April 23rd, 2011


I got on the Michael Dudikoff bandwagon late in life but I have to say that he is a Legend of the Silver Screen for two major reasons.  Numero Uno:  He had a long working relationship with Cannon Films, who produced nearly all of his films in the 80’s.  Since I’m the type of moviegoer who’ll watch anything with a Cannon logo in front of it; that makes Dudikoff my kind of guy.  Numero Second-o:  Dudikoff is always Dudikoff.  I’ve always said that the difference between being an “actor” and a “movie star” is that movie stars don’t have to act.  They can just be themselves (more or less) and their audience will come back clamoring for more.  By using that criterion, Dudikoff is a movie star.  He’s also a Legend of the Silver Screen.


(Special Note:  All of our Dudikoff flicks come courtesy of my bud Ryan over at Movies in the Attic http://moviesintheattic.blogspot.com/.)


Our first film in the Dudik-o-graphy is…


AVENGING FORCE  (1986)  *** ½


Avenging Force has a helluva recipe for success.  Take a healthy portion of Most Dangerous Game, toss in a little Death Wish, and marinate with a little Dead-Bang.  Set the oven to High Octane and bake that sumbitch till it explodes.  I don’t know if the baking metaphors are working or not, but I do know that director Sam Firstenberg can bake a fucking cake… err... direct a highly entertaining action movie.


The film opens with some dudes in funny masks playing Most Dangerous Game with a couple of jokers.  There’s a ninja with a white face mask, a pipe-smoking kabuki actor, and a dude wearing an S & M mask who wields a Garden Weasel and turns people’s stomachs into mulch.  If you can’t already tell, this is an awesome way to start a movie.


Anyway, as it turns out these masked men just play Most Dangerous Game as a HOBBY.  It isn’t even their biggest source of income (like in Hard Target).  No, the big bucks are made in their underground racist organization called “The Pentangle”, which is kinda like The Freemasons, The KKK, and SPECTRE all rolled up into one. 


Steve James is running for high political office and because his skin is decidedly un-Caucasian, they decide to kill his son to discourage him from getting too big for his britches.  The Pentangle obviously didn’t see the American Ninja movies so they don’t know that James is tight with Michael Dudikoff, who eagerly agrees to help James get some revenge.  When The Pentangle eventually gets their hands on James and the rest of his family, I’m sure you know what follows:  Dudikoff goes on a Death Wish while playing the Most Dangerous Game and kicks MUCHO ass along the way.


Avenging Force (which was originally conceived as a sequel to Invasion USA) deals with some pretty dark subjects for an action flick but deals with them in a straightforward manner and doesn’t make them feel exploitative.  First off, there are the racist villains.  Take a look at the villains in this flick and compare them to something like Best of the Best 3.  In that flick, they just felt like they were racists for racism’s sakes.  Here, the villains are organized and have a philosophy, which makes them that much more of a threat.  Plus, nobody can deliver hate-filled dialogue like the great John P. (Death Wish 4) Ryan.


Then there is the fact that lots of kids are ruthlessly killed.  Usually I have problems with kids being gratuitously killed but director Sam Firstenberg handles it in a non-exploitative manner.  Most of the kids’ deaths happen off screen or amidst the chaos of a gun battle.  (Although the part where the obvious dummy of the kid falls off the roof was laughable.)  Then there’s the fact that the bad guys come THIS close to selling Dudikoff’s twelve year old sister into white slavery.  All of these shenanigans show that the villains mean business and will do anything they can to achieve their goals.


Avenging Force comes to us from none other than Golan-Globus’s Cannon Films.  It was the second of three films by Firstenberg starring Dudikoff and James (the others being American Ninja 1 and 2).  Although Firstenberg occasionally lets the pacing flag, Avenging Force is not only the best of their collaborations; it’s also one of the best Cannon flicks of the 80’s. 


The film has some really great action moments.  In particular, there’s a terrific Mardi Gras Massacre sequence that’s one for the books.  Some of the action toward the end is hit and miss (Dudikoff’s encounters with the Pentangle in the swamp is kinda anti-climatic) but the finale is thoroughly awesome.  Dudikoff calls on Ryan while he’s giving a fancy dinner party in his mansion.  He patiently waits in the foyer for Ryan to finish up with his guests and then they adjourn to his upstairs armory.  There, they choose their weapons and proceed to duel each other to the death. 


Taken on its own terms, the scene itself is a great fight sequence.  The thing that makes this scene Legendary is that they used one of the worst stunt doubles in the history of time for Ryan.  Seriously, this dude sports one of the most hilarious wigs you’ve ever seen and it doesn’t come close to matching Ryan’s do in the least.  This scene is the kind of mix of so-bad-it’s-good and so-great-it’s-awesome that I enjoy in my 80’s actioners.


And the cast is great too.  If ever there was a movie that earned Michael Dudikoff his Legend of the Silver Screen status, it’s this one.  He was pretty good in the American Ninja flicks, but he goes above and beyond the call of duty here.  Once he goes out for vengeance, he really ups his game and delivers a knockout performance.


