Friday, February 15, 2008

Double Target - Mattei Misses his Mark!

Double Target

1988 Flora Films

Directed By Vincent Dawn (Bruno Mattei)

With Miles O’Keefe, Donald Pleasence, Bo Svenson

Review by Paul Cooke

‘‘It takes more than muscle to build a soldier’’

The Italian reproduction team of Director Bruno Mattei and Writer Claudio Fragasso serve up a flimsier than usual ‘Rambo’ jungle escapade with one time Tarzan star Miles O’Keeffe, trading his loin cloth for battle fatigues. Johnny, not so Weissmuller, O’Keeffe plays ex - military war hero Robert Ross. An enraged soldier searching for his son, lost to him whilst away on a tour of duty at a time when his Vietnamese wife was killed. Suicide squads are attacking several U.S. military sites in South East Asia, and the threatening emergence of a Russian militia training camp for terrorists has the American consulate offering Ross a deal to retrieve his son. A mutual beneficial exchange deal that requires the gathering of photographic evidence that supports the existence of the insidious group.

An explosive start to the movie sees O’Keeffe crossing the path of Russian militant leader Bo Svenson as the bullets soon let fly, and Director Mattei gets to blow up several buildings as well as employ some nicely integrated model work to please the movie financiers. Asthma suffering senator Donald Pleasence gets to inhale another typical cameo role, as he task forces the mission for Ross to infiltrate the jungles of Vietnam with the usual lack of official government backing.

Decked out for the dangerous retrieval and recognizance mission ahead, and looking about as macho as a male model on location, the man who once played the mighty Ator is soon in deep water. Not only is his scuba gear apparel approach to the coastal region impeded by an armed small boat patrol, but more audaciously by the might of a ravenous shark! Straight out of the big fish school of stock footage the shark is shamelessly edited into proceedings, clearly borrowed from another great white movie, its arrival makes for an amusing distraction. The action here is hilarious as Ross shoots the hapless guards and then sets his sights upon the man eating shark, deftly deploying an underwater bazooka hilariously resulting in true crowd pleasing explosive devastation. It is not long before the Russians are aware of his mission and the bullets are flying with Ross and his cohort ally hitting their targets with unerring accuracy, all the while O’Keeffe not even receiving the merest of nicks. Anyone getting close enough to dare and raise his one hundred per cent American cotton shirt would surely have found a big red ‘S’ tattooed across his sternum.Hard nosed Russian bad ass Svenson blows a gasket as his pseudo Swedish / American / Russian cross genes pump him into retaliatory action as he raids the village where Ross has left his son, taking the boy hostage after cold bloodily murdering many of the residents of the friendly community. O’Keeffe retaliates in unleashing his arsenal upon the bad guys as he forcefully strikes out and takes back the young boy with explosive style.

Despite several well choreographed explosive fight sequences and the obligatory slow motion death stages, even reveling in the synchronized bad guy batches of four regularly getting their comeuppance, it’s still not quite enough to raise interest levels above the point of mediocrity. The plodding presence of Miles O’Keeffe is more wooden than Pinocchio’s nose and that is no lie, but even with such an inconceivable outing the billing of a Reb Brown or Brent Huff would have made the whole thing so much more audacious.

When making a daft movie you have to make sure the element of daftness is carried off with suitable tongue in cheek aplomb. Disappointingly with such a thought in mind, conclusively ‘Double Target’ would better re-title as ‘Off Target’.

2.5 Exploding Huts

SEE! Miles O'Keefe kick ass... MATTEI STYLE!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Strike Commando - Bruno's Biggest Blast!

Strike Commando

1987-Flora Films

Directed by Bruno Mattei

With Reb Brown, Christopher Connelly, Alex Vitale, Luciano Pigozzi

Review by David Zuzelo

“Got me and you…pussycat!”

A film that defies description without begging for hyperbole, Strike Commando is action-sploitation that pounds outrageous and entertaining mischief in every minute. Really. The brain trust (read: they trust that you will not use your brain!) of Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso fired on all genre conventions, burping out this incredible entry.

