So once again we have survived.

Avenging Force

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.

Avenging ForceThe 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.

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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.
This entry was posted on Friday, May 23rd, 2008 at 1:13 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

16 Responses to “Avenging Force”

  1. Watched this last night, and I thought it was pretty great. You’re right, Vern, the villains are excellently hateable. Not only are they racist assholes, but they don’t give a FUCK. They open fire on innocent civilians for no damn reason, kill entire families, and murder Secret Service agents like they’re free. I’m kind of surprised you didn’t mention the action scene at the shipyard where James and Dudikoff are climbing all over cranes and towers and shit, murdering people with whatever’s handy. That’s another scene that’s surprisingly epic for a non-Norris Cannon film.

    However, the following scene precisely illustrates the tragedy of Steve James. The villains are licking their wounds, and the nerdy one says something like “That man is a force of nature!” talking about Dudikoff as if Steve James hadn’t even been there. They slaughtered those goons as a team, but James got none of the credit. It’s bullshit. But I guess every generation has their black action star who doesn’t really gets his due. The aughts have Michael Jai White. The nineties had Wesley Snipes. The eighties had Steve James. And the seventies had Warhawk Tanzania.

    Who’s Warhawk Tanzania? Glad you asked: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0849887/

    He only did two movies. I can’t vouch for Black Force, but I will say that Gang Wars is the best kung-fu blaxploitation monster movie I’ve ever seen.

  2. Well shit, now I HAVE to watch those.

  3. I’m pretty sure Black Force is available on cheapjack DVD, but if you want Gang Wars, check out this site: http://www.raremoviesworldwide.com. My copy has a bunch of vintage seventies commercials stuck on the end. Good times.

  4. In memoriam of Menahem Golan, I watched four Cannon films this past week. MISSING IN ACTION and THE DELTA FORCE were an ok way to start. Not great films, but Chuck does his Chuck thing. Kills a few Cong, takes on Robert Forsters PLO, removes his shirt to give his chest hair a monlogue or two.

    RUNAWAY TRAIN was next, and was and always will be the highlight because it’s about a goddamn runaway train with Jon Voight and Eric Roberts on board.

    But the most interesting one was this here AVENGING FORCE. It’s been at least 20 years since I saw it, and yeah, as Vern says, it’s pretty over the top with violence and WTF moments. The way Steve James and his family get taken out, as Vern highlighted already, I actually found quite disturbing. His wife and daughter get shot point blank after being smoked out of a burning house. James’ takes an arrow AND a bullet AND falls off a balcony just to make sure we know he’s completely fucked in accordance with section 8 paragraph 13 of The Tragedy Of Steve James Act, which says Steve James must die a fucked up death in all films he appears in. And when Dudikoff takes an arrow in the leg and falls off the roof with the last remaining member of the James family in his arms, we hear the squeal of the kid and the thuds as he hits the house on the way down.

    Of course, none of this put a dampener on my enjoyment of this Cannon gem. And for the record, Infanticide is wrong. And a crime. Punishable by law. And if Steve James were alive today and making movies, I would suggest he get a new agent.

  5. Vern, I’m a bit disappointed you didn’t use this opportunity to talk about James Booth. His work as an actor, and sometimes screenwriter, on PRAY FOR DEATH, AVENGING FORCE, PROGRAMMED TO KILL, AMERICAN NINJA 2 and AMERICAN NINJA 4 are eough to make him a legend around here. Limehouse anyone? A 58 year old Englishman taking on Sho Kosugi…and looking cool while doing it!

  6. There are some laughs to be had in PRAY FOR DEATH. As pegsman points out that Limehouse is this supposedly unstoppable old fart that somehow can challenge Kosugi is funny enough. The climax is the best form of absurd and is so bullshit it´s funny how much trouble Kosugi has with him.

    Another thing that made me laugh was that Limehouse takes hospital assassination to a new level of bullshit. Usually the assassin disguises himself as a doctor (wouldn´t it have been more inconspicuous of posing as a visitor?). Here:

    *Limehouse slits his wrist and miraculously ends up as patient at the same hospital as Kosugis wife and child lies in.

    *Then: kills the doctor and steal his robe and THEN starts his sneaky assassination mission

    *When he is being found out he goes on a minor rampage before he somehow manages to disguise himself as a cop and exfiltrate.

    PRAY FOR DEATH is a pretty great movie as a result. It´s a funny ninja movie

  7. Been meaning to say, this has just come out on blu-ray: the big draw being a commentary with Dudikoff, which should be interesting.

    Thanks for reminding me, cable charger computer samsung!

  8. I’ve watched that Blu-ray twice now, once for the movie itself and again for the commentary track. It’s a very good looking HD transfer, probably better than it ever looked theatrically with Cannon’s spotty distribution. Dudikoff and Firstenberg have a good rapport and obviously enjoyed revisiting the movie. Very good of Kino Lorber to invest in some bonus features for this film.

  9. Thanks very much for the info, Al – I’ll make sure to order a copy as soon as I can.

  10. Is it region A or B?

  11. It’s labeled as a Region A disc, I have a multi – region player but haven’t had a chance to test it under the other regions yet.

  12. Hi did you get a chance to check if it was region b compatible I really want to import this

  13. Sorry, the Kino Lorber Blu-Ray is locked-in for Region A.

  14. Hi Thanks for that. Real shame as one of my fave 80s films. Bizarre though that uk is getting american ninja 1 to 4 box set on May 25th on blu ray

  15. This one always confused me. The evil white supremacist bowhunting clique is called the Pentangle. Dudikoff only takes on four of them. We never explicitly find out who the fifth guy is! (Yeah, it’s pretty obvious, but still more subtle than I’d expect from a Cannon movie.)

    Did they run out of money? I’ve heard the theory that they were setting things up for a possible sequel, but since when do cheap-ass action movies have cliff-hanger endings to lead into sequels?

  16. In light of the INVASION USA discussion in the DELTA FORCE 2 thread, and bear with me if this is common knowledge, this movie started out as INVASION USA 2.

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