Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Strike Commando 2 (1988)

1988 – Strike Commando 2 (Flora Films)

[original Italian title: “Trappola Diabolica”, released in France as "Mission Suicide"]

Director “Vincent Dawn”/Bruno Mattei, [uncredited] Claudio Fragasso Story Claudio Fragasso, Rossella Drudi Screenplay Claudio Fragasso Producer Franco Gaudenzi Editor Bruno Mattei Cinematography Riccardo Grassetti Music Stefano Mainetti Art Director “Bart”/Mimmo Scavia Sound Engineer Davide Piccini Dialogue Editor John Gayford Sound Effects Editors Tullio Arcangeli, Roberto Sterbini, Gjika Sotir Titles/Opticals Stefano Mafera Mixage Bruno Moreal Production Manager Giovanni Paolucci Stunt Coordinator Ottaviano Dell’Acqua Production Supervisor Rick Hasserot Accountant Mary Hope Makeup Franco di Girolamo Camera Operator John Irghins Continuity Liliane Hann Dialogue Coach Susan Adler Assistant Cameramen Ruben Hundit, Raul Mattews Makeup Assistant Angelica Raf Sound David Meel, Tom Morgan Boom Operators Clay McPaul, David Meel First Assistant Editor Rita Tryunph Second Assistant Editor Nicol Lud Key Grips Charles Kascioff, Alvit Hessar Gaffer Bert Hessar Computer Programmer [uncredited] Stefano Mainetti Master of Arms [uncredited] Massimo Vanni

PHILIPPINES CREW: Philippine Coordinator Benny Tornate Assistant Production Coordinator Ernie Barredo Location Manager Roland Taino Assistant Location Manager Edgard Taino Camera Assistant Ed Sequerada Art Director Vic Dabao Set Decorators Leonard Mediarito, Rene’ Mediarito Wardrobe Julie de Guzman Tailor Eddy de Guzman Stills Billy Carter Special Effects Rodolfo Torrente Assistant Stunt Coordinator Dante Abadessa Transport Manager Francisco Taino Key Grip Fred Marquez Gaffer Maio Ponce

Cast Brent Huff (Michael Ransom), Mary Stavin (Rosanna Boom), Richard Harris (Vic Jenkins), Mel Davidson (Kramet), Vic Diaz (Huan To), “Richard Raymond”/Ottaviano Dell'Acqua (Jimmy), “Alex McBride”/Massimo Vanni (Kelly Sellers), [uncredited] David Brass, Anthony East (Ruby), Jim Gaines (Frank, Jenkins' bodyguard), Paul Holme (Peter Roeg), Jim Moss (US Soldier), Michael Welborn (CIA Agent)

Review from the Trash On-Line blog:

During the late 80s the Italian production company Flora Film launched quite a few action and horror films that were shot in the Philippines and were directed by the legendary trash maestro Bruno Mattei. The most famous of these films was ZOMBI 3 which Mattei took over after Lucio Fulci left production. Mattei naturally took over ZOMBI 3 as he was already in the Philippines, shooting the sequel to STRIKE COMMANDO for Franco Gaudenzi's Flora Film.

The Filipinos and the Italians shot countless commando action films in the Philippines during the late 80s and STRIKE COMMANDO is probably the most entertaining of them all. I'd go as far as to call it the mother of all Filipino-lensed commando movies. Who could possibly forget the shameless imitation of RAMBO FIRST BLOOD PART 2, the endless yelling by Reb Brown or the countless explosions or Alex Vitale's demise?

One can wonder how a film like STRIKE COMMANDO went as far as to spawn a sequel and to be honest I often wonder myself. I am not aware if it was released theatrically or not but know it did well in the worldwide video market.

