Also known as: Alistair MacLean’s River of Death (Germany) Release Date: May 15th, 1989 (Cannes) Directed by: Steve Carver Written by: Andrew Deutsch, Edward Simpson Based on:River of Death by Alistair MacLean Music by: Sasha Matson Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence, Herbert Lom, L. Q. Jones
Breton Film Productions, Cannon International, Pathe Communications, 107 Minutes
I’m a pretty avid fan of the movies that Michael Dudikoff made for Cannon Films. So I figured that this would be a hidden gem because of that. Plus, it had an interesting premise that saw Dudikoff go to the Amazon to hunt for treasure and Nazis. Honestly, it sounded like a Cannon Films version of an Indiana Jones movie.
I should have been weary though, as Cannon already attempted such a thing with those two Allan Quatermain pictures from the mid-’80s. Neither of them were terrible but they weren’t awesome either.
Maybe Dudikoff is just at his best when Steve James is by his side and he’s either fighting ninjas or guys in weird costumes that hide in the bayou? Whatever the case, this movie is a total fucking dud.
What’s even more sad about the whole thing is that this also featured Robert Vaughn and Donald Pleasence. Two great character actors with solid chops and really long resumes.
Honestly, though, this movie is pretty damn boring for a film that’s premise promised some pretty cool things. While it has action, none of it is very memorable and we’ve seen much better efforts by Cannon Films four dozen times over by the time this rolled around in ’89.
It’s poorly acted, the script is bird cage liner and the direction and fight choreography don’t measure up to the reasonable low standards of Cannon.
For a Cannon Films or Dudikoff completist, I guess this is worth checking out. Just don’t expect to find your new favorite film of the lot.
Rating: 3.5/10 Pairs well with: other Michael Dudikoff action films, as well as other action movies from Cannon.
Also known as: Tron: The Electronic Gladiator (Australia – promotional title), Disney’s TRON: The Original Classic (re-release title) Release Date: July 9th, 1982 Directed by: Steven Lisberger Written by: Steven Lisberger, Bonnie MacBird Music by: Wendy Carlos Cast: Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, Cindy Morgan, Barnard Hughes, Dan Shor, Michael Dudikoff
Walt Disney Productions, Lisberger/Kushner, 96 Minutes
“On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy.” – Kevin Flynn
I’ve been wanting to re-watch and review the TRON films for awhile now but I figured that I’d hold out till Disney+ dropped, as I assumed that these would be there, along with a bunch of other films I’ve held off on for the streaming service’s launch.
Well, now that Disney+ is here, you can expect a lot of reviews of sci-fi and fantasy Disney flicks that I’ve been putting off until now.
This is one of my all-time favorite films simply because of its visual aesthetic. Honestly, there is nothing like it and that includes it’s big budget, modern sequel that relied on modern CGI effects, as opposed to the dreamlike matte paintings and primitive computer effects that this original film employed.
TRON is such a unique and bizarre picture that it wasn’t initially successful. It developed a cult following as time went on and eventually, Disney made a sequel, albeit 28 years later. But it was considered a financial disappointment, despite being their highest grossing live-action film in over five years. This actually led to Disney writing off some of its budget.
In the years since 1982, the film found its audience thanks to home video and television. In fact, almost all the kids I knew, back in the day, liked the film, even if its concepts felt like they were a bit over our head.
It was TRON that really generated my interest in programming when I was a kid and I would go on to excel at computers in a time when they weren’t really owned in very many homes yet. I always took computer programming classes throughout school and even designed my first video game in 1991 because of how I was inspired by this film.
Seeing it again now, the first time in at least five years, I still absolutely love this picture from its look, its cool and original story and also because of its musical score and sound effects. TRON truly is an otherworldly experience in a way that the sequel couldn’t quite replicate.
However, being older and having a more refined palate, without sounding like a pretentious asshole, I can see the faults in the film. And even though it’s hard not to become overwhelmed by nostalgia, having some distance from this allows me to see it more clearly and with somewhat fresher eyes.
To start, the acting isn’t terrible but Jeff Bridges really has to carry the picture. It’s not his best effort but I almost don’t feel as if he’s really acting. I think that he was having a blast making this movie and it shows. But luckily, for the character he was playing, it fits and it works well.
