Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Zebra Force

Character actor Joe Tornatore made his feature debut as a writer, producer, and director with this laughable crime drama with a delightfully daffy premise. A hideously scarred and mutilated Vietnam vet (Glenn Wilder) assembles a squad of white (“as ivory snow”) Army buddies to disguise themselves as black men and rob the Mafia. And I’m talking Rollin Hand disguises where black actors play the crooks in action, then Tornatore cuts to white actors pulling off their rubber masks. Takes nerve to ask the audience to buy into that, so give Tornatore credit. For an actor, though, Tornatore is unskilled in directing actors, as the performances in ZEBRA FORCE are inept.

Los Angeles capo Salvatore (Anthony Caruso) brings in hitman Carmine Longo (Tornatore regular Mike Lane) from Detroit and teams him with right-hand man Charlie DiSantis (Richard X. Slattery, whose trademark red hair is dyed black) to find the “black guys” pulling the heists. Even though the story by Tornatore (with Annette Lombardi credited with “additional scenes & dialogue”) is told from the mob’s point of view, we’re meant to root for Wilder’s gang, who keep the loot for themselves, but insist on flushing the stolen drugs down the toilet to prevent it from “ending up in some kid’s arm.” Between heists, they sit around playing cards and drinking RC cola and admiring Wilder’s genius.

But who cares about story? ZEBRA FORCE’s reason for existing is so Tornatore can show off car chases and gun violence, impressively conveyed in slow motion, all the better to let the audience coo at the crazy stunts. Charles Bernstein of WHITE LIGHTNING and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET fame performs a favor for Tornatore by delivering an energetic wacka-wacka musical score under the pseudonym Charles Alden. Tough guy actors Slattery (WALKING TALL), Rockne Tarkington (BLACK SAMSON), and Lane (STAY AWAY, JOE) growl pointless tough-guy dialogue between stunts. Best of all is ZEBRA FORCE’s climactic plot twist, which is clever, not at all plausible, and almost too good for a picture this cheap. Believe it or not, Tornatore made a sequel over a decade later with Lane returning as Carmine Longo.

1 comment:

Grant said...

I don't go for many all-out action movies, but Anthony Caruso and Richard X. Slattery seem like such a great combination. (I'm not completely sure if I know Mike Lane from other things besides Outer Limits episodes, where he was sometimes one of the "suit actors.")

I've always kind of wondered whether there's such a thing on earth as R.C. Cola product placement (I'M very fond of it, but it gets so many jokes), and this answers the question. (Of course, it used to get more respect than it does now.)