Many, many years ago, back in the age of the reassuring clunkiness of the VCR, I owned an ex-rental copy of Michele Soavi’s poetically camp, 1980’s slasher flick Stage Fright and just before the feature presentation were two trailers for other examples of Italian exploitation. The first was for Lamberto Bava’s kick-ass, gore epic Demons, but the other was an entirely different kettle of fish altogether.
Essentially featuring literally nothing but the movie’s copious kills and explosions, the trailer for Bruno Mattei’s shameless Rambo rip off, Strike Commando is simply two minutes and six seconds of low brow hilarity that became a regular go-to for me if I ever needed a quick mood lifter – in fact, you could watch it right now if you bounced over to YouTube real quick. However, even way back then, I realised that no movie could ever hope to match up to this orgasmic demo reel of a jacked-up, american soldier slaughtering his way through the jungles of Vietnam, and so I made a vow never to sully the majesty of this magnificently silly preview by actually watching the movie. A vow that would remain unbroken, until now…
We join rippling Sgt. Michael Ransom and his team of Strike Commandos as they noisily sneak into a Vietnamese base with the intent to launch it into the atmosphere with a bunch of well placed explosives, but when the alarm is raised when a guard inevitably spots one of these surprisingly heavy footed soldiers of stealth, the order is given by the stern Colonel Radek to blow the place early regardless to the cost of his own men. Blown into a nearly river, Ransom survives (without a mark on him) and awakes in a village of friendly natives who nurse him back to health and listen to his rambling tales about how awesome America is and the wonders of Disneyland, but he is disturbed to hear from a retired french soldier who is living in the village that is a Russian presence helping the Viet Cong. After securing a handy radio from a rotted corpse, Ransom contacts his superiors and informs them that his strike team (who are dead, don’t forget) demand vengeance and after a string of alterations with enemy troops that see them absorbed by Mike’s ungodly bodycount, he gets the villagers to safety and hops on a chopper back to base.
So, credits roll, right? WRONG! Because Ransom had discovered the presence of Russians in Vietnam, the untrustworthy Radek sends him back out on a mission to gather more proof, but upon arriving back in Vietnam, he finds the villagers he befriended in various states of death with the culprit being a gargantuan Russian sadist by the name of Jakoda. So Ransom goes off on a second mission of vengeance in as many weeks in order to bring some Americanised justice to the jungles of Vietnam.
To watch Strike Commando now is to marvel at how such a slice of callous Nam-ploitation could possibly have been made a full year after the release of Oliver Stone’s harrowing Platoon, but to understand how such a movie could exist where characters state things like “With Soldiers like him, we’ll win this war!” with straight face when regarding the mess that was Vietnam is to embrace the ruthlessness of Italian exploitation cinema.
The blame can mostly be laid at the feet of good old Bruno Mattei, a man who literally never met a shameless rip off he couldn’t direct, and his filmography is littered with movies that are almost beat for beat, inferior photocopies of American classics. In fact, his Jaws rip off, Cruel Jaws, is so derivative, it actually steals footage from not only the original four Jaws movies, but from other Jaws Italian ripoffs too!
Anyway, it’s now obviously the time for Rambo to get mercilessly duplicated, but this presents us with a rather curious problem – First Blood Part 2 could get away with Stallone machine gunning his way through Vietnam because it was a jingoistic action movie set after the Vietnam war that strived to soothe some unresolved issues; Mattei, on the other hand, has Reb Brown’s murderous lug effortlessly murdering dozens of men at a time in the name of old glory during the conflict which – while darkly hilarious that the filmmakers obviously can’t read the room – raises numerous questions about some ballsy rewriting of history.
Still, its probably best you don’t think about it too much (the writer obviously didn’t) and once you remove any dubious politics raised by its child-like plotting, Strike Commando is an enjoyable ludicrous romp that goes out of it’s way to stubbonly make less sense the longer it goes on for. To say that the movie has the storytelling skills of a 80’s videogame is doing a disservice to 80’s videogames as the movie is barely more than a string of clumsily choreographed military takedowns that aim for Rambo but end up predated the mocking giggles of Hot Shots Part Deux instead. Watching Ransom fire a short burst of machine gun fire at a group of seven enemy combatants only to have them all fall down simultaneously simply never gets old and the fact that our hero finds it increasingly difficult not to scream defiantly every time he kills someone means that it loses any and all meaning twenty minutes into the movie.
Seriously, there’s cartoons out there that carry more weight than this and lead actor Reb Brown (veteran of legendary, cast iron, pieces of shit such as Howling 2, Space Mutiny and the 70’s Captain America TV movies) screams, shots, stabs and sneers his way though the entire enterprise while vaguely looking genuinely excited just to be there. However, when the movie calls for him to try and flex the only un-pumped muscle in his body – his thespian muscle – the results are nothing shot of spectacular but for all the wrong reasons. Behold the scene where a dying child askes for him to describe Disneyland one last time as he dies is car crash cinema at its finest as a sniffling, snorting Brown drivels on about mountains of candy floss, genies and popcorn that for some reason is stored in trees that suggests he has no clue what Disneyland actually is – and as if this isn’t enough, he ends the scene by screaming “JAKODA!” so loud, it probably would have exploded the head of the poor kid if he wasn’t dead already.
Crammed with tons of stuff that simply doesn’t make sense, Strike Commando is a must for drunken gatherings of movie mockers and consistently rewards with an endless stream of bilge. “You’re lying!” screams Ransom at one point and then follows it up immediately with: “You’re making this up!” just in case no one knows what lying means, while big bad villain Jakoda only seems to have come to Vietnam in the first place because it looked like a good place continue his hobby of doing endless, sweaty push ups – also, why the hell has he brought his easily kidnapable girlfriend along? Also, the movie’s confidence in its hero’s near supernatural killing skills means it’s tough to fathom exactly why the USA had so much trouble in Vietnam when just one soldier could apparently slaughter at least 50 men in a single afternoon and their enemy didn’t even have the common sense not to stand around in easily blow up-able groups…
It all ends with an odd, gropey fight that seem less of a duel between two, muscular, trained killers and more of a shoving match between a couple of dudes trying to process some bad ketamine and it’s all fairly entertaining in spite of itself – but not only does Strike Commando fail the impossible task of living up to that trailer, it doesn’t quite hit the so-bad-it’s-good heights that a movie this clueless should.