Additionally, I thought that David Warner did a solid job too, as did all of the main players. But you can’t not see the hokiness in all of this and at certain points it pulls you out of this fantastical adventure. However, I think that some of this is the script’s fault, as there are some weird lines thrown in. Like the little observational joke that Dr. Gibbs gives when you meet him. It was a cute, whimsical way to explain the technology he was working with but it was just an odd moment. As a kid, I was like, “Shut up old man! You’re being weird!”
I don’t feel like the direction was necessarily good either but it wasn’t bad. Honestly, it seems kind of nonexistent, which is fine for what this is but I think that there was more emphasis on lining up the action on large sets without the actual world around the characters existing. I mean, this was made well before green screen was a major thing in Hollywood and the film feels kind of emotionless and cold at times because so much detail was given to the visual side of the film. But if the visuals didn’t work, TRON would’ve been a disaster.
The things that do work though are the art direction, the special effects, the post-production manufactured sets and the film’s sound from its imaginative score and computer world sound effects.
I’d like to think that this is a picture that has stood the test of time but it will certainly feel dated to younger audiences. It’s a strange movie by any standard and it’s not going to be a lot of people’s cup of tea. But that doesn’t discount that it did once speak to a generation of kids that were inspired by its coolness and uniqueness and thus, embraced a brave new world of emerging technology.
TRON is a special film. It’s amazing that it even got made in the first place because it was a massive risk. In 2019, I don’t think a studio would have the balls to try something this far outside of the box.
Rating: 7.75/10 Pairs well with: it’s sequel: TRON: Legacy, as well as other sci-fi films of the era like The Black Hole, The Last Starfighter, Flash Gordon and The Explorers.
Also known as: Street Hunter (alternative title), The Infernal Venture (Belgium) Release Date: September 11th, 1992 (Germany) Directed by: Arthur Allan Seidelman Written by: Michael Snyder Music by: Joel Hirschhorn, Al Kasha, David Waters Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Stephen Dorff, Ami Dolenz, Peter DeLuise, William Lucking, Dee Wallace, Liz Torres
Cannon Films, 99 Minutes
“Now you kissed a girl, kid – the rest is all downhill.” – Daniel ‘Mac’ MacDonald
What happens when you take a teenage Deacon Frost, team him up with the American Ninja and have them hunt down dumb kidnappers that took Tony Danza’s daughter from She’s Out of Control? You get this movie.
But you also get Peter DeLuise as one of the bumbling criminals, as well as Dee Wallace as the always concerned but always aloof mom.
That being said, I love the cast and it actually shocks me that I didn’t know of this film’s existence until fairly recently.
Additionally, this was put out by Cannon Films, which explains the lead role for Michael Dudikoff. But this was also put out by Cannon very late in the company’s lifespan. And this shows, as it lacks the high octane magic that was always present in their ’80s films that featured any sort of action.
Still, this was enjoyable and it actually surprised me as it had real heart and charm.
Sure, it’s a dumb movie with a bad script, baffling decisions by the characters and it’s so over the top that it’s not believable even for a comedy. However, you do end up liking these characters and find yourself cheering for them. Well, Stephen Dorff’s Fraser and Dudikoff’s Mac. Ami Dolenz just plays a selfish rich girl that goes on to prove that she’s a dumb and shitty person.
The story follows Dorff’s Fraser, a high school photographer that pines over Dolenz’s Ginny. He witnesses a crime going down, Ginny ends up in the middle of it along with Mac. Ginny is taken hostage and Fraser wants to go save her. So he teams up with Mac and they go from Nebraska to Los Angeles in search of Ginny and a bit of revenge.
At it’s core, this is a coming of age story about young love, first crushes, first kisses and learning to accept that your first love is probably just going to break your heart. I like that this film didn’t go for the cookie cutter ending where the nerd saves the cheerleader and they live happily ever after. The fact that Fraser actually grows up through this experience and realizes he doesn’t need Ginny is actually refreshing.
Dorff was pretty damn good, even at this age. But the film is really carried by the chemistry and the friendship of Dorff and Dudikoff’s characters. I really liked Dudikoff in this and while I prefer him being a straight up action star, he got to really show his human side and his acting ability more here than he did in any American Ninja movie or Avenging Force.
What was also best about this leading duo is that they looked like they enjoyed being in this movie and that they actually clicked well together off screen. In retrospect, it must have been cool for the young Dorff to work opposite an ’80s action star and for Dudikoff it must have been satisfying working with a kid that had chops and a pretty bright future.
Rating: 6.5/10 Pairs well with: other ’90s road trip movies.
