Film Review: Cyborg (1989)

Release Date: April 7th, 1989
Directed by: Albert Pyun
Written by: Kitty Chalmers, Daniel Hubbard-Smith
Music by: Lalo Schifrin, Kevin Bassinson
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Deborah Richter, Vincent Klyn, Dayle Haddon

Cannon Film Distributors, 82 Minutes

Review:

In the late 1980s, I was a big Jean-Claude Van Damme fan like every red blooded American boy. However, I really hated Cyborg when I saw it and I was endlessly reminded of my dislike for it once it started appearing on cable almost weekly for a span of several years. Out of Van Damme’s early stuff, it just completely missed the mark, even if it did have several cool things that could have made it good.

However, seeing it now, a few decades later, I no longer hate it. In fact, I found most of it to be fairly enjoyable, even if it is incredibly cheesy, full of atrocious acting and looks very dated.

To start, it was put out by Cannon Films, who were responsible for dozens of exciting balls-to-the-wall 80s action flicks. It also starred their new up and coming star, Jean-Claude Van Damme. It had a sci-fi setting and was like an American East Coast Mad Max minus the cool vehicles. This would have been much better with cool vehicles. However, this was a good mixture of good elements to make something great. The film lacks in most regards though and it obviously didn’t have cool cars because it was made for the same cost as a case of discount domestic beer, a couple Koozies and a bag of Ruffles.

Most of the fight choreography is pretty good for what this is. Van Damme has the uncanny ability to throw kicks that don’t just look elegant but seem to look powerful as well. He’s always had a grace with his movements that most likely comes from his dancing background but because of this, he just always looks fantastic when he has to pull off that big roundhouse kick to the face.

Cyborg doesn’t have great cinematography. However, there are a few shots that do look amazing and hold up well today. Most notably, the scene where a thug walks into a dark sewer corridor, looks up, and there is Van Damme, above his head, doing the splits while holding a nasty looking dagger. The lighting, the panning and the overall shot was just beautifully done and certainly stands out among the rather drab cinematography.

One thing that significantly hurts this picture is the music. The score sounds like some toddler slamming away on a small Casio keyboard with his sippy cup. The score is so bad that you never get used to it and it sticks out like a sore thumb through every major action sequence.

Cyborg could have been a much better movie, it had some things that worked, but ultimately it was like it was out to sabotage itself. For some reason, there are two sequels to this, neither of which star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Maybe I will watch them someday if I really want to torture myself.

Film Review: American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)

Release Date: May 1st, 1987
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: James Booth, Gary Conway
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Larry Poindexter, Gary Conway

Cannon Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

When I reviewed the first American Ninja I said that the films got worse and worse. I was wrong on one account, this film. Truth be told, while I watch the original every couple of years, I haven’t seen this one since I was a teenager. Back then, I didn’t like it as much as the first. Now, I think it is pretty equal, if not slightly better than the original. Things do go downhill after this one though.

The plot is a little wacky but the action and the setting are much better than the first picture. The story sees our heroes Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) and Curtis Jackson (Steve James) arrive on a Caribbean island (actually filmed in South Africa) to investigate why some Marines have gone missing. As the film progresses and ninjas keep trying to capture Armstrong and Jackson, we learn that some villain is making mindless super soldier ninjas out of the elite soldiers he captures. The end goal is to sell super ninja armies to other villains with large bank accounts. So we get a big finale of Armstrong and Jackson against an army of super ninjas.

Compared to the first film, Dudikoff is much better on screen in the action sequences. James also puts down the big machine gun and fights ninjas with a couple machetes. The film has a lot more hand-to-hand combat and the skills of the actors and the stunt work is just more refined and fluid in this movie. The main evil ninja isn’t as cool as the Black Star Ninja from the first movie but he’s still a solid baddie.

Unfortunately, Dudikoff left this series after this film except for a fairly brief appearance in the fourth film. This was also the last time we got to see the duo of Dudikoff and James on screen together, following the original American Ninja and Avenging Force, which came out between the two Ninja movies.

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation is a good sequel to the original. The series tanks after this installment but at least we got two good chapters before the breakup of Dudikoff and James and the introduction to David Bradley, who took over the series in American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt.

