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  Strike Commando If you can't get Rambo, Ransom will do
Year: 1987
Director: Bruno Mattei
Stars: Reb Brown, Christopher Connelly, Louise Kamsteeg, Luciano Pigozzi, Alex Vitale, Karen Lopez, Philip Gordon, Edison Navarro, Ricardo Santos, Jim Gaines, Fred Gajudo, Juliet D. Lei, Rose De Guida, Rene Abadeza, Charlie Patiro
Genre: Action, War, Trash, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: During the Vietnam war, tough commando Sgt. Mike Ransom (Reb Brown) is left for dead after leading a raid on a North Vietnamese military outpost. He wakes up screaming in a village where locals (who scream right back at him) include a grizzled old French missionary (Italian trash film staple Luciano Pigozzi) and Lao (Edison Navarro), a child soldier who dreams of visiting Disneyland. Where Mike assures him popcorn grows on trees. Skeptical female guerrilla fighter Cho-Li (Karen Lopez) asks Mike not to fill Lao with false hope. However once the villagers help Mike return home safely he convinces the shady Colonel Radek (Christopher Connelly) to authorize a mission to both rescue the villagers and expose Russian military involvement in the war. Unfortunately Mike discovers there is a traitor in the American ranks and falls afoul of maniacal Russian agents.

Z-grade Italian exploitation hack Bruno Mattei tended to pace his infamous horror films (e.g. Zombie Creeping Flesh (1981), Rats: Night of Terror (1984)) more like action movies anyway. So it made sense Mattei jumped onto Italy's Rambo rip-off bandwagon once the wind began blowing that way and other horror veterans like Antonio Margheriti and Lamberto Bava started cranking out jungle action flicks. Like much of Mattei's work Strike Commando was co-written by the similarly notorious Claudio Fragasso, perpetrator of among others After Death (1990) and - shudder - Troll 2 (1990). The film lifts its imagery from a grab-bag of Hollywood Vietnam movies, offering shoddy low-budget riffs on scenes from The Deerhunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979), but its chief thematic and visceral inspiration is obviously Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985). Although toe-curling, the melodramatic interaction between meat popsicle Reb Brown and would-be adorable machine-gun wielding tyke Lao suggests Mattei and Fragasso have at least a vague grasp of the complex politics and human tragedy underlining the Vietnam conflict. Nevertheless the film is primarily concerned with having its buff, bare-chested hero romp around the jungle blasting his way through as many Viet Cong troops and Russian agents as the budget will allow. It is war as video game but then so was Rambo. The only difference is Strike Commando lacks that slick veneer of professionalism. Along with a slippery hold on an admittedly threadbare plot, Mattei exhibits a shaky grasp of the period setting. He has one American soldier listening to a Walkman.

Lacking the finesse of his contemporaries, the dodgy duo of Mattei and Fragasso abandon all pretense at originality or reinterpretation. Strike Commando delivers little more than a cut-price carbon copy of the Sylvester Stallone movie. Christopher Connelly's amoral special forces colonel is simply a stand-in for the corrupt CIA agent Charles Napier played in the Hollywood movie. Similarly the film has its own version of the Richard Crenna character whose sole function is to seemingly blow Mike Ransom every few minutes and remind the viewer he is the best at what he does. Which includes blundering into successive ambushes orchestrated by relentless Russian behemoth Jakoda (Alex Vitale). Interestingly the second act makes a point of having Olga (Louise Kamsteeg), Jakoda's comely female partner exhibiting compassion for the captive American to the point where she even warns him of a sneak attack. Yet Ransom never notices the change in Olga's demeanour and while the film seems like it is heading into a romantic subplot Mattei abruptly gives up on the whole thing and casually bumps her off.

What Strike Commando does have going for it is ridiculous comic book violence. An oddly cheerful Reb Brown lacks the intensity to sell viewers on the film's already shaky drama but remains an endearingly goofball presence amidst constant explosions and sub-Sam Peckinpah slow-motion shootouts. Brown, lest we forget the original Captain America via a duo of godawful made-for-TV movies in 1979, see-sawed between small roles in mainstream fare like Big Wednesday (1978) and Uncommon Valour (1983) and leads in trash films from Yor, the Hunter from the Future (1983) to the unforgivable Howling II - Stirba, Werewolf Bitch (1985). While Brown sat out Strike Commando 2 (1988) to be replaced by Brent Huff, co-starring with Richard Harris (?!), he re-teamed with Mattei for the even more deranged Robowar (1988) which, in a logical next step from a Rambo rip-off, delivered a twisted take on Predator (1987) by way of Robocop (1987).

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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