Friday, March 21, 2014

Strike Commando

Strike Commando
Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn)

As the 1980’s rolled on, America was finally willing to talk about the Vietnam War more openly in print, film, and television. A side effect of this was the Vietnam revenge fantasy, Americans heading back to the jungle, this time to strike a decisive victory. Also, in the jingoistic Regan era, if you could throw some Russians under the bus too, even better. This sub-genre flourished in the VHS market, riding high on what was a golden age of b-movie action.

Reb Brown plays Sgt. Ransom, leader of the Strike Commandos.  Thanks to a trigger happy Colonel named, Radek (Christopher Connelly), Ransom is wounded during a botched mission, and soon finds himself recovering in a village. Ransom discovers a Russian plot shortly before he is rescued. He volunteers to go back into the jungle to get photos of a secret Russian base. On his return he finds the village destroyed. He’s captured, tortured, and soon makes his bloody escape only to discover he has been betrayed by Colonel Radek.

The magic of Strike Commando is that it starts off almost like a reasonable action movie without any indication of its cartoonish intentions. I think it’s a tribute to director Mattei, to see just how outlandish a movie like Rambo: First Blood part II (1985) actually is, and then attempt to top it on probably less than a tenth of the budget.  Ransom never breaks no matter how much he’s tortured, even going so far as to shout encouragement over a radio broadcast meant to demoralize the troops. He doesn’t just shoot the bad guy; he blows him up in his office with grenade launcher.

Reb Brown is one the more curious action stars I’ve ever come across. He’s not great at emoting, and his yelling sounds like a cat is trying to escape from his body, but he really can sell the action when he’s called to do so. He has a very likeable screen presence. It feels like he’s having the time of his life and that translates well onto the screen no matter how sub-par other elements might be. The film’s unsung hero, or in this case villain is Jakota (Alex Vitale), a massive bald Russian thug and constant thorn in Ransom’s side. He’s very enthusiastic about being a bad guy and it meshes perfectly with Brown’s excitement at portraying Ransom. Watching these two lay into one another are easily some of the best sequences in the film.

Strike Commando is tremendous fun. It is a delight to watch its effortless transformation from gritty Vietnam action film to an over the top extravaganza of violence. If you are looking for an entry point into low budget 80’s action this is not a bad place to start at all.

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