The character of Michael Ransom returns in STRIKE COMMANDO 2 (TRAPOLLA DIABOLICA in Italy) but this time he is played by Brent Huff instead of Reb Brown. That is probably the most obvious and most important flaw here. Brown was severely criticized for his performance in the original but at least he wasn't annoying. Huff is probably the most annoying lead Mattei ever worked with and Reb Brown is Marlon Brando compared to him. The female lead here is Mary Stavin, another annoying actress who joined Huff and Mattei once again in the superior BORN TO FIGHT. Many wonder how an oscar-nominated actor like Richard Harris ended up in such a cheap and trashy film like this one. I don't think he is proud of this film but Mattei must be as Harris delivers the finest performance you are going to see in any Mattei film.

This time Ransom returns to Vietnam to rescue his commander (Richard Harris of A MAN CALLED HORSE) who is being held captive at a camp of drug producers. Aided by a local tough girl (Mary Stavin), Ransom is sent to get Jenkins back.

What makes STRIKE COMMANDO 2 hard to watch is Mattei's failed attempt at comedy (he has admitted himself that comedy is a genre he can't touch) which is underlined by atrocious music that is supposed to make this funny. The interaction between Huff and Stavin is also supposed to be funny but the result is just mind-numbing due to their constant yelling and inability to act.

The action is not bad and there are even ninjas here, believe it or not! Ninjas were fashionable at the time so Mattei probably thought he should spice his movie up with ninjas, no matter if their presence made sense or not. As you can expect there are quite a few explosions and Huff gets to fire a machine gun while yelling at the top of his voice, just like Reb Brown did in the original.

STRIKE COMMANDO is one of those "so bad its good" films but its sequel is sadly so bad its almost unwatchable. Actually I managed to seat through the whole film during my second attempt. Overall I had a pleasant time watching it although I am still trying to forget this is connected to one of Bruno's greatest masterpieces. Proceed with caution!

Paul Cooke's review from the Euro Action Movies blog:

‘‘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

Review from the Cold Fusion Video website:

The first time was for his country! And for his crew of blown up strike commandos! And for that little kid named Lao that he promised he would take to Disneyland where the popcorn grows on trees! This time's personal!

Strike Commando returns with his most vengeance-filled mission ever as he beats the Philippine jungles (standing in for the Nam) looking for his mentor, the man who saved his life back when they were both fighting the Man's dirty little war!

Major Vic Jenkins has been reported killed, but Strike Commando is told by an old buddy that Vic is really alive and that his death had been faked and he is being held prisoner by the CIA or the KGB or the PTA or someone. Both Strike Commando and my reactions were immediate! Strike Commando immediately went down to the local CIA office to bust some heads while I wondered just who the hell Major Vic Jenkins was.

If you're watching Strike Commando 2, it's only because you've seen Strike Commando, so it stands to reason that you are familiar with everyone in the Strike Commando universe. There's Strike Commando himself (Rebbo), there's the evil traitor for the KGB (Colonel Radek), there's the big Russian (Jakoda) and there's Rebbo's almost-foster-child, Lao. Of course, everyone but Rebbo ended up dead by the time Strike Commando had played out, but I think I speak for all fans when I say that we wouldn't be adverse to bringing any (and preferably all) of these folks back for some old "not even death can prevent me from getting my revenge on you, Rebbo!" shenanigans.

The director and writer one-two punch that was Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso have a little something extra up their sleeve with this entry though. Not content to let Rebbo rest on his laurels, they invent a whole new slew of traitorous dogs and evil Russians for him to contend with. And there's also something different about Rebbo this go around. Let me see if I can put my finger on it. Oh, Rebbo isn't Rebbo anymore! That's it!

For those of us who were raised on Rebbo, the blonde, affably violent Reb Brown will always be our Strike Commando. For this mission though, Rebbo gets made over into a dark haired, surly brute played by Brent Huff. While it's a bit like watching Timothy Dalton taking over for Roger Moore, Huffbo had already proven his metal in running around a low budget jungle when he and Tawny Kitaen humiliated themselves for our enjoyment in The Perils of Gwendoline. Though Huffbo doesn't have any scenes where he makes anguished speeches about Disneyland and the genie that lives there that will grant any wish (I wish that Rebbo would return for a Strike Commando 3!), he does manage to belt out Rebbo's catchphrase, "die you bastards!" thus throwing a bone to the hardcore Strike Commando fan.

