Saturday, May 15, 2010

Avenging Force (1986) * * *1/2

Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, John P. Ryan, James Booth, Bill Wallace, Karl Johnson

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Dudikoff stars as Matt Hunter, “The most promising man the secret service ever had” who fights to protect a Black senator Larry Richards (James) from Pentangle,a gang of white supremacists who when not involved in racist exploits, like to hunt people in the bayou, in what is one of the most underrated action flicks of the 80s. Avenging Force is one of the most hard hitting films of the genre that is sort of like Southern Comfort in its premise except with a more take no prisoners approach which overall takes the viewer by surprise with just how far this film goes in spectacle and action, and while a lot of the time the film is over the top the film never fails to be suspenseful and exciting. Avenging Force was not at all what fans of American Ninja expected, as Avenging Force was mean spirited (often shockingly so) and extremely well put together. There is no doubt that this is the best film that both Firstenberg and Dudikoff ever made. The film is merely just a solid action flick for the first and second reel but then when Pentangle attacks and finishes Steve James and his family off (in a rather shocking sequence) the film then earns that something extra as Dudikoff finds himself hunted in the bayou. These contain some of the best action sequences from the 1980s (which overall make it the best overall) that recall Peckinpath in terms of suspense and grittiness. The truth of the matter is that Avenging Force is an underrated classic (that thankfully is a cult classic) that deserves the DVD treatment. If anything else Avenging Force represents one of the very best from Cannon films and the best film to date from Dudikoff, James and Firstenberg. Indeed as fun as the American Ninja (1-2) films are one can’t help but wish that Firstenberg had made a couple sequels to this. All in all this is a diamond in the rough and well worth hunting down. Indeed why this isn’t on DVD is a crime.

Riverbend (1989) * *1/2

Cast: Steve James, Margaret Avery, Tony Frank, Alex Morris

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Steve James stars as Black Vietnam vet facing court martial who helps an oppressed black town fight back against a corrupt White bigots led by the town's sheriff (Frank) and mayor in a blaxploitation film that was made 15 years or so too late, that despite the odds is watchable but still an interesting failure due to the questionable politics and the overall messy way things are wrapped up. While I can’t recommend this film, I must praise both the performances of Steve James and Tony Frank. Steve James was one of those actors in the genre that doesn’t seem to have gotten the recognition he deserved (Indeed he was always the best thing about a bad movie like American Ninja 3 or Bloodfist 5) and here he makes for an admirable presence, handling the physical action roles perfectly and having the charisma that exceeds even Fred Williamson (and that’s high praise) but this film pretty much gives him not many bad guys to fight and the politics are a little too extreme even for my tastes. For instance while prejudiced things go on in such a town, I don’t think the ideal solution is to lock up ALL whites in a church regardless of the politics (Including a white guy who fights for equal rights). However despite the politics the film never runs with such to become fascinating as it is derailed by the court martial subplot which detracts from the enjoyment here. However while the film doesn’t quite work, it does have an excellent villain in Tony Frank who makes for a surprisingly human racist and who makes his imposing threat real. The real problem here is that Steve James ends up fighting the Army who is sent in after he takes hostages, when a better movie would have had him fighting Tony Frank and his band of racists. Indeed had this been Steve James and Co. Fighting racists, this film would’ve been a surefire recommendation but because it is concerned too much with politics and questionable ones at best, Riverbend ends up being a good try and nothing more.

American Samurai (1992) * *1/2

Cast: David Bradley, Mark Dacascos, Valarie Trapp, Rex Ryon, John Fujioka

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

David Bradley stars as journalist and closet samurai (?) who enters a brutal tournament to fight his stepbrother (Dacascos) who has stolen his sacred sword (Dacascos is ticked off his biological father gave the sword to Bradley (an orphan taken in by the family) than him) and so much combat ensues in which weapons dispatch competitors in especially gory ways. American Samurai is a near miss mainly due to the two leads. Dacascos is hammy and far too over the top in the role as the villain (He certainly is no Bolo Yeung) while Bradley is extremely wooden and dull in the lead. So while American Samurai has some well done action and a few exciting moments here and there, it just doesn’t work as the film doesn’t even generate the minimal human interest that a martial arts films has to do. The film’s only bright spot in terms of characters come from Valarie Trapp and Rex Ryon who are well suited to their roles and are likable despite the fact that the film’s ridiculous screenplay gives them little to do. American Samurai then is a  mediocre effort, a failed attempt to turn this into the next American Ninja, but while that had far more ambition and more creativity, American Samurai just has battle arena carnage and dull characters. A forgettable effort for sure, but fans of Bradley and Dacascos might enjoy the mindless antics here.

