Somewhere in Italy, 1944 when the Second World War was raging and a squad of American soldiers are taking some time off from the fighting to gather their thoughts, including Joey (Timothy Van Patten) and Mittens (Art LaFleur) who are discussing the former’s love of pulp magazines and the latter’s love of cigarettes, which intersect more than you would think when bartering is what keeps the G.I.s going as they need diversions from the Hell that is the conflict. A reporter, Dolan (Biff Manard) joins them and Joey is excited because he knows his work, he’s a very well respected journalist, but what they don’t know is this three and their Sarge (Tim Thomerson) are about to be thrown into turmoil…
Well, even more turmoil, as that wouldn’t get much more tumultuous than World War II, yet somehow director Danny Bilson (father of star Rachel Bilson) and his co-writer Paul De Meo managed to add something to the mix of the traditional combat flick that not many would have thought was a good idea. It was this mixing of genres that marked out their work together: they had made Trancers for Empire Pictures the previous year, a combination sci-fi and hardboiled detective yarn, and would go on to pen the should-have-been-bigger Rocketeer for Disney at the start of the next decade, a combination superhero movie and war espionage plot; Bilson would be a powerful creator of computer games after that.
You can see that pulp sensibility ran through this team’s work, doing for the nineteen-eighties what Roger Corman and his ilk did for the fifties, which in this case looked to be a meshing of the sort of war comics like Sergeant Rock would portray as a view of the event with a more sci-fi style that was Empire’s stock in trade, when they weren’t making horrors that was. Kicking off with a rendition of In the Mood, not the Glenn Miller version but a not bad facsimile, established the tone as a throwback to the B-movies of the past, but also owing a debt to the Vic Morrow television series Combat that was required viewing for millions of kids and their dads in homes across the globe – the ever-reliable Thomerson took the Morrow role.
But where did the science fiction enter into proceedings? After a convenient ambush that removes a bunch of extras in uniform on both sides of the conflict, we are left with that quartet who quickly find themselves lost and behind enemy lines. Yet there’s something else going on – why do they spy the SS setting up camp nearby? And what is it that Joey catches sight of when on guard duty that night? No surprises for guessing it was space alien-related, but not so much as the poster/VHS cover would have had you believe, for that depicted the U.S. forces going into battle against an invading alien army raining death from above, a scene that was conspicuously absent from the noticeably low budget movie.
You had to admire their cheek, especially as the film itself featured Adolf Hitler being punched in the face (somehow more satisfying than the finale of Inglourious Basterds), but there were only two spaceships in the story, and one of them was an undeniably impressive set to make it appear as if a rocket had crash landed into a field that Sarge and Joey investigate. It turns out that we had a story owing something to E.T. The Extraterrestrial where a pod containing the visitor (a sort of cross between a bear and a fly) had been captured by the Nazis (or Nazzies, as Sarge terms them) and our four heroes had to save it. With only one woman in the cast, and she was a dream sequence, a testosterone-fuelled piece of thickear was promised, yet there was something more innocent than that about the end result, as if somehow a game thought up by a bunch of little kids had been hijacked by grown-ups and placed before the cameras. For that reason, Zone Troopers was a disarming effort that might not be hugely impressive, yet you willed it on nonetheless. Music by Richard Band.