Film Review: Avenging Force (1986)

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

Golan-Globus Productions, Cannon Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“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 Ninja1 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 FightCrime 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 Ninja1 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.

Film Review: American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989)

Release Date: February 24th, 1989
Directed by: Cedric Sundstrom
Written by: Gary Conway
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: David Bradley, Steve James, Michele Chan, Calvin Jung, Marjoe Gortner

Cannon Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

“But I am glad that I can tell you that there will be no more inefficient hijackings, no more bungled kidnappings or mistimed bombings, because you see now terrorism can be scientifically focused to be totally effective!” – The Cobra

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt is where this series went into a steep decline. While one and two are far from masterpieces, they are really enjoyable 80s action flicks featuring a gazillion ninjas and the utter coolness that is Michael Dudikoff. Plus they were directed by the greatest ninja movie director of the 1980s, Sam Firstenberg.

Well, Dudikoff and Firstenberg didn’t return for the third chapter in the series. Many people do not know why Dudikoff bowed out and I didn’t for years until researching it recently. Apparently, after the second film was released, Dudikoff got a mountain of shit from the do-gooders in Hollywood because the movie was made in South Africa during Apartheid. Dudikoff only agreed to return briefly in part four, after convincing the producers to film it in Lesotho, that small independent country surrounded by South Africa. I’m not sure if this is why Firstenberg also left but the filmmakers did not even mention shooting location in the credits of American Ninja 3, which was still filmed in South Africa.

In this chapter, we meet Sean Davidson (David Bradley). As a kid, his father was murdered during a robbery at a karate tournament because why wouldn’t a movie like this start out that way? He is then raised by a ninja, because why wouldn’t he be? When Sean gets older, he’s a bad ass ninja and fights in karate tournaments like his dead daddy. At the 1989 Island Games Karate Tournament, Sean meets Curtis Jackson (Steve James) from the first two American Ninja films but unfortunately, this was his last.

Also at the tournament, Sean and Curtis with their annoying friend Dex, discover that something strange is afoot. There is a criminal madman, as there always is at karate tournaments, that is developing some sort of killer virus. While meddling in the bad guy’s affairs, Sean is captured and given the virus. A bunch of ninja fights happen, Sean meditates the virus out of him and the good guys win.

I didn’t spoil the whole movie but there isn’t a whole lot of plot. Just lots of bad fight choreography and other random stunt stuff. And yes, the fight choreography is almost excruciatingly bad. All the scenes where Michele Chan throws down are horribly executed. She looked like a fish out of water and completely awkward.

When Sean and Curtis were fighting, it was mostly okay but there was nothing to really make you pump your fist like when you see Dudikoff in the first film take on the evil Black Star Ninja. Speaking of which, after two good big boss ninjas in the two previous films, this chapter in the series lacked that. The final fight was Sean against the criminal madman, who really wasn’t a fighter. Well, Sean also had to bat away a couple mid-grade ninja henchmen but they aren’t even worthy of being level one bosses in a 80s Data East game.

I don’t hate American Ninja 3 but it does make me weep at the possibility of what could have happened, had Dudikoff and Firstenberg stayed in the series. Don’t get me wrong, David Bradley was not a bad replacement but it was hard to see him achieve his best in a poorly directed, written and choreographed mess like this.

Rating: 4/10

Film Review: American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)

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

Review:

“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.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: American Ninja (1985)

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

Review:

“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.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: The Delta Force (1986)

Release Date: February 14th, 1986
Directed by: Menahem Golan
Written by: James Bruner, Menahem Golan
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin, Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, Kim Delaney, Robert Forster, Lainie Kazan, George Kennedy, Hanna Schygulla, Susan Strasberg, Bo Svenson, Robert Vaughn, Shelley Winters, Steve James

Golan-Globus Productions, Cannon Films, 129 Minutes

Review:

This may be my favorite Chuck Norris film of all-time but I need to watch Missing In Action again, because it’s been awhile.

This film is like two films in one. There is the first part which has to do with Lebanese terrorists hijacking a plane. I’m not really sure why because I don’t know if it was even explained but they spend the first half of the movie flying, landing, flying, taking Jewish hostages, flying some more.

The second half of the film deals with Chuck Norris’ team of bad ass Delta Force MFers trying to rescue some hostages from the terrorist compound. Chuck is joined by veteran Lee Marvin and American Ninja sidekick Steve James.

Asses get kicked, stuff gets exploded, everything gets shot and Norris rides a bad ass motorcycle that shoots missiles! What’s not to love?

The cinematography was average, the acting was below average, the plot wasn’t important but did you read the previous paragraph?

The Delta Force is a fun movie. Especially for those of us with nuts full of testosterone.

Rating: 6/10