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


Bloodfist 5: Human Target (1994)


“Bloodfist 4” was a pretty complicated thriller, with all sorts of different groups with different agendas fighting over Don “The Dragon” Wilson and that mysterious box of chocolates he found. Well, it seems that writer Rob Kerchner (parts 4-7 are credited to him) was interested in exploring similar themes, but how well did he do?

Don “The Dragon” Wilson is shot running away from persons unknown, and wakes up from a coma with no memories at all. As he’s sat in his room, “Candy” comes in claiming to be his wife, but then reveals she’s just a prostitute hired by a friend of his to “bust him out”. Or is she? Her pimp “Marcus” seems a little upset she’s got herself involved in this, but is he really a pimp? And what about Corey, the NSA boss who claims to be friends with him, and that he’s an NSA agent too?


It’s a film where identities are fairly fluid with multiple layers of deception, and while Don may never be a great actor, he’s surrounded by decent B-movie talent. “Candy” is Denice Duff, who did time with Full Moon Films in the “Subspecies” series; Don Stark (“That 70s Show”) is Corey; and “Marcus” is Steve James, who we loved in the “American Ninja” series. This was sadly his last movie – he was almost always a better fighter and actor than the people he was forced by a racist system to play sidekick to, and it’s a damn shame he died so young.

Much as part 3 felt like “The Shawshank Redemption” but was made 2 years before it, this has strong similarities with “The Long Kiss Goodnight”, and predates it by the same amount – well, it bears an even stronger resemblance to “The Bourne Identity” although the book and original movie has this beat by decades. Although those movies are better than this one, Don is a top-level fighter and handles the villains really well – his close-fighting style looks great on camera.

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I think this is the best of the series so far. Plot, fighting, action scenes, all are very strong for a B-movie such as this. Okay, I got a bit lost by the two suitcases, but they’re really just MacGuffins to get Wilson into contact with people he will almost inevitably need to fight. From a very ropey beginning, this series is turning into something rather decent.

Rating: thumbs up

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989)


When a main actor doesn’t come back for a continuation to their franchise, I always wonder exactly what happened. Did Dudikoff ask for too much money? Unlikely, as he’s back for part 4. Was he busy? I doubt it. My best bet is, Golan went to Globus, “you know, that main actor guy was showing dangerous signs of charisma in the last movie. Let’s replace him with someone even worse” (real, boring answer: Dudikoff didn’t want to film in South Africa due to apartheid. Good work Michael!).

Luckily, some traditions remain. The title is meaningless, and there’s plenty of technical incompetence for everyone to enjoy (a lot of people stare at the camera in this movie). Oh, and that “teach ninja skills to Westerners and die” philosophy has now turned into “literally everyone in the world is a ninja”.

The one unqualified good thing about this movie is the return of Steve James as Jackson, who had the physique, fighting skills and acting ability to anchor this franchise on his own. Aside from Carl Weathers, I can’t think of another black guy who got to star in his own action movies at the time, and it’s a shame, and especially a shame as Cannon Films never had a single black lead in any of their movies (apart from “Crack House”, which isn’t a good example). In this, while he’s got the same name as in the last two, he seems to be a different person; and no mention is made of the fact he used to be in the army or had a best friend who was also a ninja (in fact, no mention of Dudikoff at all) He’s just a guy at a martial arts tournament.


Anyway, James has to play second fiddle to David Bradley, the sort of generic action guy who got starring roles in movies thrown at him for a while there. He’s Sean Davidson, a karate champion who’s travelling to…who cares?…for a tournament. Jackson is there too, to take part in the sword portion of the tournament, and the two of them, along with comic relief Dexter, become friends immediately because that’s what you do in these movies.

For a film set at a karate tournament, you don’t really see a lot of it, but what you do see is lots and lots of ninjas, this time led by former child evangelist turned actor Marjoe Gortner (seriously, look his story up, he’s had a pretty weird life) as “The Cobra”. He’s trying to do some genetic experiments, in “we got the script for part 2, changed a few names and the number on the front, and just used it again” fashion; and he infects Sean with some virus or other. Our three heroes have to kick some ass to get the antidote, only it turns out at the end he didn’t need to bother due to NINJA MAGIC


The message of these films is, anyone who’s reasonably fit will be able to beat the snot out of any 5 ninja, really easily. Their training must be in something non fight related, because they’re complete cannon fodder here, not putting as much as a scratch on any of the main actors. Plus, the training Sean receives as the hands of his adoptive Japanese father is more karate than it is anything ninja-related – and how many ninja decide to supplement their day job with being a pro karate fighter? You see, these are the questions that you will find yourself asking during the course of this fine and exciting movie.

Most of the boring final fight sequence I spent wondering if this qualifies as an “unquel”. Despite a returning actor, and a similar generic action movie plot, there’s really nothing which ties this to the previous movies in the series, which were about a guy in the Army doing ninja things. I think it probably does.

And that’s how exciting this film was!

Rating: thumbs down

PS- Review site Dorkshelf did a whole article about this movie and the downfall of Cannon Studios which you should read – http://dorkshelf.com/2014/02/24/unsung-anniversaries-3-american-ninja-3-blood-hunt/