And James is excellent as the politician who isn’t above kicking some ass once his family is put in harm’s way.  You don’t see that kind of badassery in elected officials nowadays.  I’ll tell you one thing; you won’t see Obama going nuts and Kung Fuing terrorists, that’s for damn sure.  I know President Ford (Harrison, not Gerald) did the whole kill-the-terrorists-with-your-bare-hands-when-they-threaten-your-family thing in Air Force One.  But did he take off his shirt and oil himself up beforehand the way Steve James did?  I think not.


In the end, there’s a set-up for a sequel.  Unlike most action flicks, it seems fairly organic and not just another cash grab.  I for one am sad it didn’t happen.  I think the world would be better place if it did.


AKA:  Night Hunter.


Our next Dudikoff flick is…


MIDNIGHT RIDE  (1990)  ** ½


Michael Dudikoff stars as a cop with a broken foot who has a fight with his wife (Savina Gersak).  When she steals his car and leaves him, he follows her in hot pursuit in a police car.  Then she stupidly picks up a whacked out hitchhiker (Mark Hamill!!!) who almost immediately starts acting batshit insane and takes Poloroids of everything.  Hamill spends the next 75 minutes terrorizing her and it’s up to Dudikoff to rescue her.


Midnight Ride has a weird European look to it.  The photography is very soft and there is an abundance of neon lights and blue hues in almost every scene.  The pan and scan on the video is also framed a little too tight, adding to the whole Euro bootleg feel.


The slightly off kilter look to the flick is its major asset.  The second best trick it’s got up its sleeve is Mark Hamill’s deranged performance.  Hamill acts rather out of control and goes way over the top; ranting and raving and blowing shit up pretty good.  The Force was definitely with him on this one.  He also has a pretty good scene where he straps Dudikoff to the hood of his car and tries to put him underneath a tractor trailer. 


Speaking of Dudikoff, he’s kinda bland here; especially compared to Hamill’s antics.  It’s not really his fault though as his role is nothing more than the usual thinly sketched stock hero variety.  I will say that Dudikoff’s showdown with Hamill at the end of the flick is nothing short of Legendary.   Some might say that the final face off in the hospital between the two goes on too long.  I say that any fight that manages to work in guys hiding in a ventilation shafts, fighting with a bone saw, people getting set of fire AND electrocuted, and Mark Hamill riding a four wheeler in the boiler room (because every hospital comes equipped with a four wheeler in it’s boiler room, right?) has to be considered downright awesome. 


Midnight Ride starts and finishes pretty strong but the middle section is kinda iffy.  And the way Hamill keeps turning up in different disguises gets plenty ridiculous after awhile.  I can see him impersonating the cop, sure.  The bus driver?  Why not.  But by the time he pretends to be a paramedic to gain entrance to the hospital, I had to say enough’s enough. 


Sure, Midnight Ride is nothing more than another variation on The Hitcher, but it’s not a particularly bad one.  It has all the stuff you’d expect from a movie like this one (like the gratuitous Final Scare).  It also manages to have its share of solid action beats (the bus chase was pretty good).  Plus, it moves along at a steady clip, which helps make you forget about the lapses in logic.  Then there’s the Robert “I’m only in it for the paycheck folks” Mitchum cameo in the finale that ends the flick on a classy note.


The die hard Star Wars fan in me liked seeing Luke Skywalker acting batshit insane, so I’d probably give it a Half Star more than your average moviegoer.  Your mileage for Midnight Ride may vary.  (No pun in… ah, what the Hell; I did intend that pun… what you gonna do about it?)


And our final Dudikoff flick is…


THE HUMAN SHIELD  (1992)  **


An angry Iraqi despot gets disgraced by Michael Dudikoff when he makes him appear weak in front of his men.  Five years later, he kidnaps Dudikoff’s brother to goad him into returning to Iraq to rescue him.  Dudikoff takes the bait and is on the first flight to Baghdad.  But saving his brother and getting the fuck out isn’t going to be as easy as he thought; especially since Dudikoff’s former love is now married to his mortal enemy. 


The Human Shield is thoroughly ordinary in just about every way.  The plot is okay, the pacing is slack, and the action is fairly lackluster.  Surprisingly, it’s the romantic scenes that come off the best.  The revelation about why Dudikoff’s woman suddenly switched alliances is more or less predictable, but it’s handled just well enough that it works.  The stuff involving his kidnapped sibling however plays like Not Without My Daughter 2:  Not Without My Brother.


The director was Ted Post, a guy probably most famous for his Clint Eastwood movies and for doing one Planet of the Apes flick.  Workmanlike is probably the best way to describe his direction.  Just about every frame of the flick has “Made for TV” written all over it.  Nothing great; but at least the flick isn’t over-directed and artsy-fartsy.


The Human Shield is still watchable thanks to Dudikoff.  I think he’d be the first one to tell you he has a limited range but he what he does within those parameters is pretty solid.  It takes a real Legend to know his limitations and Dudikoff doesn’t try to exceed them.  (Sorry, this is the second review in three days where I quoted Magnum Force; but the Dirty Harry movies have been all over AMC lately so they’re engrained in my consciousness right now.  At least it’s pertinent here since Post directed Magnum Force.)  


AKA:  Marine Fighter.


Next week, we’ll feature three films from another Legendary Michael; Michael Madsen.