Michael Ransom (Reb Brown) is one tough Strike Commando-he can’t be killed it would seem. His commando team blows up Vietcong bases with ease, but is double crossed by a skuzzy commander (Christopher Connelly), which leaves him trapped behind enemy lines with little hope of survival. But of course he lives on! Floating down a river and greeted by Vietnamese in whiteface (huh?) who are led by Luciano Pigozzi (dubbed as a Frenchman…huh!)-the hulking American becomes their savior. But the evil Russians, led by the huge and hilarious Jakoda (Alex Vitale) has other plans. Kill ‘em all… and he does. Disneyland gets a mention before that can happen, and holding crushed bodies and yelling, Ransom must make the Russians, the Vietcong, the men in power who treat soldiers like dirt, tiny miniature boats, huts, logic and everything else PAY! And oh, they do. Along the way Ransom is tortured and almost forced to broadcast anti-American radio chatter, but no way, not Ransom. Hell, leaving him with a rotting corpse just stresses him out as his captors find… and when he is stressed, only a zillion bullets and a slow motion waterfall stunt can make him feel better. Well, a little better. People explode and THE END unspools as a wiseass Ransom disclaims any form of truth to the picture.

Mattei and Fragasso mashed together one perfectly silly action film, which becomes so zany you can almost feel the fun pouring off the video as you stick it in the player. Not what historians would call solid film making, it doesn’t even try. Reb Brown is delirious in his role, shouting almost EVERY line, be it tender talk of popcorn growing on trees to angered ramblings (“The rest of Strike Commando demands VENGEANCE!”)… This becomes so insane it would be hard to replicate on purpose… if anyone even cared to try. Everyone, be they good actor, non-actor or exploding hut takes the macho to heart. Christopher Connelly exaggerates his reactions like nobody else can while Alex Vitale steals the show with his scenes as the jumbo Russian who hates “Amerikanski” with such vigor that he embraces several fight scenes, lots of cackling and a steel set of chompers that spur the best line of the movie.

Mattei directs the action with the flair of a director who has found his calling, you can call him a hack, but you can’t say he didn’t know how to get people to fall down under a hail of bullets. Stuntmen line up to be shot in gloriously wild head flopping style, Brown is in all the right positions to wield a giant machine gun with unlimited ammunition and yes… the waterfall is here for all to see. Backed up by one strange script that Fragasso has concocted, there are endless odd lines of dialogue, mercilessly silly set ups and you have to pay attention as the dubbers obviously had fun... Just listen to what passes as Vietnamese. Sharpshooters should look for Rene (Tiger Joe) Abadeza getting conked in the face and composite ninja veteran Mike Monty in the opening sequence!

With a score by Luigi Ceccarelli that seems more fitting than usual, you’ll be humming it for days while repeating just some of the dialogue

“He’s our ENEMY… That dirt DOG gotta PAY!”

Head Clonking Hyperbole: It’s a grenade in the mouth lovin, raucously ridiculous smash a minute thrill coaster that will leave you with a surplus of spare shell cases littering your memory which only another trip through Reb Brown’s bullet laden Disneyland can satisfy. Truly a cult film in every sense, Strike Commando is essential trash.

5 Exploding Huts

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Born To Fight - Mattei Huffs, Puffs and Blows The Huts DOWN!

Mayhem / Born To Fight

1989 Flora Film

Directed by Bruno Mattei as "Vincent Dawn"

With Brent Huff, Mary Stavin, Werner Pochath

Review by Paul Cooke

‘‘It can be done.’’

Hot on the heels of, ‘Strike Commando 2’, and on set literally stepping distance from the same star trailers, Brent Huff and Mary Stavin get to rub sparks off each other once again in Director Bruno Mattei’s highly entertaining escapist all Action outing, ‘ Mayhem ’. With Stavin posing as reporter Marilaine Kain for the U.S.I News channel she travels to a province on the border of Vietnam, looking to seek out jaded Vietnam War survivor and decorated hero Sam Wood, as played by Brent Huff. Her apparent brief is to offer him $50,000 for his story relating to his escape from the infamously reviled Lutam Prison. The truth lies behind her seeking out his services to aid her in rescuing her own father from the still illegally active incarceration hell camp, and the connection that links Sam to the feisty woman’s parent.