Also known as: Night Hunter (working title), American Warrior II (Belgium & France) Release Date: September 12th, 1986 Directed by: Sam Firstenberg Written by: James Booth Music by: George S. Clinton Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, William Wallace, John P. Ryan, Marc Alaimo
“Matt, you don’t have to get involved in this part, this is my fight.” – Larry Richards, “Your fight is my fight. You just remember that.” – Matt Hunter
If you asked 100 people on the street to tell you who Sam Firstenberg is, 0 out of 100 would be able to tell you. Sam Firstenberg is one of the most notable directors from the era that was my childhood, however. He was the architect of several badass ninja movies and also made some good pictures with Michael Dudikoff and Steve James, Avenging Force being one of them.
Fresh off the heels of the original American Ninja, Firstenberg re-teamed with its stars, Dudikoff and James, to make Avenging Force. This was the one and only picture that they did outside of the American Ninja series and frankly, this fits better with American Ninjas 1 and 2 than part 3 does.
Dudikoff and James are entirely different characters but Dudikoff is essentially the same ’80s blonde badass that he always is. Instead of fighting a ninja horde, he is pitted against a fraternity of racist killers.
The finale of this film is awesome and it sees Dudikoff enter the bayou to fight each member of the fraternity in one-on-one swamp battles. It sort of plays like an ’80s beat’em up action game where each villain in this film feels like a boss from Bad Dudes, Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, Final Fight, Crime Fighters or Renegade. Every villain has some sort of unique gimmick and style that makes each fight very different and fresh.
This also takes place in and around New Orleans, which gave it a much different vibe than the other Firstenberg movies. Plus, I’ve always loved New Orleans and its culture. This has a pretty fun Mardi Gras action sequence in it.
Now I don’t like this as much as American Ninjas 1 and 2 but it is certainly pretty close to their quality and it is very enjoyable.
Michael Dudikoff wasn’t the greatest martial arts actor of all-time and I really don’t know if he even practiced martial arts before American Ninja but he holds his own. Besides, his fighting is less flashy and feels more organic and real when compared to the extreme agility and dexterity of someone like Jean-Claude Van Damme or Sho Kosugi.
Rating: 7.25/10 Pairs well with: The American Ninja franchise, especially the first two films. Also, the Sam Firstenberg Ninja films and really anything by Cannon Films that features action and ’80s machismo.
Release Date: June 29th, 1984 Directed by: Neal Israel Written by: Neal Israel, Pat Proft, Bob Israel Music by: Robert Folk Cast: Tom Hanks, Adrian Zmed, William Tepper, Tawny Kitaen, Michael Dudikoff, George Grizzard, Barbara Stuart, Robert Prescott, Monique Gabrielle
20th Century Fox, 105 Minutes
“I wish I had someone I could really respect. Hey, look at the cans on that bimbo!” – O’Neill
’80s Tom Hanks was a hell of a lot of fun. Sure, he’s still probably a very fun guy but since the ’80s, he’s been more of a dramatic actor. In fact, he’s become one of the top actors of the last few decades. But going back and revisiting his old school comedy films is always a good experience.
Bachelor Party is really just a big party movie for adults. Unlike mainstream high school movies like the John Hughes stuff, this was a comedy with a much harder edge, boobies, drugs, hookers and a donkey that likes to party hard. This is a pretty absurd film but it worked for the time and it is still really enjoyable nearly thirty-five years later.
Tom Hanks is set to marry Tawny Kitaen, who was the apple of every Whitesnake fan’s eye. However, before the marriage, Hanks needs to have a massive and crazy bachelor party with his buddies. What we get is one of the most insane parties ever put to celluloid.
His entire crew of friends are all unique and enjoyable. Well, except they all pretty much have a one track mind and that’s to party. Well, there is the nutty suicidal friend that just spends his time trying to kill himself. And then there is the jealous ex-boyfriend of Tawny Kitaen, played by Robert Prescott, who does everything he can to try and ruin the party. Of course, this always backfires on him in hilarious ways.
I’ll be honest, this is a stupid f’n movie but I like stupid f’n movies as long as they are fun and make me laugh. Nowadays, this might feel like an old, offensive, sexist relic. But the people who worry about shit like that don’t have a lot of fun in their own lives. This is stupid, harmless, asinine fun in the same vein as Meatballs, Porky’s, Revenge of the Nerds, Private School, The Last American Virgin, etc.
This also co-stars Michael Dudikoff, the American Ninja himself. Sadly, he doesn’t kill any evil ninjas in this movie.