Bruno and Claudio knew that asking Huffbo to carry this picture by himself just wouldn't be fair to him so they spent every single penny they had, borrowed money from friends, raided their kids' piggybanks, held bake sales, collected scrap metal, sold their plasma and signed up two-time Oscar nominated Richard Harris for the part of Major Vic! I haven't done the research, so correct me if I'm wrong, but this is probably the only time an Oscar-nominated actor and Bruno Mattei have ever crossed paths outside of the dry cleaners!

Yes, years before he ran Harry Potter's school, Albus Dumbledore was running a heroin operation deep in the steamy jungle! Despite Richard looking thoroughly confused as to just what he's doing in this (I heard he only did it because he loved Strike Commando so much, but that might just be a rumor I made up), inexplicably, this role was not one of the two the Academy would nominate him for!

Normally, any other Italian director would put it on auto-pilot once he secured the services of an actor that normal moviegoers had actually heard of. Not Bruno Mattei! He says, sure, I got one of the grand old men of the cinema even while he still had some good roles ahead of him, but I want to make Strike Commando 2 so much more than the sum of its Oscar-nominated and The Perils of Gwendoline-veteran parts! What if the evil Russian guy in the white ice cream suit employed a bunch of ninjas! And what if Huffbo had to make his escape in a hooker bus that he commandeered! Well, shoot, you'd have me forgetting just who the heck Rebbo ever was!

All of these antics are precipitated because of Huffbo's misguided attempt to bust Major Vic out of a CIA safehouse. The next thing we know, we're getting one of those hostage videotapes where Major Vic is saying that his captors need $10 million in diamonds or they'll hand him over to the KGB, who will extract all the secrets he knows. Since Huffbo is the only guy in the room that owes Major Vic his life, he finds himself in the jungle with $10 million worth of diamonds in his fannypack and a mission to bring Major Vic back dead or alive!

The first stop on any search and rescue mission in the jungle is the local watering hole where a fellow can pick up a drink or six and an annoying female companion whom he can bicker with constantly while they get into and out of jams of varying degree. Huffbo meets up with Rosanna, the proprietress of the Moulin Rouge while she's engaged in a drinking game with one of the natives. First one to belch loses!

Once that's mercifully over, the white Russian and the ninjas roll in and fight Huffbo and his new gal pal. When she "remembered" to tell Huffbo that she had ten sticks of dynamite under the bar, I was practically rubbing my hands together in giddy anticipation of what was just around the corner. Is there anything more satisfying in cinema than watching cheap, thatched roof dwellings in the wilderness blow up over and over and over?

Once they get Rosie's bar blown up, she and Huffbo head off to rescue Major Vic. After this is accomplished, Major Vic gives a half-hearted speech about how the war for Huffbo was still going on inside Huffbo and you're just thinking, "hurry up and turn traitor so we can get the torture scenes and subsequent bust out and revenge killings under way." And once they are under way, the movie kicks into gear with Rosie going undercover as a hooker (glad to see that cop show cliche worked into a jungle action movie with ninjas), Rosie and Huffbo's escape and their return once Huffbo finds out that Rosie left the diamonds with the trick she killed.

But what of the Strike Commando 2 you didn't see? What about all the craziness that went on after hours on the set? Actually, you did see that. It was called Zombie 4: After Death. In an effort to recoup the costs for Strike Commando 2 (thanks Richard!), while Bruno shot it during the day, Claudio used all the gear to shoot his zombie movie during the night! Even Huffbo got in on the two-for-one action when he convinced his then-fiancee Candice Daly to star in Zombie 4: After Death, so that she wouldn't miss him while he was gone making Strike Commando 2! While that sounds like a good idea in theory, in practice it must have left a little to be desired since Ms. Daly's biography shows that she married someone else that year and was later found dead at the end of 2004. The one aspect of the intersection of these two projects that remains unanswered is the one that everyone has always wondered about: Did Richard Harris ever run into Zombie 4: After Death star and gay porn star, Jeff Stryker?

