Sunday, July 11, 2010

Hell in the Jungle: HEATED VENGEANCE (1985)

In the middle of a firefight during the Vietnam war our hero Joe (Richard Hatch) is hit with enemy bullets while trying to save a chubby kid who didn’t want to run to the bunker like Joe told him too (see what happens when you don’t mind your elders?). Joe is loaded into a chopper while his “foreign national” girlfriend is left on the ground. Flash forward some 10 years later and cue up '70s crooning on the soundtrack while Joe lands in Thailand once again. This time it’s not war, but love that brings him to Asia (can you hear the crooning?). Joe is going to try and find his long lost love, and in the process run headlong into elements of his past that he wasn’t looking for.

Naturally, Joe starts looking by hitting the local red-light district for a refreshing beverage. After bellying up to the bar, Joe meets Charlie (Dennis Patrick), a toilet salesman in an Alec Guinness suit knockin' back the imported stuff (Olympia in a can), with a Pinay in each arm (yes, Filipinas in Thailand). Charlie is a straight-up silver fox as evidenced by the introductory exchange he has with Joe:
Charlie: “Listen, I bet you’ve seen our trademark right on the side of those cisterns!”
Joe: “No, no I haven’t.”
Charlie: (leering at one his bar-girls) “She has! She’s sat on ‘em!” (grabs girl’s ass) “Haven’t ya honey?!”
Obviously after this introduction Joe has no choice but to open up to Charlie, telling his story about the war, saying “it was the best year of my life, and I got wounded and it was all over.” Ummmm… except, I’m assuming, for the machine gun fire, mortar fire, the killing, the dead kids and the getting shot and all that stuff. I always heard that most people didn’t like it too much, but what the hell do I know? When it ended I was just a Godzilla-obsessed kid with a Bruce Lee hairdo. Anyway, Joe goes on to tell Charlie that he has discovered that his former girlfriend, Michelle, is a widowed doctor with a son named Joseph who was born nine months after he was wounded! What do you call “cyber-stalking” before the invention of the internets?

Meanwhile in the same Thai village, a drug deal is going down. The leader of the drug dealers is one Larry Bingo (played with amusingly deranged fervor by Ron Max), an ex-US soldier who stayed on after the war and as it turns out is using the old army base in Laos to manufacture an unnamed white powdered substance. His posse is a collection of wingnuts, including Mills Watson, Bruce Baron and Michael J. Pollard (as “Snake”!), who are also war vets who decided to run drugs in Thailand rather than go back to the states. Of course it is a small world because literally minutes before getting shot, Joe was sending Bingo off to be court-martialed for beating and raping a 14 year-old girl. As a testament to Joe’s professionalism, he is remarkably detached and almost at times seems a little too unconcerned with the rape and more concerned with the girls bruises. Bingo is hauled off to a waiting chopper kicking and screaming, only to conveniently escape during the ensuing firefight.

Bingo just happens to spot Joe in yet another bar with Charlie (Joe doesn’t seem to be looking all that hard for his lost sweetie) and after a bit of intimidation, and the killing of a cop, decides to kidnap him. Bingo takes him back to the old camp where he, completely amused by the irony of his own making, tosses Joe in the brig, but not before one of his machine gun toting men in what appears to be an unscripted moment, looks under Hatch’s shirt and gropes his well defined pecs. Hey man, don't ask don't tell, right? Out of all the men in his gang, Bingo decides that the perfect guy to guard Joe would be Snake! Man, you’d have to be on drugs to put Mickey J. in charge of anything! Oh wait… yeah, they are. Totally ridiculous, but highly entertaining, Pollard is given a lot of room to do what Pollard does best: act like he's in a completely different movie. While films like Michael A. Simpson’s tedious train-wreck FAST FOOD (1989) made sure that Pollard was kept on a short leash so as not to undermine the *ahem* integrity of the alleged comedy, here Pollard is allowed to run free turning even the simplest of scenes into complete howlers. Says Snake to an imprisoned Joe: “...Bingo, he’s different. He’s got feelin’s. The only problem is, he’s a little crazy, ya know what I mean? Other than that, he’s number one!” The next time I get involved in organized crime, thats the guy I want as my lawyer!

After escaping from the brig, Joe leads the drug-dealers on a merry chase through the hills and jungles of Laos like John Rambo's mild-mannered cousin, setting up traps and ambushes on the rather easily confused druggies. In one scene Bingo gathers his posse together in the middle of nowhere and starts yelling, knowing somehow Joe would hear him. Bingo introduces his machine gun-toting “friend”, who he says is a cannibal and is looking forward to eating him! Awesome, right? Strangely after this set up for what would presumably be an amazing showdown between ex-GI Joe and a bloodthirsty cannibal, this character is never seen or heard from again! What the hell Murphy? You're playin' with my emotions! During his FIRST BLOOD-esque survival, Joe has flashbacks to making hot monkey love with Michelle, who coincidentally is being contacted by Charlie who fills her in on the story so far and admits that he feels the lavatories in the hospital are due for an upgrade. While Joe plays cat and mouse with the drug nuts, Charlie and Michelle set out on a mission to track down Joe with or without the help of the local constabulary.

While this is nowhere near as outlandish and loaded to the gills with exploitation like Murphy’s previous RAW FORCE (1982), it’s still got plenty of entertainment to offer the discriminating viewer of cinema du fromage. After Joe is flushed out of a cave and takes a header over a steep cliff, the druggies look, but no body is found. Back at the camp Bingo totally flips out while Snake tries to be the calming influence in the scene:
Snake: “He’s dead Lar.”
Bingo: (screaming) “Then why can’t we find him?!”
Snake: (shrugs) “Maybe a tiger ate him.”
Some other great bits include a quick scene in which Charlie and Michelle are having dinner in a rather posh, white linen restaurant and Charlie, deep in contemplation, says “I told myself… I’d never come here again.” Damn man, send the food back then! Also, for some reason Murphy fails to use the traditional opportune moments for gratuitous nudity. You’d think with all the bar scenes, he could get a bevy of nudie cuties in there at least, but sadly no. So desperate is he to shoe-horn some in by the end, he decides to have a few “thai” girls walk topless in front of the camera during an establishing shot of the village that Michelle and Charlie have taken the wounded Joe. While Joe wakes up in bed in a scene that cribbed straight out of the end of THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), Charlie is making friends with the local hotties. Oh, that wacky toilet salesman!

In addition to the brilliant performance by Mickey J. (and his stunt double during the film's rather dangerous-looking fiery finale), Ron Max is somewhat spectacular, chewing the scenery with total abandon. Following a scene where Joe wrecks Bingo’s camp, after falling face first in the white powder ala Pacino in SCARFACE (1983), Max’s performance of incoherent rage is so on-point that it actually really is incoherent and could benefit from the use of subtitles.

All in all, perhaps not the follow up to RAW FORCE that I would have liked it to be, but when taken on its own merits, it’s tons of fun for fans of cheapo action flicks and a must for fans of Michael J. Pollard.

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