Film Review: American Ninja (1985)

Release Date: August 30th, 1985
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: Paul De Mielche, Gideon Amir, Avi Kleinberger, James Silke
Music by: Michael Linn
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Judie Aronson, Guich Koock, John Fujioka, Don Stewart, John LaMotta, Tadashi Yamashita, Phil Brock, David Vlok

Cannon Film Distributors, 95 Minutes

Review:

American Ninja is a movie that I rented so many times as a kid in the 80s that I probably single-handedly warped the tape into oblivion by the time the 90s rolled around. For those who rented a very choppy copy from Citeo Video, Movie Van, Curtis Mathis, Pix N Picks, American Video, Reel Image Video or any other video store in southern Florida circa 1990, I apologize.

Why did I love this movie so much? Well, it had friggin’ ninjas. Lots and lots of mother friggin’ ninjas! So many that it made all the ninjas in all those 80s Sho Kosugi movies combined, look like a small army by comparison.

The film also features Michael Dudikoff, who may not have been as big of an 80s action star as Stallone, Schwarzenegger or either of the two Chucks, but he was somehow cooler. It’s like he had this James Dean quality and as a kid, I probably even had a major man crush on him even though I’m not gay and I was too young to realize what any of that meant. There was just something about Dudikoff. He spoke very little, looked like the coolest guy in gym class and killed ninjas by the gallons.

However, it doesn’t end with Dudikoff. We also get the always awesome Steve James, who plays Dudikoff’s awesome sidekick and bad ass friend. When this dude comes rolling into the ninja compound on the back of a jeep firing a massive machine gun, we, the audience, truly understand the meaning of bringing a knife to a gunfight. Plus, the chemistry between Dudikoff and James was great. They felt like real friends ready to bust up any ninja clan moving in on their island paradise.

Did I mention that this film also has Judie Aronson in it? While she is no Phoebe Cates (my first love), between this film, Weird Science and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, she was certainly on my radar and the apple of my eye after Ms. Cates. Granted, she is kind of a stupid damsel in distress in American Ninja but she didn’t write the script and she did well acting like a spoiled yuppie and mindless doofus.

American Ninja doesn’t have the best plot but it is the least ridiculous of all the films in the series. Essentially, Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) is a low level Army grunt that is too cool to fit in with the others. On a convoy run, he finds himself in the middle of a hijacking. He fights back but his actions get a few soldiers killed and puts the Colonel’s daughter in danger. Why she is even there, I can’t begin to guess. Ninjas show up, Joe whips ass and then hides in the jungle with the Colonel’s daughter who is more concerned about her designer shoes and skirt than running away from a horde of killer ninjas.

Joe is punished for thinking he’s John Rambo but he befriends Jackson (Steve James). They discover that there is a conspiracy going on between the military and the evil rich guy on the island who is hijacking their weapons to sell on the black market. The evil guy has a ninja army that trains 24/7 at his tropical mountain mansion. One thing leads to another and we got Dudikoff and James’ machine gun versus a gazillion ninjas. But it’s all about the final showdown with the master ninja, simply called Black Star Ninja.

The action in this movie is stellar. Sure, some of the obviously staged shots are a bit hokey but they still look cool. Who doesn’t love synchronized ninja flips? While Dudikoff isn’t the physical specimen that Sho Kosugi is, he still holds his own and was good enough for Cannon Films to move on from Kosugi and turn American Ninja into a franchise that found a long life on the shelves of every video store throughout the United States.

It would have been a lot cooler had Sho Kosugi played the villainous Black Star Ninja but Tadashi Yamashita did a fine job and frankly, he’s got skills too.

American Ninja was a film that was loved by many young boys and teens in the 1980s. It set the bar higher than what its sequels could live up too but that doesn’t mean that my friends and I didn’t rent the hell out of those movies too. We loved the franchise and many of us still do. In fact, I still watch this film every couple of years.

I just wish that Michael Dudikoff would’ve stayed past the second film. Although, he does have an expanded cameo role in the fourth film. Regardless, each movie gets worse and worse and the only other Dudikoff outing that can hang with American Ninja is Avenging Force, which came out a year later and also co-stars Steve James.

