Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Striker (1988)

Striker (1988)


Unpredictable. Unbeatable. The ultimate freedom fighter.

Movie Review:



John “Striker” Slade (Frank Zagarino) is an ex-military hired to rescue  journalist Frank Morris from a Nicaraguan prison. Obviously this is a First Blood Part II type film, with equal parts one-man-army Commando and its B-cousin Strike Commando to take the seriousness down a few notches. The first shot of Zags we see him in his Canadian Tuxedo, setting the tone for the film, and it’s just beautiful.

Out for a morning stroll, Zags provides a thorough arse kicking to a masked gang that try and steal his hobo bag. Zags is arrested on trumped-up drug charges and coerced into working for the government to rescue Frank. He meets up with the attractive local guide Marta (Melonee Rodgers) and helicopter pilot “The Dutchman” Houtman (Werner Pochath) to shoot, stab and exploding slingshot his way through to cartoon-character bad guy Kariasin.


Yeah, this is what you came here for. Look at the names involved for starters. First off it stars the mighty Zags as John Rambo- .. I mean, John Slade – and believe me, like Rambo, there is one thing he better bring and that’s a good supply of body bags. And who is he rescuing but none other than Pygar himself, John Phillip Law! Next off are the co-writing duo of Tito Carpi and Umberto Lenzi. That’s Italian gold right there; the men collectively responsible for Escape from the Bronx, Light Blast, Ironmaster and Violent Naples. And if that wasn’t enough, the whole thing is directed by Enzo Castellari of Inglorious Bastards fame. What a pedigree!

John Steiner plays head goon Kariasin, and he must have had a whale of a time doing this. His moustached mouth is never without a Cuban cigar, his body permanently adorned in a tacky white safari suit. He’s holed up in his castle like Gargamel, muttering lines like “John Slade, I’ll get you yet!” and constantly calling for his number two by yelling out “SANTIAGOOOO!!” in a glorious accent. Absolutely gnawing on the scenery. In the obligatory torture scene, he slaps Zags in the face no less than five times. Great stuff.


The Zag’s fighting style always reminds me of Dolph Lundgren – martial arts based but with a heavy thunk behind it and added punching to the chest, and even some ball squeezing for good measure. We get a bit of hand to hand in Striker, but most of the action is mowing down soldiers with machine guns to the face. Being part Rambo clone there is lots of stealth and traps, including a grenade firing slingshot and piano-wire lassos from the tops of trees, and cool stunts like ziplining with an automatic weapon and bodies exploding out castle windows. My favourite trap has to be the corpse stuffed with explosives; very satisfying when that thing goes off.

Marta, Houtman and Frank are fine secondary characters that exist to push the plot forward but besides the Zags wiping out armies single-handed, and Steiner chewing his cigar and stroking his invisible cat, it was the short cameo of Daniel Greene as the very excited amateur boxer by night, truck driver by day scene that had me smiling. He has the job of driving a tired and over-it Zags into the metaphorical sunset; when Greene asks Zags if he likes boxing, his straight forward reply is “I hate violence”. Poetic, given what we just witnessed.


Downsides? Well, we really didn’t need the first scene in any movie to be a real live cockfight. That wasn’t cool in 1988 and it’s not cool now, but its easily fast-forwarded past. I expect that this scene might be one of the troublesome reasons we haven’t had a DVD release of the film anywhere yet. Definitely in the UK that scene would be removed entirely. That scene aside, there is nothing to complain about with Striker. I watched this on my Japanese VHS from Columbia which is uncut and in letterbox widescreen. There is something about watching Rambo clones and otherwise jungle slogs on this format. Not just VHS, but Japanese VHS. They just play so well and it seems so right.

Here’s a titbit I didn’t realise when going in. Striker is immediately followed up by 1991’s Project Eliminator, another Zags vehicle where he plays John “Striker” Slade again, but this time teamed up with David Carradine. Obviously that is going on the watch pile as soon as I can possibly make it happen. But for now, if you want your Italian junglesploitation with a muscle-bound Rambo clone, a mad, cigar-chewing stereotype bad guy and the obvious double-crossing in the third act then look no further than Striker. It comes highly recommended.



Friday, October 1, 2021

Out of Death (2021)

Out of Death (2021)


Pick up the gun. Lay down the law.