Lastly, who doesn’t want to watch a donkey eat several dozen pills and do lines of cocaine?
Rating: 7/10 Pairs well with: Other ’80s Tom Hanks comedies: Splash, Volunteers, Dragnet, etc. Also, any ’80s party movie.
Release Date: March 8th, 1991 Directed by: Cedric Sundstrom Written by: David Geeves Music by: Nic. tenBroek Cast: Michael Dudikoff, David Bradley, James Booth, Swayne Alexandre
Cannon Films, 99 Minutes
“This isn’t a game, Gavin, those were ninja!” – Sean Davidson
The American Ninja franchise lost Michael Dudikoff in part three. However, he returns in this one, even if he doesn’t show up until the middle of the film. What makes this chapter in the series interesting, is that it is the only one to feature both of the “American Ninjas”. Unfortunately, they don’t have a lot of screen time together and this is a pretty shitty movie. Also, this is the first picture in the series to not feature the bad ass and awesome Steve James.
The plot sees some angry white dude team up with Muslim terrorists that happen to have a ninja army because every baddie in this series, regardless of cultural ties, has ownership of a ninja horde. I don’t even remember what the baddies’ plot was and I just watched this and have seen it a bunch of times.
Anyway, Sean (Bradley) really wants to get help from Joe (Dudikoff) but he’s off being a pacifist with the Peace Corps. Eventually, Sean gets captured and at the exact moment where he is about to be burned alive, Joe walks onto the set and tears up ninja ass. Suddenly, you’ve got two “American Ninjas” kicking the bejesus out of anything that breathes.
The action is actually a step up from the atrocity that was the fight choreography in the third film but it still pretty much sucks here and it made me feel bad for Dudikoff, who got to do some really cool shit in the first two movies in the franchise.
This picture is also a weird hybrid of a ninja movie and a bad Mad Max ripoff. The good guy gang that storms the fortress to battle the ninjas looks like a 1980s post-apocalyptic Halloween parade. But if you ever wanted to see a post-apocalyptic desert gang battle a ninja horde, this is your movie. I can’t recall this happening anywhere else, ever.
As much as I love this franchise, this movie sucks tremendously. It also doesn’t help that the music is absolutely friggin’ awful. I’ve heard better sounds come out of a speaker covered in dog shit emitting white noise.
American Ninja 4: The Annihilation gets its title from what it does to our spirits. It annihilates the souls of those who loved these movies before this one. It then swallows them up, waits a few hours and then pisses them back into our faces.
I really hate doing this, based off of the quality of the first two pictures in this series, but American Ninja 4 must be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer. That being said, the results read that this is a “Type 5 Stool: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).”
Release Date: May 1st, 1987 Directed by: Sam Firstenberg Written by: James Booth, Gary Conway Music by: George S. Clinton Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Larry Poindexter, Gary Conway
Cannon Films, 90 Minutes
“I don’t like that tiny maggot, I don’t like him at all. I mean what is this? Ninjas? Drug pushers? My men being kidnapped and murdered? This is really beginning to get on my tits.” – Wild Bill Woodward
When I reviewed the first American Ninja I said that the films got worse and worse. I was wrong on one account, this film. Truth be told, while I watch the original every couple of years, I haven’t seen this one since I was a teenager. Back then, I didn’t like it as much as the first. Now, I think it is pretty equal, if not slightly better than the original. Things do go downhill after this one though.
The plot is a little wacky but the action and the setting are much better than the first picture. The story sees our heroes Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) and Curtis Jackson (Steve James) arrive on a Caribbean island (actually filmed in South Africa) to investigate why some Marines have gone missing. As the film progresses and ninjas keep trying to capture Armstrong and Jackson, we learn that some villain is making mindless super soldier ninjas out of the elite soldiers he captures. The end goal is to sell super ninja armies to other villains with large bank accounts. So we get a big finale of Armstrong and Jackson against an army of super ninjas.
Compared to the first film, Dudikoff is much better on screen in the action sequences. James also puts down the big machine gun and fights ninjas with a couple machetes. The film has a lot more hand-to-hand combat and the skills of the actors and the stunt work is just more refined and fluid in this movie. The main evil ninja isn’t as cool as the Black Star Ninja from the first movie but he’s still a solid baddie.
Unfortunately, Dudikoff left this series after this film except for a fairly brief appearance in the fourth film. This was also the last time we got to see the duo of Dudikoff and James on screen together, following the original American Ninja and Avenging Force, which came out between the two Ninja movies.
