The ISCFC’s journey through the movies of the Prior brothers continues with director David’s second, and it’s a puzzler. I will have to give away the twist, as otherwise this would be a very short review (it does happen fairly early on, too), so if you’re interested in watching it, I’ll post the link to the full movie on Youtube below these very words right here so you can check it out for yourself.
Trapped in a POW camp in Vietnam are a bunch of soldiers – most notably McKenna (Fritz Matthews) and Mitchell (Ted Prior). The scenery is nothing at all like Vietnam, and the camp is tiny and cheap-looking, but I laughed this off as just the miniscule budget that Prior was working with. Little did I know! There’s a “hot box” made out of corrugated iron, and the head of the camp, Major Ling, along with collaborator Colonel Crawford, are really pumping McKenna for information. McKenna seems like he’s losing his mind, and will give up the secrets the Vietcong are asking for, when he sees a chance to escape, kills a guard and hightails it into the woods.
This is maybe the first half-hour of the movie, and while it’s not original, it’s kind of okay. My interest was definitely held. But then…it turns out the entire thing is some sort of “survivalist-type military camp” and, one would assume, all the men have paid to be there! Mitchell breaks character to demand the Colonel answer for his excessive treatment of McKenna, and suddenly a lot of questions come up. Did McKenna pay for the entire thing himself? Why? How long were they there, as presumably McKenna didn’t lose his mind on day one? Why did everyone maintain character at every second, even when they can see they’re about to have a huge problem? What sort of crazy business model is this?
The rest of the movie is a rough approximation of “First Blood”, just with one good guy (Mitchell) on the other side too. McKenna runs into some locals, and has some vivid dreams where his friends are dead and he’s unable to help them. There’s a weird reference to George Lucas – one of the other soldiers is named Lucas, and when he gives his name, rank and number, it’s got 1138 in there (Lucas’ first movie was “THX-1138”, and there’s been 1138 references in all the old Star Wars movies) – and a helicopter chase which, despite being well-filmed from a technical perspective, goes on for way too long and is completely pointless.
So much of this is skating round the central issue of not really knowing why it’s there. Unless I missed a crucial line of dialogue, the existence of this camp makes absolutely no sense whatsoever – a largely similar plot, just one that bothers to be remotely logical, would be used to far greater effect in “Deadly Prey”, which the Priors would make with most of the same cast a few years later. One of McKenna’s “flashbacks” involves Crawford killing his wife and kid, but whether this is guilt over something he did himself, just a fantasy or literal reality is never commented on by any character or the movie itself. This somewhat surrealistic take on action movie tropes leads me to believe Prior still had no idea what he was doing, but it didn’t fit quite as well as the oddity of his first movie, “Sledgehammer”.
One thing that Prior lucked into was having a decent leading man in his back pocket. Ted Prior, honestly, deserved a better career than he had, as he’s got a great look and can actually sell a scene pretty well. Co-star Fritz Matthews, whose entire career was five or so Prior movies, is the same, a solid actor with a decent look. There’s not a weak performance among them, really, and there’s even a small part for Simon Rhee – aka the bad guy from the first “Best Of The Best” and one of the UniSols in the first “Universal Soldier”. I’d have enjoyed seeing Ted in something where he got to stretch his wings a little, but if they were both happy with the arrangement, who am I to complain?
I think this can safely be disregarded as minor work from the brothers, and unless you’re like me and have some sort of compulsion, skip from “Sledgehammer” maybe straight to “Killer Workout”. It’s just…boring? I mean, you get a fun decapitation and a few cool scenes, but you also get a ten-minute helicopter chase with no payoff and a plot which is bonkers (just not in a good way).
Rating: thumbs down