Sunday, May 20, 2007


Nobody made crappy exploitation movies like the Italians used to. For every massive box-office American blockbuster during the 1980s, you could count on the Italians to make a dozen copies of it, usually terrible and almost always wildly entertaining. ROBOCOP, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE ROAD WARRIOR, FIRST BLOOD, STAR WARS, oh, yeah, the Italians were all over these.

2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS is a hilarious retread of THE ROAD WARRIOR with killer Nazis and bikers stalking a sexy blond woman (Sabrina Siani) after the Apocalypse. Saddled with one of the most incomprehensible plots I've ever encountered, 2020 is extremely entertaining and never dull. It's full of violent action and laughable dialogue, as the storyline changes direction several times in its attempt to eat up 97 minutes with nudity, crazy stuntwork and over-the-top acting. It's basically about some good settlers who take over a post-nuke refinery and repair it for...something. It's not clear exactly what they're doing, except everyone is peaceful, busy and happy. That is until bald Nazi Donald O'Brien and his biker gang rolls in and either kills everyone or turns them into slaves in their salt mines.

As I said, the story is malleable, enabling director Joe D'Amato to ripoff THE DEER HUNTER's Russian Roulette scene and introduce a tribe of Native Americans (anti-Chief Illinwek activists would not enjoy the stereotyping) who help the hero (American actor Peter Hooten, who once played Dr. Strange in a TV pilot) and his sidekicks (including Siani, who has appeared nude in every crappy film I've seen her in, including CONQUEST, where the only clothing she wears is an iron helmet) conquer O'Brien's forces, who include stormtroopers with energy shields that deflect bullets but not the Indians' arrows and spears.

Also entertaining is STRIKE COMMANDO. This Italian-made action flick about the Vietnam War manages to copy RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II almost scene-for-scene, but hilariously mucking it up. Star Reb Brown's dialogue ranges from "Bwahhhhhh!" to "Auuuuuughhhh!" as "strike commando" Mike Ransom, who is left for dead on a mission by his corrupt CO, Colonel Radek (Christopher Connelly). The plot really bounces around a lot, but Ransom hooks up with Vietnamese refugees, whom he attempts to lead to safety. They don't make it, but Ransom does. Radek sends him back into the jungle to take pictures (I in RAMBO), but he ends up in a POW camp (which consists of just one other prisoner) where the Cong and their Russian allies force him to broadcast anti-American propaganda by electrocuting him on metal bedsprings (er, yeah, like in RAMBO). He escapes after days of sharing his cell with a rotting corpse, engaging in a hilarious fight with a big, dumb Ivan Drago-like Russian who calls Ransom "Americanski". A lot.

Just when the movie has run out of plot, the setting fast-forwards a decade for no discernible reason, allowing Ransom and Radek, who haven't aged a day and even appear to wear the same clothing, to engage in their respective revenge. Director Bruno Mattei's many action scenes often consist of Brown shooting a huge gun--not necessarily at anyone, just shooting it--and Viet Cong falling down or miniature buildings getting blown up. STRIKE COMMANDO might be even more cartoonish than RAMBO, if that's possible; certainly Brown's one-note screaming performance adds little dimension to the bloodletting. Little dimension, but much laughter.

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