Sat in a shanty bar by the side of a river, feet up on a grimy table, sits Sam Wood in a style that is instantly attributable to the inimitable stature of mister cool and casual himself, Brent Huff. With the stubble face chiseled look of the Sergio Leone influenced Clint Eastwood Man With No Name character etched upon his face, and a look in his eye that stares down a cobra placed in front of him by a local, Sam looks up from beneath his tilted fedora to squeeze the intrusive snake dry of venom. Vietnam’s answer to Crocodile Dundee then drinks the venom shot from a beer glass to complete his morning wake up ritual, knocked back with a couple of hard puffs on his cigar stub and a few cuss words beneath his breath. Brent Huff entrances don’t come much better than this one and it sets the tone for him to go into autopilot for the tongue in cheek Action thrill ride that follows.

Huff’s sharp dialogue and effortless wit cuttingly rubs off of Stavin’s bossy characterization of a spoilt daddy’s girl and the two manage to get along in the pursuit of riches and rescue. The back up plan involves Romano Puppo as Alex Ross, a government representative who is negotiating for the release of General Webber with Lutam ‘Camp’ leader Werner Pochath. A couple of plot twists later with character revelations revealing more than just a planned rescue mission, and Sam Wood clearly sees the trees but in so doing ends up inside the place he once escaped from, guest of Werner Pochath and up to his ears in trouble. The Action from here on in comes thick, fast, furious and fun with Brent Huff reveling in a freehanded role that suits him down to the ground. Running around clearly having a literal blast, grinning all the while whilst delivering corny dialogue and quoting his stock phrase ‘It can be done’ at every wonderful opportunity. The Action packed last third of the movie has Huff kitted up like Schwarzenegger in, ‘Commando’, heavy artillery draped over him like a designer full metal jacket. With determined abandonment the pumped up Huff unloads round after round into the opposition, pausing for breath just long enough to lock and load the rocket launcher in order to blow up every available hut that the set dressing unit could cobble together. All played out to the funky tunes of musical composer Al Festa this explosive extravaganza is perhaps most recognizable under it’s international release title of ‘Born To Fight’. Whatever it plays as the movie is without question a Mattei masterwork of mindlessly magnificent, mass ‘Mayhem’.

4.5 Exploding Huts

Japanese VHS Cover

UK Video Cover

Greek VHS Cover

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Strike Commando 2 - Mattei Hut Massacre!

Strike Commando 2

1988 Flora Film

Director Vincent Dawn

( aka Bruno Mattei )

With Brent Huff, Mary Stavin, Richard Harris

Review by Paul Cooke

‘‘You can’t kill me, you owe me your life’’

Somehow the production team managed to attain the signature to contract of superstar Richard Harris for this sequel to the highly infectious ‘Strike Commando’, who perhaps was looking to saddle up for a successful movie ride somewhat long in the wake of the ‘A Man Called Horse’ movie series. Maybe he had even been led to believe that he was to be appearing in the European version of ‘Rambo: First Blood Part 2’ or perhaps he just needed to pay off a bar tab. Whatever the reason director Mattei must have readdressed his usual thought process for film making as the tone of the final product swings from plain daft, even by his illustrious standards, to semi serious whenever Richard Harris is in frame.

The film starts with Reb Brown replacement star Brent Huff reliving a nightmare in Vietnam, with his superior officer Richard Harris pulling him out of a tight spot as explosions and gunfire sound out all around them. Setting the parameters for the style of the movie, along with the macho male bonding between the two lead stars, immediately borrows heavily from the familiar opening sequence of ‘Apocalypse Now’, but you just know that when this script is from Claudio Fragasso there really is nothing quite like the smell of a bad screenplay!

Soon the film kicks into familiar territory as Richard Harris’ character Vic Jenkins disappears after the war, to then be discovered by Huff’s soldier persona Michael Ransom to be still alive. He tracks him down, only to then see him abducted by a Russian backed militia heavily involved with drug production in the jungles of Burma. The CIA want their distinguished retired ranking officer back and are willing to pay the ransom in diamonds, as demanded by the captors, and of course Brent Huff steps up to be the man to go in after him. Chance to repay a debt of honour for Jenkins saving his life, as well as him being his friend.

With Richard Harris away from the respectful thespian duties Bruno Mattei gets to deliver what he is best at. The Action picks up and the fun kicks in with Brent Huff dominating the silly proceedings we are more gleefully accustomed to from this combination of ‘B’ movie schooling.