Shannon (Jaime King) is going to spread her fathers ashes in the forest that he loved so dearly. When leaving the brush for the road she happens upon a drug deal going bad, resulting in a corrupt cop murdering the dealer. Shannon manages to capture the event on her camera, which is noticed by the cop (Lala Kent as Billie Jean) who calls for help from the Sherrif’s office. Briefly captured and about to be executed, holidaying and retired ex-city police officer Jack Harris (Bruce Willis) causes a distraction and Shannon flees. Sheriff Hank Rivers (Michael Sirow) wants this mess cleaned up quietly before the Mayoral election and will do what it takes to silence both Shannon and Jack.

This wasn’t too bad. It also wasn’t that great. It’s by no means the Explosive Action that the title suggests; Out of Death sounds more like a Steven Seagal action film with that ridiculous name but it plays more like a Liam Neeson suspense-thriller, filtered through a desaturated lens to make it look like a modern zombie film for some reason. There’s the initial murder, a couple of gun shots and knife stabbings and that’s the action quotient for this film. Mostly it’s pistols held in a threatening manner.


The plot is set up early and the cat and mouse game just unfolds more and more, with a few twists and turns to keep you engaged whilst the constant, hugely annoying same piece of bluegrass music plays. At one point I thought it was a character’s ringtone, it seemed stuck in a loop. Director Mike Burns also decided to split the film into chapters with their own intro cards like it was a Tarantino film. Incidentally, Out of Death is his first feature film and it’s competently shot (if by the numbers), though I do question that https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/u/0/d/ of colour grading.

So let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, Bruce Willis is billed as the star. No, he is not the star. But it’s not the bait-and-switch we’ve come to expect from his last decade of DTV films – not exactly, anyway. The focus for most of the film is actually on the bad guys. Crooked cops. Dodgy Sheriffs. Even the co-star on the cover, Jaime King, has less scenes than the bad guys. It’s an interesting way of doing things really, focussing on the cops and the sheriff trying to work out how to get out this mess that they are seemingly just making worse.


That’s not to say we don’t get suitable amount of Jaime and.. well, enough scenes with Bruce to warrant his inclusion. I didn’t count but I’d say there’s fifteen minutes of Bruce. We get a backstory for him being in the forest at the start, he stumbles in to save the day but that doesn’t instantly work out, and he is involved in how it all wraps up at the end. Being an ex-cop I had hoped for gunplay from him but the word that sums up his performance in Out of Death is “tired”. At least he doesn’t spend the whole film sitting down like Seagal would have, but he is his trademark unenthusiastic.

Jaime King is not an unknown actress to me, having appeared in both sequels to Escape Plan with Sylvester Stallone, and both Sin City films also with Bruce Willis. She is fine as Shannon, growing over the 95 minutes runtime from blubbering scared rabbit to accidental Rambo, before owning the role more in the final fifteen minutes of comeuppance. It would have been good to see her have a bit more oomph in the role, but I suppose the point was she was the wrong place, wrong time every-woman type.


I quite liked both Lala Kent as corrupt officer Billie Jean, and Tyler Jon Olson as corrupt officer Tom, though not immediately. Billie Jean swore enough to make a sailor blush, and Tom had a whole pile of male bravado he needed to burn off, but both played dodgy coppers quite well. However, Michael Sirow isn’t hugely believable as Sheriff Hank Rivers, it has to be said. He looks more like a mix between IT professional and magician, sporting a black collared shirt and donning the donut beard of mystery. Sheriffs in movies are meant to be fat Texans in broad-rimmed hats, not the doorman at a Russian nightclub.

I ended up feeling something for characters in this film, but it’s not the ones you expect. I think we are meant to feel sorry for Sharron being caught up in a mess that wasn’t her doing, or for Jack having lost his wife and getting dragged into this shit, but I just don’t have any real feelings for either of them. This is probably partly due to the design of the film not having the stars be the stars, but their lack of action doesn’t help matters. It’s actually the crooked cops I felt something for.


Officers Billie Jean and Tom may be crooked as a dog’s hind leg, but they don’t ever come across as truly bad. They do bad things but they aren’t cartoon-character evil, and as things get worse and worse for each of them, I started to feel pity for them. Both seemed well out of their depths, and neither wanting to really take control of “cleaning up”, which ultimately gives Shannon the upper hand. We hear briefly of their childhood together growing up. There’s a scene between both of them that is half touching and half devastating, and is the most memorable part of the film for me. Not sure if any of this was intended, but the characters – as surface-level nasty as they appear to be – were pretty flawed human beings that have clearly made a series of poor decisions that led them down this crooked path.

So that’s Out of Death, and at the tenth paragraph I am Out of Breath. Not anything I suggest you go out of your way to see, but you could do worse if it lands in your lap or if you are a Bruce Willis DTV tragic like myself.