There’s another TOY SOLDIERS besides the Sean Astin/Wil Wheaton one from 1991 that I reviewed before. This is the one from 1984 that’s kind of like UNCOMMON VALOR but with rich college kids instead of Vietnam vets. Jason Miller (THE EXORCIST) plays a Vietnam vet now working as a family’s personal yacht captain. When he chaperones their daughter Amy (Terri Garber, SLAPPY AND THE STINKERS) and her loser friends on a trip to Panama, they totally prank the shit out of him by purposely leaving him behind on a dingy. Cut to montage of dumping beer on each other’s heads, smoking joints, making out and comical sexual harassment.
“What they didn’t know, what nobody knew, was that the fun was just about over,” intones Sarge in his weirdly Wonder Years-esque opening narration. The accident that fucks up everything is realistically random: drunken Tommy (Jim Greenleaf, TAG: THE ASSASSINATION GAME, JOYSTICKS) jumps belly first onto an inflatable raft, bounces off it and hits his head. They bring him to land to try to get medical help, but they end up quickly abducted by paramilitary forces. They’re tied up, beaten and groped. Amy is defiant, so they lock her separately in a pit with a dead priest currently in the process of being eaten by rats.
But otherwise that would’ve been pretty funny how they ditched that old wet blanket so they could party, ha ha.
Well, Sarge is there to protect them, so he jogs in, lanky and sweaty, camo t-shirt tucked into his short ’80s running shorts. Like Rambo he ties his handkerchief into a headband when he knows shit is serious. But he seems to experience a more human level of fatigue than Rambo.
Geez, that picture is giving me flashbacks to my middle school wrestling coach.
Amy courageously escapes on her own, with the badass move of hiding in a coffin, but Sarge finds her and helps her get home. Then her dad calls Sarge a coward and fires him. Which I personally disagree with.
There’s an unexpected twist that happens after the family’s servant William comes in to serve Amy chicken broth. He’s a young black man wearing a bow tie and he calls her “Madam,” but when the parents are gone he offers her a joint, talks to her about how she’s feeling and hugs her. I think they’re actually dating?
An ambassador tries to secure the release of the other kids, but they don’t realize it’s a Colonel trying to run for president as a “law and order” candidate who’s behind the whole thing, blaming it on leftist rebels to make them look bad and to try to get a ransom. There will not be a diplomatic solution to this. So Amy tracks down a drunken, now-working-on-fishing-boats Sarge to see if she can hire him as a mercenary to go back and rescue her friends.
He’s reluctant and calls her “just a little rich bitch from Beverly Hills,” but she buys some weapons and recruits the friends who stayed on the yacht (including Tim Robbins [MYSTIC RIVER] in his film debut), plus William, to be led by Sarge and an old war buddy (Cleavon Little in a big ol’ cowboy hat) for the mission. The most effective parts of the movie are those shots during the buildup with the characters standing around in a group shot discussing the plan while trying to look grim and ready for action. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a group of friends that stands around looking this serious. But I hope to some day.
They jog on the beach together but don’t have time for any real training. That’s bad for them but also for us, because we’re obviously hoping for two or three awesome training montages. One lucky thing: the Colonel sends a man to L.A. to try to kill Amy, and she fights him off on the beach, so she gets some practice there. (Weirdly she isn’t shown ever mentioning the incident to anyone.) Still, they have to go and hope they can figure out how to parachute into a jungle and shit like that. They sneak around in the dark with guns and face-paint and sort of have to learn on the job. They rescue their friends (who are still wearing their beach clothes…)
and run around with uzis and grenades and explode things and set things on fire.
This is a pretty fun idea for a movie, tapping into college kids’ Rambo fantasies before RED DAWN could get there. In fact, before RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II could get there. This is a good formula and they can’t help but get some good moments as these party kids set their minds on remolding themselves into rescue mission commandos. Unfortunately when it gets to the actual action it’s mostly dull and ugly, rudimentary shoot outs presented in the most obvious ways. This is film #2 of 2 by director David Fisher, who wrote it with one-timer Walter Fox. It’s really most notable just for Robbins’ supporting role as a tall, dopey jock who wields a baseball bat for non-sporting purposes.
In the next couple years, Robbins would be in THE SURE THING, FRATERNITY VACATION, TOP GUN and HOWARD THE DUCK, so his legacy would be sealed. The rest of ’em at least got to ride on boats and helicopters. That was probly pretty cool.