Wednesday, 1 October 2008
AVENGING FORCE (1986)
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: James Booth
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James & Bill Wallace
One of the best efforts to come from the Cannon stable in their mid-eighties boom, Avenging Force is quality, gritty action entertainment. Hot on the heels of the success of American Ninja, stars Dudikoff and James, along with director Firstenberg, reunited for this tough take on The Most Dangerous Game. Set in and around New Orleans, a rogue group of super patriots calling themselves Pentangle are slowly gaining power and hunting those in the bayous of Louisiana who pose any threat to their organization. Their next target is local politician Larry Richards (James) and his family who are marked for termination during a Mardi Gars parade. Little do they know he is ex-military and is also best buds with Matt Hunter (Dudikoff) another ex-military super dude who just happens to be visiting Richards. Needless to say the assassination attempt goes tits up in spectacular fashion, leading to Richards and Hunter taking matters into their own hands. But will they manage to outwit this elite group of fanatics or will they themselves become the prey in the mud caked swamps of Louisiana?
Let’s just say Avenging Force has not dated well in terms of patriotism, fashion and good old 80s cheese. The villains are comic book 101, amping up the ham to stratospheric proportions but the entire better for it. Bill Wallace, James Booth and John P. Ryan all deliver scenery chewing performances that deserve some kind of award and make their characters deliciously evil. Their ideals and speeches may be outdated and cringe worthy but the idea of hunting humans never loses its impact, even when wearing ridiculous masks and costumes. Dudikoff does his thing and is more confident in the action scenes than the acting ones, obviously still finding his feet as a leading man. Good thing the always great Steve James is there to help him along. The dude is awesome and just doesn’t get enough screen time.
Now the concept of humans being hunted by other humans is not a new one to action cinema (see The Most Dangerous Game, Hard Target and Surviving the Game) but is given a groovy gothic vibe here thanks to the moody swamp locations. The hunting scenes bookend the movie with Firstenberg creating an attention grabbing opening scene of two poor dudes being hunted and slain. The muddy, muggy atmosphere lends the flick oodles of tension and the constant rain come the finale gives the action a striking look. And it is the action that makes this one of Cannon’s best films. Big stunts, shootouts and loads of down and dirty fist fights mean Avenging Force still packs a punch. But the standout has to be the Mardi Gras shootout which is thrilling in its execution and brutal impact.
Though the American Ninja films are more fondly remembered, Avenging Force is just as good as any of them and way better than most of the later sequels. Probably Firstenberg’s best directorial offering and, despite the cheese factor, worthy of rediscovery as a great action film.