Tagline: The Action Film of the Year.
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Writers: James Booth
Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, James Booth, William Wallace, John P. Ryan, Karl Johnson, Marc Alaimo, Allison Gereighty, Loren Farmer
18 | 1h 44min | Action, Drama, Thriller
Budget: $4,000,000 (estimated)
Dudikoff and James are back in tandem, proving without a shadow of a doubt that they are the very cream of the Cannon crop.
Forget Seagal, Van Damme and . . . well, not Stallone and Schwarzenegger, but for me Dudikoff and James come in at a close third. Any action movie aficionado worth their salt is aware of the iconic duo’s legacy, and for those who aren’t they are the Mel Gibson and Danny Glover of the B-movie scene, starring in such high-kicking classics as the American Ninja series.
By 1979, Cannon Films—a former soft porn peddler who had graduated to financially unstable independent movies—were in monetary peril, forcing founders Dennis Friedland and Chris Dewey to bow out of an ever-evolving landscape. Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus would purchase the company for $500,000 with a very different approach in mind, tapping into the increasingly popular action and exploitation genres as they looked to plug into the booming home video market. Thanks to the likes of Dudikoff, the new-look Cannon were able to produce low-budget affairs which brought in roughly ten times their outlay; additional, already established acquisitions such as the Death Wish series transforming them into major Hollywood players.
Sam Firstenberg can also lay claim to much of that credit: the director behind the majority of Cannon’s cult classics. His go-to-guys, Dudikoff and James, are the perfect pairing, the former a steely eyed pretty boy with a knack for projecting an almost mystical air, his partner an ass-kicking bad ass with a million-dollar smile. Released in 1986, Avenging Force was sandwiched between American Ninja and American Ninja 2: The Confrontation, and although that series is unquestionably the more iconic for a generation of ninja fans, this movie is a wonderful time capsule into the cheapo charm of the 80s, capturing the Cannon Group at the very peak of their creative powers.
Avenging Force is GI Joe come to life, with a clan of colourful, comic book villains testing the often-questionable combat skills of our charismatic American icons. Brick shithouse Steve James lays it on thick during a series of impressive A-Team style actions sequences, and you just know that a whole fleet of badly drawn extras went home with an ice pack and a few loose teeth to contend with. Dudikoff doesn’t come across anywhere near as aggressive. But he doesn’t have to—he’s Michael Dudikoff—and a series of over-the-shoulder throws are enough to dispose of any pursuing rabble, and that’s if they make it past his icy glare.
This time our hero isn’t a stealth assassin but an ex-CIA rancher named Matt Hunter. Matt is an American badass who turned his back on all-out warfare after the accidental death of his parents and now lives a peaceful life with his younger sister, although something tells you it won’t last very long. Those suspicions soon adopt a much darker tone than anticipated, particularly when Steve James’s senator Larry Richards is targeted by a death faction known as the Pentangle, who think nothing of spraying his preteen son with machine gun fire.
Most commonly associated with the commie-bashing conservatism of the Reagan era, it is something of a novelty to see a Cannon production which paints liberals as the movie’s protagonists, while a right-wing nut-job and all-out racist flies the flag for Xenophobic protectionism. Led by the megalomaniacal Professor Elliot Glastonbury (John P. Ryan), the Pentangle’s band of Cobra-esque criminals ooze decadence by day, their favourite pastime hunting ex-CIA for sport. Naturally, they see ‘best-of-the-best’ Hunter as a worthy adversary for their four-on-one game of hunt the Liberal, who must have one of the most ironic surnames in all of Cannon’s back catalogue.
Another thing you may not be prepared for is the movie’s incredible death count. This is truly bloodthirsty stuff, and though there are typically rules about women and children in bloody action vehicles, by the time you reach the halfway mark you begin to realise that there are no such restraints. In the world of Avenging Force, nobody is sacred.
Of course, no Cannon movie would be complete without a good dose of the laughably ludicrous, and while the Pentangle’s black-and-white delineations are the stuff of child’s play, the movie’s CIA officials provide the biggest belly laughs, a pair of self-deprecating nincompoops who prove clueless throughout, unable to track a gang of thugs who not only hunt their game in broad daylight, but who party long into the night with a bunch of gun-toting hillbillies and a French transvestite looking to auction off Hunter’s 12-year-old sibling.
Leaving his outpost for a bowl of hot soup, a CIA ‘expert’ assigned to guard Richards and his family senselessly places his weapon down on a table to eat. Moments later he is shot through the neck with an arrow by the circling Pentangle, putting the entire cast in jeopardy.
Most Absurd Moment
After saving his friend’s remaining son from a burning house, Matt is shot through the leg with an arrow, leading him and the youngster to fall more than twenty feet from the roof, an occurrence which transforms the kid into a lifeless stunt dummy that bounces off the ground like a basketball.
Most Absurd Dialogue
Just a sample of the ludicrously inept CIA duo tasked with getting the lowdown on the infamous Pentagle:
CIA agent #1: [referring to a crime scene] What a goddamn mess! With all our sophisticated techniques, we still can’t put a stop to these bastards!
CIA agent #2: Yeah! What worries me is their intelligence system. They seem to know every goddamn move we make before we make it. And we don’t know a thing about them!
CIA agent #1: [resignedly] Yeah.
CIA agent #2: What the hell’s wrong with us?
CIA agent #3: Hmmm. I wish I knew [shakes head].
With ludicrous plotting, comic book villains and the kind of revenge set-up that leaves you punching the air with puerile bloodlust, Avenging Force is everything you would want in an action movie, while instances of abrupt violence add an extra dimension. Ultimately, the movie thrives on the chemistry of our leading men, who seem genuinely thrilled to be reunited, and any fan of Cannon’s most successful period will feel exactly the same way.