas. Your guess is as good as mine, and the internet is devoid of information.

(Talking of selling overseas, my version is the British VHS tape, and on the beginning of it has a music video from the Schwarzenegger movie “The Running Man”, by John Parr, the most 80s of all musicians. Parr is originally from about ten miles away from me, a small town called Worksop, and there’s every possibility my father hurled drunken abuse at him on several evenings, as he would have been in the working mens’ clubs Parr originally plied his trade in, at roughly the same time. If he did, I’d be even prouder of the old man).

The Counter Assault Tactical Squad – aka boss Doc Burkholder (Joe Cortese); John Sommers (Jack Youngblood, and it’s a little bit confusing as the two men look a lot alike); and Bud Raines (Steve James), are trying to stop the sale of plutonium to South Africa, back in the bad old days when apartheid was still a thing. Their boss doesn’t return, and neither does Doc’s love interest – in their place we get Nikki (Deborah Van Valkenburgh, who I just discover made her movie debut in “The Warriors”), who’s a solid member of the team as well as being John’s fiancee.

It’s the villains who you’ll be delighted about, if you’re anything like me that is. The South African baddie Bekker is played by English character actor Alan Scarfe (“Lethal Weapon 3”, tons of genre TV) and the American doing the fixing for the sales of plutonium is the late, great Miguel Ferrer (too many amazing credits to list, but my favourite will always be “Hot Shots 2”). He’s firmly in sleazy corporate scumbag territory here, and I love it.

When John and Nikki decide to get married, just before John goes on a rather poorly-explained mission, in an SR-71 Blackbird, for the Air Force Reserve, she might as well have a timer above her head with “hours left to live” on it. Poor woman! It’s quite curious, that the one plane with a member of CAT Squad on it, is shot down by a South African lunatic with a special laser who’s also the guy involved in the plutonium buying which CAT Squad are investigating – by odd, I mean “coincidence of bizarre pointlessness”.

Let’s talk Steve James for a moment. His agent must have negotiated some sweet scenes for him in this sequel – it looks like he can play trumpet, so he gets to play, and he talks jazz a little too. Although, curiously, he gets his ass kicked on several occasions, despite being a massive, ripped dude who we know can legitimately kick ass (the American Ninja movies). Seeing him lose to a pudgy, middle aged fella is disconcerting to say the least – let us hope that it’s not related to William Friedkin’s curious fetish of having a white guy shout the n-word in his movies.

It’s a fairly light movie, with people smiling and having fun, until it lurches into really dark territory in the last third. People are killed in curious ways, and when the CAT Squad finally get to South Africa, what they find is so completely bleak that it sort of wanders off the path of entertainment into sternly political territory (with it just being a couple of years before the end of apartheid, this feels both incredibly sad and the product of a much worst time). But then…it has a charmingly naïve view of international politics at other times, so it’s tough to wrap your head round. And the CAT Squad, with its prominent black member, teams up with the South African military at the end! I wonder how Steve James must have felt about that?

Add on a magnificent “Python Wolf” logo for, apparently, the US Air Force, and you’ve got yourself a movie. It’s tonally all over the place, which means it’s not quite as satisfying as part 1, and the ending is so dark, but absolves the real villains (the South African state) from any responsibility for their crimes, so you’re left confused more than upset or pleased the bad guys finally get theirs. There’s a fun set piece in a nuclear processing plant, but it’s too little, too late, really. It feels like the end of an episode of TV rather than a movie, which is perhaps what it originally was.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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