Film Review: Ninja III: The Domination (1984)

Release Date: September 14th, 1984
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: James R. Silke
Music by: Udi Harpaz, Misha Segal
Cast: Lucinda Dickey, Sho Kosugi, Jordan Bennett, James Hong

Cannon Film Distributors, 92 Minutes

Review:

Ninja III: The Domination is the final chapter in the loose trilogy of ninja movies put out by Cannon Films. People typically refer to the series as The Ninja Trilogy, even though the films are unrelated other than all of them feature Sho Kosugi, the greatest ninja actor of all-time. Cannon would follow this series up with the American Ninja franchise a year later. That one spawned five American Ninja films and two quasi spin-offs.

This is the most bizarre of the Cannon Ninja pictures by far. The story sees a young woman become possessed by the spirit of an evil ninja. A good ninja has to help her separate from it before destroying it in an epic eyepatch ninja vs. zombie ninja battle.

Lucinda Dickey is great in this as the lead. 1984 was also a huge year for her as she starred in this as well as the hugely successful Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo for Cannon Films.

Sho Kosugi doesn’t have as much screen time as he had in the superior Revenge of the Ninja but all of his scenes were good. He was a better-than-decent martial arts star and the perfect ninja on screen, every time he appeared.

Compared to the two films before this, Ninja III is campy as hell but also incredibly fun. It is a different film entirely and I almost wish this spawned a series of its own. I don’t know if the formula could have carried over beyond one film but there was some serious magic here.

I love genre crossing movies and this one does it in the right way. It is a violent ninja movie mixed with 80s comedy, horror elements and fantasy elements. It also features the strangest product placement moment in the history of motion pictures. Go to YouTube and search “Ninja III V8”.

Ninja III is fantastic and it still plays great. Actually, it probably plays even better now as there is a high emphasis on 80s style and humor that any nostalgic for that era would find satisfying.

Film Review: The Delta Force (1986)

Release Date: February 14th, 1986
Directed by: Menahem Golan
Written by: James Bruner, Menahem Golan
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin, Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, Kim Delaney, Robert Forster, Lainie Kazan, George Kennedy, Hanna Schygulla, Susan Strasberg, Bo Svenson, Robert Vaughn, Shelley Winters, Steve James

Golan-Globus Productions, Cannon Films, 129 Minutes

Review:

This may be my favorite Chuck Norris film of all-time but I need to watch Missing In Action again, because it’s been awhile.

This film is like two films in one. There is the first part which has to do with Lebanese terrorists hijacking a plane. I’m not really sure why because I don’t know if it was even explained but they spend the first half of the movie flying, landing, flying, taking Jewish hostages, flying some more.

The second half of the film deals with Chuck Norris’ team of bad ass Delta Force MFers trying to rescue some hostages from the terrorist compound. Chuck is joined by veteran Lee Marvin and American Ninja sidekick Steve James.

Asses get kicked, stuff gets exploded, everything gets shot and Norris rides a bad ass motorcycle that shoots missiles! What’s not to love?

The cinematography was average, the acting was below average, the plot wasn’t important but did you read the previous paragraph?

The Delta Force is a fun movie. Especially for those of us with nuts full of testosterone.

Film Review: Enter the Ninja (1981)

Release Date: October 23rd, 1981
Directed by: Menahem Golan
Written by: Dick Desmond, Mike Stone
Music by: W. Michael Lewis, Laurin Rinder
Cast: Franco Nero, Susan George, Sho Kosugi, Christopher George

Cannon Film Distributors, 101 Minutes

Review:

Enter the Ninja is the first film in Cannon Films’ Ninja Trilogy. While it is still a pretty entertaining motion picture, it isn’t anywhere near as amazing and bad ass as the studios second effort Revenge of the Ninja.

However, this thing stars Franco Nero, the original Django and one of my favorite actors of all-time. That being said, it is still kind of weird to see the heroic white ninja remove his mask only to reveal a mustachioed buff Italian with dreamy eyes. As much as I love Nero, he just felt weirdly out of place as a ninja. Realistically, that’s probably because I really only associate him as a gunslinging spaghetti western bad ass, as that is certainly what he is most famous for. I do still like Nero in this picture, though. I mean, he’s Franco friggin’ Nero!

