A bunch of people have suggested this one to me over the years, so thank you all. It’s a Michael Dudikoff picture made one year after AMERICAN NINJA. Once again Steve James is the sidekick, this time playing a senator whose family is targeted by racists, so Dudikoff tries to help them and, when that fails, becomes an avenging force.
The best thing about the movie is the bad guys. They’re introduced at a big martial arts demonstration/awards dinner type ceremony. At first it just seems like some kind of weird overlap between a martial arts club and the Republican party. They’re these prominent businessmen and they keep talking about how bad gun control is. But then all the sudden they start tossing the N-word around. These guys are fuckin white supremacists! They also have a secret “hunting club” where they dress up in Halloween masks and S&M gear and shoot arrows at humans.
The hunting club decides to go after Steve James during the mardi gras parade, but Dudikoff happens to be there, so he acts as a defending force. For a Cannon film this is a surprisingly epic scene – it looks like it was mostly filmed during a real parade.
We find out that despite his youth, Dudikoff is one of the best agents such and such organization ever had, etc. The republicans are mad that he embarrassed them at the parade so they go after him. Things escalate and eventually he gets to fight them all one at a time in the swamp, and pull off their masks.
One thing that makes the movie stand out a little is that it goes a little further than you expect. Steve James of course dies, but only after heroically rescuing his son from a fire while dying of an arrow to the back. Next thing you know Dudikoff is on the roof of the house holding the kid – and the bad guys shoot him with an arrow. He falls on top of the kid, rolls off the roof, lands on the ground on top of the kid again. It’s one of those holy shit moments where you just didn’t expect it. But then the kid seems to somehow be unscathed, so you’re relieved. And then the bad guys shoot him. That’s cold, man.
So you gotta like a movie like that. But on the other hand this is the best example I’ve seen of the tragedy of Steve James. This guy was sidekick to Dudikoff and Chuck Norris on multiple occasions but was rarely allowed to shine on his own. And then he died in 1993. He’s clearly capable and watching this movie I can’t help but wonder why Dudikoff’s character should even be there. Why does it have to be his white buddy who is an avenging force? Why couldn’t Steve James survive the arrow and fire and do it on his own?
It’s weird. It’s a movie that is obviously against racism, and allows its lead black man to be a politician. But it still has to have the white friend come in to save the day. Not cool.
Still, there’s lots of good/goofy shit. One part that made me laugh was when he was in the town of moonshine-swilling hillbillies and found his sister enslaved by a drag queen madam in lingerie with no pants. I couldn’t figure out why the rednecks didn’t seem to turn their ignorance on the female impersonator. But then, right before Dudikoff knocks the guy through a window, he pulls off his wig for no reason. I think the movie is worried that you think it’s really a woman, and that you would be mad at Dudikoff for hitting a woman. That’s my only guess.
To be fair there is a precedent for small town rednecks not being able to spot a man in drag. For example in TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING SIGNED YOUR FRIEND JULIE NEWMAR the late Chris Penn played an asshole sherriff who pulls over Patrick Swayze and sexually harasses him. And really believes he’s a woman. I mean Patrick gave a great performance and everything but I think in a more urban area people would know what the deal was there, they would not fall for it like Chris Penn did.
But back to AVENGING FORCE. The fights are pretty good. Even though Dudikoff was a model, not a martial artist, he seems fairly convincing with all the swords and knives and shit, and I approve of movies that use lots of crossbows. It’s kind of funny though – there are three fights in a row that take place in a foot of swamp water. I guess they ran out of interesting locations after they shot the parade scene.
AVENGING FORCE isn’t a great action movie but it’s one with enough weird twists to stand out from the rest. If you’re into the Cannon white ninja movies or hate racist bowhunters in Halloween masks then it is worth seeing.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.