When bar owner Mary Stavin is introduced as Rosanna Boom she gets to do her best interpretation of Karen Allen’s boisterous character Marion Ravenwood, straight out of ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’. It doesn’t take long before both she and Huff are fighting a group of Ninjas along with the requisite Russian bad guy, all played out in a deliriously preposterous fashion. Brent Huff teams up with the annoyingly loud Stavin, who is outdone only by the truly awful musical composition playing throughout on the background track like a very amateur vaudeville presentation. Together armed with the diamonds they discover not only the whereabouts of Richard Harris but also the revealing truth behind the whole scenario. The drug production encampment gets breached in true ‘Rambo’ style.

Apart from maybe his career at the time the only other thing that the miscast Richard Harris gets to kill is a big bug, leaving the charismatically daft Huff to be held entirely responsible for the loss of a rain forest with his wooden acting alone.

The overall style of filming is to Mattei’s credit as the background scenery is beautifully captured and star Brent Huff is very well suited to his role. He energetically seems to get to perform all of his own stunts, as well as act without the need for a script.

3.5 Exploding Huts

Japanese VHS Cover

Friday, February 1, 2008

Black Cobra 4 Review-Detective Malone is Super(imposed)

Detective Malone: Black Cobra 4

1990 New Way Distribution

Director Bob Collins (Umberto Lenzi )

With Karl Landgren , Bobby Rhodes, Maurice Poli & special super imposed star Fred Williamson

Review by Paul Cooke

‘‘Death is preferable to failure and disgrace!’’

They don’t come much rarer than this when searching out movies from the collectors market, but once discovered it becomes apparently clear why Director Umberto Lenzi chose to hide behind the pseudonym of Bob Collins! Fred Williamson may still be blissfully unaware that he actually stars in the movie, and with good reason as in reality he does not! What the production company have done is worked a short rehash of a lame story around actual scenes that do star Fred Williamson, but ‘borrowed’ from the original 1987 made ‘Black Cobra’ movie.

A slightly older and cleaner cut Karl Landgren does return, this time as the leader of a Middle East terrorist Arab gang. It doesn’t take a too observant fan of the original movie to notice that he is sporting his trademark black leather and silver studded jacket once again, another money saving prop for the cost conscious producers to allow for further insert edits. This time out Landgren and cohorts abduct a scientific engineer named Barry Wilson, a valuable employee of the Electronic Armourment Corporation. Wilson is a leading expert in the field of war simulation computer programming. He is required by Landgren’s people to create a device to make international terrorism less vulnerable in the fight for oppression against the Western World. With the displayed computers he works with it might have been better for them to simply have watched an old TV episode of early Seventies cult Sci Fi show ‘U.F.O’!

It sure is an Action fans distraction when amongst the highlights is a scene where scientific weapons engineer Wilson frolics with his attractive naked wife, deftly deploying his pocket rocket whilst displaying some hairy backed humping. Washed down with a shower scene, also featuring Mrs. Wilson in the shapely form of Elena Weidermann, and thankfully no insert here from a cut and paste Fred Williamson!

To keep the ‘Black Cobra’ theme live Bobby Rhodes kind of steps into the Williamson role as Officer Jackson, a lugging cardboard clone with a reactivity to coffee that brings about diarrhoea! Clearly a case of strong , black and explosive from the back. Amusingly Maurice Poli is brought back for this fourth outing to reprise his role from the Stelvio Massi Directed original, but so also are scenes of him from that first venture and they too are intermittently inter cut. Seeing Rhodes and Poli share scenes and then Poli moving out of shot to reappear looking slightly younger to stand next to Fred Williamson is indeed obvious, but nonetheless comical. Interposing scenes of Karl Landgren with his earlier and latter set of pearly white teeth is a dental hygienists faux pas, as a gold capped tooth from 1987 has been deftly reclaimed by the tooth fairy come 1990. All highly amusing continuity pick-ups to pass the time till closure, that really can’t come soon enough. Action highlight is the shootout sequence reworked from ‘Black Cobra’, which at least is pretty well reedited and shows the key players in gun blasting combativeness, allowing for a modicum of blood spillage to decorate the medical facility. In conclusion fans of Fred Williamson get to see another appearance, whereas Umberto Lenzi fails to show at all.

0.5 Exploding Huts

Japanese VHS Cover