Friday, August 17, 2012

Zone Troopers

Zone Troopers
Danny Bilson

Zone Troopers takes a concept that I can't believe hasn't been mined by Hollywood even more often than it already has, a science-fiction adventure set during World War II. I suppose it could be considered crass to have a story about aliens running around during a bloody period in history that still has people who lived it, but being crass has never stopped B-Movie cinema in the past.
After a nice Glen Miller opening, we are introduced to the 'Iron' Sarge (Tim Thomerson), young scifi geek Joey (Timothy Van Patten), scruffy but lovable Mittens Art LaFleur, and veteran war reporter Dolan (Biff Manard). Their squad is taking a breather somewhere in Italy, when most of it gets wiped out by Nazis in a surprise attack.

It should be noted here that apparently Sarge is a crack shot with his Tommy gun and can easily kill 10-15 soldiers from about 100 yards away with a single sweep of his gun. There also is a legend going around that he can't be killed, as demonstrated when he gets shot in the back of the head by a not so dead German, and pops up from the ground a moment later unhurt.

With our heroes' forces crushed and lost behind enemy lines, they trek through the countryside only to realize there are more than just Nazis lurking in the woods. The giant spaceship that's been augured into the ground was a good hint, so was the bug-eyed bejumpsuited alien they run into during the night.

Zone Trooper's main strength is that it never stops being fun. Everyone talks like they walked out of an old war film, although perhaps Timothy Van Patten should refrain from a Brooklyn accent ever again. There's plenty of snappy banter and 50's slang. The Sarge is so hard-assed he borders on parody, while Joey is both annoying and endearing at the same time. The whole film feels much like the pulp adventures that are hinted at during the opening credits. There's a moment where Hitler himself shows up that had me laughing out loud.
I did feel that the aliens were a bit of a letdown; even going in with a low budget they were unimpressive. Perhaps the rest of the characters sparkle with so much personality, that the aliens feel rather bland by comparison. The script wisely leaves them largely unexplained and mysterious. They function more as a McGuffin to drive the plot then as characters in their own right.

The movie moves along at a good pace, the action isn't spectacular but it is competently done and has a few honestly exciting moments, most notably the opening attack by the Nazis and a truck chase later on in the movie. This film looks comparable to other Charles Band productions of the time (Trancers, Eliminators, etc) the sets are cheap, the costumes are cheap, it looks like it was shot in the middle of nowhere in particular. There are a lot threads that never pay off, like the Sarge’s supposed invincibility and the death of a character brings nothing to the story and wastes the time we had invested in him.

Still, this movie also functions as somewhat of a Trancers mini-reunion, and it looks like the cast is having a blast running around the woods shooting at Nazis. This sense of fun and adventure translates well into the rest of the film. A highly recommended Nazi smashing good time.
The Nazi's are hot to get their hands on the alien and its technology, and the Sarge is hot to get back on the Allies' side of the line. Thankfully Joey knows exactly what the alien and its ship mean thanks to his healthy obsession for lurid pulp magazines.

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