Cyborg Cop (1993) * *

Cast: David Bradley, John Rhys-Davies, Alonna Shaw, Todd Jensen

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

David Bradley stars as Jack Ryan (Hunt For Red October this is not) a DEA agent who looks to save his brother from terrorists (Davies in a decent performance as usual) who has turned said brother into a cyborg and to which Bradley finds a squeeze in reporter (Shaw) and finds that beating these bad guys will be difficult. Cyborg Cop is a competent effort and is never dull for a second, the only problem is that is that it’s so routine when it should be better than it is. Bradley is okay in the role (Way better than he was in American Ninja 3-5 and American Samurai) but he isn’t action as much as he should be. The only real life of this film (aside from the action) comes from the subplot between Bradley and Shaw who make for a surprisingly likable couple. Indeed it isn’t much as this film doesn’t even stand up to the better B.movies that exploit this material in far more interesting ways but Cyborg Cop is painless to sit through and does provide some fun even if all of it is done in a completely by the numbers way.

Cyborg Soldier (1994) *

Cast: David Bradley, Morgan Hunter, Jill Pierce

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

This time DEA agent Jack Ryan (Bradley again) fights back against a terrorist (Hunter) he killed who has been automated and who now threatens the world as we know it. Basically this is Universal Soldier again only without the sense of humor, freshness or even the energy that made such work. Cyborg Soldier has some action (mainly the beginning and ending) but such becomes overkill as we get tired of the action as the film has literally nothing to offer outside of that. Meanwhile the mad scientist plot as well as the plot-holes which never even attempts to answer why scientists would want to turn such a loose cannon terrorist into a cyborg is never explained. Indeed this film is all firepower without any ambition, humor or quality to make such enjoyable. In fact the film is just so mindless and inert in terms of ideas that the film just becomes tedious. Also it should be noted that Bradley is completely boring and unlikable here and this time there is no redeeming subplot to bail out the tedium. In fact the action isn’t even up to par.

Quicksand (2003) * * *

Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Brooke Theiss, Richard Kind, Dan Hedaya, Douglas Weston

Dudikoff fares well in a suspense movie that casts the ex-American Ninja as a Military psychiatrist who investigates a seemingly open and shut case involving Randi (Theiss of Nightmare On Elm Street 4 fame) who redefines the term "damaged goods" as we learn that she may or may not have had an incestuous affair and when her father dies, she is the #1 suspect, however there is other stuff involving meds that cause suicide among those that take them and Dudikoff finds himself in a world where he doesn’t know who to trust. Unlike say Jill The Ripper, Quicksand actually works as Dudikoff fares well in such a role. Quicksand isn’t really an action flick and for fans expecting Ninja hijinks and mindless action will certainly be disappointed, but for those that stick with it, will find a solid little suspenser that has its share of narrative twists and turns that make this compulsively watchable. Indeed I was surprised at how much I was engrossed in Dudikoff and Theiss’ relationship which makes up the film’s selling point. The action sequences that are there (as you cannot make a Michael Dudikoff movie without such) are well staged (with a well done car chase being the highlight) but it’s overall the story and the surprisingly sharp acting that keeps you compelled. Indeed the ending is suspenseful not because we see Dudikoff take on the bad guys but because he is far removed from the American Ninja character we associate with him. Quicksand then isn’t as good as Firstenberg and Dudikoff’s other collaborations but it’s entertaining all the same and Dudikoff proves himself to be a decent actor. However it must be noted that the overblown music score is terrible and the biggest flaw in an otherwise decent film.


  1. Avenging Force was more of a miss for me because James is killed off. It would've been a much better finale had the two of them together been getting after it.

    I agree on your American Samurai review, at least I think my review was similar; but in your Cyborg Cop review you forgot the movie's most egregious offens of all: the Fanny Pack.

  2. I automatically took off half a star for such Fannypack.

  3. I really have to stop stuffing around and get Avenging Force. It's on DVD readily here in Australia and can be picked up for a tenner. I quite like the cheesy 'lethal weapon' cover on ours too:

  4. About Avenging Force: A really great Dudikoff\James effort!

    Check out our review. We have the same rating for it!: