Tagline: He needed the toughest, hardest crew he could find . . . He found them in an L.A. prison
Director: Louis Morneau
Writers: Darryl Quarles
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tyrin Turner, Jacqueline Obradors, David Barry Gray, Channon Roe
18 1h 30min Action, Drama
When it comes to crossover concepts, you’d be hard pressed to find one as improbable as that featured in Soldier Boyz. Not only are the film’s events about as detached from reality as The Naked Gun, its characters are just as trite and predictable, so hammy that you sometimes forget this is an action movie and not a straight-up spoof. Even more amazing is the fact that Louis Morneau’s slice of puerile patriotism harbours delusions of social commentary, masquerading as a cultural melting pot as America’s gangland minorities team up to take on an even more foreign, and therefore evil race of people. America may be saturated by inner city crime, but the Asian jungle is where the real scum resides.
The movie stars American Ninja‘s Michael Dudikoff, who is ten years older and looking rather good for his age. For a brief period during the 1980s, Dudikoff was the Cannon Group’s go-to guy, a wimpy heartbreaker who would achieve cult status for his role as Private Joe Armstrong, the action genre’s most unlikely martial arts master.
In an ageist industry, his success was inevitably short-lived, and though he fails to omit the same blue-eyed charm in his mid-thirties, his acting skills have improved quite dramatically; in a movie full of weakly imagined stereotypes and second rate acting, he stands tall as Major Howard Toliver, a retired army hotshot turned prison counsellor. Dudikoff may have cruised through a largely low-key career, but he has clearly learned a few things on his journey. He may pale in comparison to some of the industry’s headliners but it’s hard to doubt his credentials as a B-movie legend.
The same can be said of Soldier Boyz, a mildly xenophobic absurdity that is actually a lot of fun, and by no means badly made. I might even go as far as to call the movie audacious, particularly during a laughable recruitment montage, which while lazy and predictable attempts to tap into the mid-90s Tarantino revolution, with dialogue and music which derives much influence from the innovative director in the most superficial way imaginable. QT’s influence was everywhere back then. Everything else is textbook fodder, but the movie’s real charm lies in its unwillingness to adhere to any kind of plausibility.
As well as being a prison counsellor, Toliver is a stone-faced badass with an unassuming facade and dislike for corruption, so when a ludicrous caricature in an eye patch turns up to try and coax him out of retirement, our hero is understandably dubious. The GI Joe in question wants Toliver to fly to Vietnam and take on a murderous militia who have kidnapped the daughter of a corporate bigwig. With the life of a woman at stake, our hero begrudgingly accepts, but only if a few conditions are met first.
Being the revered and experienced war veteran that he is, Toliver wants to recruit a selection of clueless inmates to assist him on his mission. Not only are the subjects in question a gaggle of slack-jawed gangbangers, they have absolutely no military training and are each from separate warring factions, with a murderous rapist named Monster (Terrell) at the top of his list of candidates. This being the only mixed gender facility in the entire world, he is even able to recruit a woman named Vasquez (Obradors), an impossibly beautiful axe murderer who immediately attracts the attention of our resident rapist, and you finally begin to understand the true extent of Toliver’s tactical genius.
Not content with setting a gang of cold-blooded murderers loose for the sake of his own ego, Toliver also demands full immunity for those who make it out alive, presumably because all-out warfare is the perfect rehab for a bunch of homicidal miscreants. He also wants full scholarships for the prison’s remaining inmates and a library to facilitate their sudden and miraculous lust for education. Of course, the CEO immediately agrees, completely disregarding the authority of the warden and the entire U.S. government, who even provide supplies and transport for the very thugs they put away in the first place. I suppose it’s no less immoral than the Iran Contra affair.
Toliver practices tough love, but he is by no means racist as his band of ethnically assorted pseudo-soldiers at first presume. That much is made clear by a crude and hackneyed flashback which sees his black wife and kid killed in a drive-by shooting on the lawn of a curiously affluent neighbourhood. He may kick the odd ass here and there, but Toliver’s mission is clear: before the day is over, the hood rat will get in touch with her feminine side, the black and Latino gang rivals will have their ‘tell my girl I love her’ moment, and the violent rapist will…well, presumably stop raping people.
Meanwhile, the innocent and wrongly accused pup with an uncanny knack for combat will find his surrogate father, but not before he is forced to endure the horrors of all-out warfare. After all, someone has to make a man out of him, and who better than an over-the-hill pretty boy who seeks violence at every turn. Assuming it doesn’t find him first.
Selflessly acting as a decoy for the sake of his fellow soldiers, teenage delinquent Brophy (not a typo) is ruthlessly gunned down by a squealing pack of Thai maniacs, exploding like a dozen carefully positioned blood squibs. Toliver gets to witness this, and even shows a hint of regret for sending the child to his death. If there was any justice it would be him confined to a jail cell… preferably for the rest of his life.
Most Absurd Moment
Strolling onto a prison ward as he scouts for talent, the predatory Toliver spots his soon-to-be pet project Lamb, who beats up a couple of prison guards with a mop as he tries to get in on the counsellor’s pardon-inducing mission. The fact that he is innocent of killing his mother and father and has a clean bill of conscience means nothing to our advocate. Soon he will enter the realms of mass murder, and he’ll be a better person for it.
Most Absurd Dialogue
From a quite ridiculous recruitment montage, this is perhaps the most trite of a laughable series of monologues designed to show Toliver that certain inmates are worthy of his reckless plan of insanity.
Vasquez: I’m not a moron, homes. Both my parents were killed, dead when I was five. And since then, I just got handed around from pervert to pervert. So one day I decided I wasn’t going to take it no more. The next one who touched me, I took an axe and I just started swinging. And when I finished, there wasn’t much left of him.
And you’re offering her immunity?!