The villainous black ninja is played by Sho Kosugi, who would go on to be the hero in Revenge of the Ninja, two years later. He has a lot less screen time in this movie and unfortunately, isn’t as exciting as he would be in Revenge.

The other villain, the evil corporatist crime boss of the Philippines is played by Christopher George, known mostly for westerns and b-movies.

Put out by Cannon Films, this is actually directed by one of the studio heads, Menahem Golan of the infamous Golan-Globus duo.

This film’s plot deals with Nero going to the Philippines after completing his ninja training. While there, he meets up with his old war buddy and his hot wife (Susan George) only to find out that they are being bullied into selling their land to the local evil corporatist. As the film rolls on, Nero disrupts the villains plans and protects his friends. The villain than calls on help from the black ninja, a rival from Nero’s ninja school that hates that a white man has learned the sacred art.

Unfortunately, other than the beginning and the end, there isn’t a lot of ninja action. Most of the time, Nero isn’t even in his costume. Plus, the beginning sequence isn’t a real fight, it is Nero’s final test at his ninja school.

The action is still pretty solid but the ninja action isn’t anywhere near the level of the much superior Revenge of the Ninja. Still, this is a bad ass and entertaining flick for people who are into these sort of pictures.

Enter the Ninja could have been a much better film but we got that with its loose sequel.

Film Review: Revenge of the Ninja (1983)

Release Date: September 7th, 1983
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: James Silke
Music by: W. Michael Lewis, Laurin Rinder, Robert J. Walsh
Cast: Sho Kosugi, Keith Vitali, Virgil Frye, Kane Kosugi

Cannon Film Distributors, 90 Minutes

Review:

Any motion picture that starts with a kid getting a Chinese star to the face is my kind of movie!

Now I have probably seen this thing a dozen times but the last time I watched it was in the late 90s. In the 80s though, my cousin Billy and I used to rent this movie from the Movie Van all the time. He was way more into martial arts than I was. At least, he stuck with it long enough to actually compete. He even had a wall of trophies. I bet he could’ve beat that little twerp LaRusso!

As kids, this movie was great. One, it had friggin’ ninjas! Two, it had really violent ninjas! Those two things will make any red blooded bacon eating American boy jump for joy while fist pumping to Def Leppard tunes!

They don’t make pictures like this for kids anymore. Granted, it was rated R but it was a movie all the boys in the 80s couldn’t get enough of. Besides, our parents didn’t care what we watched, as long as we weren’t putting shuriken through grandma’s cats.

Watching this film now, I still feel the same way. Revenge of the Ninja is a bad ass film. In fact, it is so bad ass that it physically hurts. But it hurts in a good way, like when you wake up with your arms aching because you power-lifted the day before and it’s been six years since you’ve even seen a gym.

The film stars Sho Kosugi, who is the greatest ninja actor of all-time. It also stars his tiny son, who is also capable of kicking the bejesus out of anyone… and he does. Kosugi starred in a string of ninja movies in the 1980s. This is actually the second film in a loose trilogy referred to as The Ninja Trilogy, unofficially. The first film being Enter The Ninja, which also stars Django himself Franco Nero, and Ninja III: The Domination. All three films star Kosugi and were produced by the awesome Cannon Films.

The plot to this thing is interesting. Kosugi’s movie family is murdered by ninjas except for his mom and his baby. His American friend convinces him to go to America to sell Japanese dolls. Kosugi does this but we learn that the dolls are used to smuggle heroin into the States. The baby, who is now a bit bigger than a toddler, finds this out, even though he doesn’t know what the mysterious powder is. Kosugi has to fight thugs, then a mysterious silver-faced ninja shows up and we get a big ninja versus ninja finale on a downtown rooftop.

One of the coolest things about this movie is the action. Kosugi is a master of execution in both the delivery of his sweet moves and how he takes out the baddies. Also, the film features a car chase where one of the cars is Kosugi on his feet! A ninja on foot is just as effective as Steve McQueen’s car from Bullitt!

I was worried that this film would play like crap, all these years later. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I still love it. In fact, I’m pumped to watch the other two films in the Cannon Ninja Trilogy.