Review from the Internet Movie Database:

I bet most of you reading this are baffled by the fact tht they made a sequel to that wretched film, Strike Commando. Well while I agree that Strike Commando was one of the worst action movies ever, it also has to be one of the most unintentionally hilarious films ever. Reb Brown's over-the-top performance and plenty of plot holes, terrible music, and stolen scenes from Rambo: First Blood Part 2 made for quite an enjoyable and memorable experience. Hence, the film was successful enough at least for producer Franco Gaudenzi to finance a series of similar rip-off action films like Double Target, Cop Game, Robowar, and eventually a full-fledged sequel.

Brent Huff stars this time around as Michael Ransom, who in a very Apocalypse Now -fashion wakes up one morning and peers through his window blinds in his shabby apartment. Of course some army bigwigs drop by to charge him with a special mission to rescue his old war buddy Richard Harris (The Cassandra Crossing). Now this is the strangest aspect about this film; how the heck did Richard Harris end up in a Bruno Mattei film? In a recent interview, Harris claimed to be retired at the time when this film was produced, but there he is plain as day! Anyway, Huff saves Harris from the CIA only for Harris to be kidnapped by a KGB agent Mel Davidson (who actually seems more like the Gestapo guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark than anything else) and his army of ninjas. Here, the plot gets downright silly as Huff tries to buy back Harris with some diamonds while he hooks up with local tough-girl Mary Stavin (The Opponent) in what must be the worst female performance I have seen! Anyway, Harris ends up working for the bad guys in the end, so that leaves Huff and Stavin to go on the war path and kill as many communists as possible while retrieving the diamonds.

Lots of well-done slow motion explosions highlight this completely typical late-80's Mattei action film with its fair share of amusing moments. Although the film does simultaneously rip off Raiders of the Lost Ark, Rambo: First Blood Part 2, Predator, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, AND Romancing the Stone, the funniest aspect has to be how Mattei cranked up the camera speed for all the fight scenes to make them look faster. The results are downright hilarious and fake-looking, with Huff and the ninjas zipping around like the keystone cops. The final battle between Huff and Davidson is particularly hilarious in this way since it looks like they recorded this scene in fast forward! Of course with every Mattei film there's a good share of ripped-off scenes, like the woman drinking-contest scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and one part where a big thug jumps out with a sword only for Huff to shoot him like nothing.

This film was made almost simultaneously with about seven other Bruno Mattei films, somewhere after Zombi 3 and Double Target, but before Robowar and Cop Game, judging by which stock footage appears in which film. Most of the explosions in this movie went on to be reused in Robowar and Cop Game (especially Cop Game, which was about 40% stock footage anyhow). Even though this film tries so hard to come off as serious, one can't help but laugh at the many inept moments which litter the film. Huff and Harris are good actors, but both kinda sleepwalk through their roles. The supporting cast is fairly good as well, with Massimo Vanni (1990: The Bronx Warriors, Fearless) as a CIA agent and Ottaviano Dell'Acqua (Rats: Nights of Terror, Cut and Run) as one of the bad guys. I enjoyed the movie mostly because of the good musical score by Stefano Mainetti but also in part because Bruno blows stuff up real good. The ending is unddeniably exciting once the exploding happens and doesn't let up until the cheese-fest finale.

A rare treat if you can find it, though it's not nearly as hilariously bad as its predecessor. This film does contain one of the most memorable quotes from a Mattei/Fragasso film...

KGB agent - "I hate women!" Girl - "So you're into guys then?" KGB agent - "I also hate fags!"

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