American Ninja 2: The Confrontation is a good sequel to the original. The series tanks after this installment but at least we got two good chapters before the breakup of Dudikoff and James and the introduction to David Bradley, who took over the series in American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt.
Release Date: August 30th, 1985 Directed by: Sam Firstenberg Written by: Paul De Mielche, Gideon Amir, Avi Kleinberger, James Silke Music by: Michael Linn Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Judie Aronson, Guich Koock, John Fujioka, Don Stewart, John LaMotta, Tadashi Yamashita, Phil Brock, David Vlok
Cannon Film Distributors, 95 Minutes
“These symbols will give your mind ultimate purpose. Gin, Retsu, Zai, Zen.” – Shinyuki
American Ninja is a movie that I rented so many times as a kid in the 80s that I probably single-handedly warped the tape into oblivion by the time the 90s rolled around. For those who rented a very choppy copy from Citeo Video, Movie Van, Curtis Mathis, Pix N Picks, American Video, Reel Image Video or any other video store in southern Florida circa 1990, I apologize.
Why did I love this movie so much? Well, it had friggin’ ninjas. Lots and lots of mother friggin’ ninjas! So many that it made all the ninjas in all those 80s Sho Kosugi movies combined, look like a small army by comparison.
The film also features Michael Dudikoff, who may not have been as big of an 80s action star as Stallone, Schwarzenegger or either of the two Chucks, but he was somehow cooler. It’s like he had this James Dean quality and as a kid, I probably even had a major man crush on him even though I’m not gay and I was too young to realize what any of that meant. There was just something about Dudikoff. He spoke very little, looked like the coolest guy in gym class and killed ninjas by the gallons.
However, it doesn’t end with Dudikoff. We also get the always awesome Steve James, who plays Dudikoff’s awesome sidekick and bad ass friend. When this dude comes rolling into the ninja compound on the back of a jeep firing a massive machine gun, we, the audience, truly understand the meaning of bringing a knife to a gunfight. Plus, the chemistry between Dudikoff and James was great. They felt like real friends ready to bust up any ninja clan moving in on their island paradise.
Did I mention that this film also has Judie Aronson in it? While she is no Phoebe Cates (my first love), between this film, Weird Science and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, she was certainly on my radar and the apple of my eye after Ms. Cates. Granted, she is kind of a stupid damsel in distress in American Ninja but she didn’t write the script and she did well acting like a spoiled yuppie and mindless doofus.
American Ninja doesn’t have the best plot but it is the least ridiculous of all the films in the series. Essentially, Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) is a low level Army grunt that is too cool to fit in with the others. On a convoy run, he finds himself in the middle of a hijacking. He fights back but his actions get a few soldiers killed and puts the Colonel’s daughter in danger. Why she is even there, I can’t begin to guess. Ninjas show up, Joe whips ass and then hides in the jungle with the Colonel’s daughter who is more concerned about her designer shoes and skirt than running away from a horde of killer ninjas.
Joe is punished for thinking he’s John Rambo but he befriends Jackson (Steve James). They discover that there is a conspiracy going on between the military and the evil rich guy on the island who is hijacking their weapons to sell on the black market. The evil guy has a ninja army that trains 24/7 at his tropical mountain mansion. One thing leads to another and we got Dudikoff and James’ machine gun versus a gazillion ninjas. But it’s all about the final showdown with the master ninja, simply called Black Star Ninja.
The action in this movie is stellar. Sure, some of the obviously staged shots are a bit hokey but they still look cool. Who doesn’t love synchronized ninja flips? While Dudikoff isn’t the physical specimen that Sho Kosugi is, he still holds his own and was good enough for Cannon Films to move on from Kosugi and turn American Ninja into a franchise that found a long life on the shelves of every video store throughout the United States.
It would have been a lot cooler had Sho Kosugi played the villainous Black Star Ninja but Tadashi Yamashita did a fine job and frankly, he’s got skills too.
American Ninja was a film that was loved by many young boys and teens in the 1980s. It set the bar higher than what its sequels could live up too but that doesn’t mean that my friends and I didn’t rent the hell out of those movies too. We loved the franchise and many of us still do. In fact, I still watch this film every couple of years.
I just wish that Michael Dudikoff would’ve stayed past the second film. Although, he does have an expanded cameo role in the fourth film. Regardless, each movie gets worse and worse and the only other Dudikoff outing that can hang with American Ninja is Avenging Force, which came out a year later and also co-stars Steve James.