Isaac Florentine’s third movie (after FAREWELL TERMINATOR and DESERT KICKBOXER) is a western starring Olivier Gruner as Joseph Charlegrand, a Frenchman trailing somebody through the American west. The box claims it’s a true story, but the internet disagrees.
In the grand spaghetti tradition, Charlegrand is a mysterious stranger wandering through the desert on his horse. Some cowboy assholes knock him off his horse and he drops his gun, so he busts out the kickboxing. They know all about punching, of course, but this shit blows their minds. It’s like he came down from space.
They call him “Yankee,” but it’s only because they don’t know their blue hats. His is from the French Foreign Legion. He carries with him a flyer for a tough man tournament, which we obviously know he would be good at, but it turns out he’s not in town to enter. He’s trailing another fighter that he expects to be there.
Like all drifters, though, he gets wrapped up in somebody else’s business, and guilted into helping out. The somebody in this one is Ian Ziering (skinhead from NO WAY BACK) and his wife Ashley Laurence (Kirsty from HELLRAISER). The wife immediately seems to have a thing for Charlegrand, and the husband wants him to beat it, until he uses the kickboxing to fight off some thugs, and he gets invited for dinner. “You got a fancy way of doing things in France!” Ziering says when he hears that this fighting style is Savate, French boxing.
There’s an asshole businessman in town (R. Lee Ermey, uncredited even though he’s the lead villain) who’s trying to buy out everybody’s property. Ziering doesn’t want to give in, and he gets bullied on his own land. For a while Charlegrand stands by, trying to keep things peaceful. It’s realistic but kind of frustrating since we know this is an action movie and he should just get to it. This turns more humorous when it’s decided that the way to raise the money to save everybody’s land from foreclosure is to win the tough man tournament. I mean, for Ian Ziering to win the tough man tournament, after Charlegrand teaches him a few moves. I mean, why are we pretending that Charlegrand is not gonna be the one to do this? Let’s stop fooling around here, people.
It’s a simple story, well-constructed. I like how Charlegrand’s mission is revealed visually, and one piece at a time. And how his skills and main rivalry are established in a flashback. And how the existence of a worthy opponent in the area is set up early on when Ermey’s thugs mention seeing “a blond fella” fight guys like that in a bar. And what his weakness is, that will be used against him in the climax. Nice, classical action movie shit.
The blond fella turns out to be Marc Singer. At first I didn’t recognize him without the ferrets. His name is Ziegfield Von Trotta, and he wears a monocle. He takes the monocle off when fighting in the tournament, but keeps his suspenders and bowler hat. Singer makes a fun villain, although he is not all that convincing as a martial artist or a German.
That’s a weakness of the movie: Gruner is good, but alot of the times isn’t fighting other martial artists. He does get to toss some people around, including into a pile of realistic looking horse shit. Storywise the best fight is probly the one against “The Infamous Man Mountain” Bruno the Horrible, played by Scott Schwartz (a thug in FIRE DOWN BELOW and similar movies, but also one of the scary enforcer guys in the OCEAN’S trilogy). He’s a huge guy who acts like a wrestling heel. I like the whole arc of his unsportsmanlike start to the fight and the way he ends respecting Charlegrand for kicking his ass. They could be fight brothers if there was a part 2.
It’s a pretty good supporting cast too. A guy named Michael Palance (no relation?) makes a very hatable right hand man to Ermey. Donald Gibb (from BLOODSPORT – also Ogre from REVENGE OF THE NERDS) plays the town’s token Yankee. Rance Howard and James Brolin are in there too.
There are little Florentinian touches, but he hadn’t really developed his energetic style yet. Not too many fast zoom-ins, no camera moves with whooshing karate chop sound effects, no Scott Adkins. This might be partly because he’s trying to ape a spaghetti western style. The score is a straight up Morricone imitation. It works alot of the time, but it’s unfortunate when there are keyboards trying to mimic horn parts. That shit never works.
Combining martial arts and a western is a cool idea that has been done before, but not enough. This was a very natural way to do it. I don’t know if they could really get that many exotic fighters (including a capoeria guy) to this small town at the same time, but I completely believe there could be a French savateur wandering the west with a humorously unfair advantage in saloon scuffles.
Probly the most memorable part of the movie is just a little show off move: a fly is buzzing, Charlegrand does a sidekick, no more buzzing. There’s also a more demeaning demonstration of putting an apple in a guy’s mouth and kicking it so that it explodes.
Apparently this has also been called THE FIGHTER. Not the Mark Wahlberg one, the Olivier Gruner one. I don’t think it’s come out in the states, so I had to order a PAL Code 2 DVD. I wouldn’t say it’s essential viewing, but I enjoyed it. I’m glad I tracked it down.