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Avenging Force (1986)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

AVENGING FORCE (1986)

Starring: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, James Booth, John P. Ryan, Marc Alaimo, William Wallace

Written By: James Booth Directed By: Sam Firstenberg

The Short Version

What happens when Chuck Norris can’t show up for his own sequel?

It’s probably a better movie for it… but that doesn’t make it a must see.

The oldest action plot in the book is bogged down by emphasizing the badness of the bad guys.

Steve James, at least, is a treat for Golden Age action fans.

Avenging Force is a museum piece for genre enthusiasts to find… but it doesn’t gleam.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

THE CHEETOHS YOU FORGOT ABOUT.

Don’t look at the expiration date.  Don’t even wipe the dust away to make the date legible.


Pairs Well With...

BUSCH.

Cheap beer.  You probably won’t even notice that you’ve already knocked back six until you’re in the middle of the seventh.

“Hey, Bubba!  We’ll be back for you!  And your Negro friend, too!”


If that quote doesn’t set you up for the tone of Avenging Force, nothing will… nothing that I’ll agree to print, anyway.

Avenging Force is the largely forgotten sequel to the inexplicably popular Chuck Norris vehicle Invasion USA, something that even those who know about the film may find surprising considering that Chuck Norris isn’t in it.  It turns out that Norris was busy when the time came to put this flick in front of the camera, so the powers that be at Cannon Films (why yes, this is a Golan-Globus production) decided to recast the role of super ex-agent guy Matt Hunter rather than waiting.  I can’t say that this bothers me in the slightest, really; if anything, I’m quite sure that Avenging Force is a better movie because of it.  Not necessarily a good movie, mind, but definitely better than it would have been served a-la Norris.

The story’s framework is pretty basic off-the-shelf stuff that most audiences have seen in at least a dozen other cheap action flicks.  A good guy politician wants to run for office to Make Things Better For Everyone, but the bad guys, who have already had the nice politician stand in the way of their greed before, want to stop him.  Their methods include direct assassination attempts and attacks on the good politician’s family.  The good guy, of course, can’t stand for this, so with the help of a friend, he takes the fight to them.  Familiar stuff, right?

The script for Avenging Force takes this standard framework and gives it a few twists.  Looking at these twists one at a time ends up revealing most of what needs to be known about the movie.  (Please bear in mind that out of necessity, there are some spoilers ahead.)

First off, the good guy politician – here played by Steve James (The Delta Force) – is not the film’s primary hero; instead, his friend – the Matt Hunter character who carries over from Invasion USA, now played by Michael Dudikoff (Bachelor Party) – gets the hero’s honors.  Considering the genealogy of the film, that’s par for the course, and let’s face it, it’s not the first time that Steve James has been undeservedly made the second banana in a movie.  As is so often the case, James is the best thing about Avenging Force, both in terms of dramatic acting skills and fighting chops, and no matter what else happens around him, he keeps the movie watchable.  As for Dudikoff, he’s not bad – again, I think he’s a vast improvement over Chuck Norris in terms of real acting skills – but no matter what the script makes him do and no matter how big his cowboy hat and belt buckle may be, it’s obvious that as long as Steve James is around, our hero isn’t really the main attraction.

The second twist taken by the script starts off seeming common enough: the usual fat cat greedmonger cabal is given a few extra traits so as to make sure that the audience understands that these bad guys aren’t just greedy, but downright evil.   How evil?  Well, they’re racists, for one thing (“Hitler was right” is uttered at the dinner table), and the language that they spew forth during fund raising diatribes is wretched enough that I won’t repeat it.  (The scariest part, though, is that by simply removing a few of those choice words and keeping the same context… the hateful bigotry and “we need our guns to stop the commies and colored people” rants sounds way, way too much like real American politicians of this century who not only get elected and… ugh.  No.  Too much.)  Hate and distasteful politics in such characters are not new things, though, and have been used quite successfully in these films before.  The issue I have with how this is portrayed in Avenging Force is that the script goes completely overboard with the subject.  So much effort is made to point out how dastardly the bad guys are that there’s practically no room left to tell the actual story at hand.  It gets to be incredibly tiresome incredibly fast, and after a while, it crosses a line from being a point of characterization to being ugly for the sake of being ugly.  Once the script goes there, watching Avenging Force becomes an almost oppressive experience.  Which leads us to…

For the script’s third twist, audiences exposed to this kind of plot can generally expect the good guy politician to prevail after a long, hard struggle, and that even though his family was threatened, most of them make it through unscathed.  (A single adult sacrifice is sometimes allowed to occur.)  Avenging Force, however, dares to be different.  Perhaps in another movie, this could have worked as “the brave choice,” but here, it only weighs down the already unbearable mood described above.  Not only does the good guy’s family not make it through unscathed, but in fact, every one of them is killed, including the good guy himself… and his two young children.  I can take pretty much anything, but when the second child is shot in cold blood (out of frame but still technically on camera), that’s when the movie drew its last straw for me.  The line of “enough” was reached and crossed.  Let’s face it: there’s not enough dramatic talent here to give this kind of horrific event its due as a tragedy, and in fact, the film doesn’t even try.  That moment and the ones before are throwaways: more bright neon signs on the board meant to point out just how evil the bad guys really are.  (Even this doesn’t make the point strongly enough for the writer, who later sends a twelve year old girl to a brothel to have her virginity auctioned off as a means to keep the hero in line.)  This tack also, from a more base perspective, deprives the audience of the film’s best performer before the third act starts.

There’s one more twist that could have been interesting, but instead ends up coming across as nonsensical.  It seems that our cabal of villains fancies itself a “hunting fraternity” a-la “The Most Dangerous Game,” with the baddies gleefully stalking the Louisiana bayou to hunt down human beings for sport while dressing up in silly masks that make them look like homicidal Village People.  I suspect that this started off as a good idea that just ran away from the writer (James Booth, who also acts in the film) and joined the circus.  Oh, and did I mention that circus music plays during what the audience is set up to think is the climactic hunt sequence?  Yes; circus music.

I might have been able to go along with said circus music and the silly masks if they added some level of fun to the proceedings, but alas, there’s just no fun to be had here, and that is what really cuts the heart of Avenging Force and sends it to the dustbin.  Movies of this era, genre, and budget can be as “bad” as filmmakers care to make them and still be entertaining, but the one rule that they’re not allowed to break is this: they have to be fun in some way.  This flick is not fun.  There is not one smile to be cracked here.  I couldn’t even enjoy the action sequences, because director Sam Firstenberg – who had shown commendable economy and pacing with the action in his previous film – draws out the “suspenseful lead-ins” for far, far too long, so that by the time any of the (highly telegraphed) action does get around to taking place, the tension is gone, and the frustration is on.  Chases aren’t exciting, and fights (which are of wildly variant quality here) are an excuse to check the clock.

I wanted to like Avenging Force.  Truly, I did.  Generally speaking, I love the Cannon/Golan-Globus era, and with few exceptions, even the worst and cheesiest of those films tend to appeal to me in some way or another.  When my old friend Kenner offered to send me a copy of this, one of rarer movies from that particular catalog, I was excited.  I wasn’t expecting perfection by any means, but I figured that there was just no way that it couldn’t be fun… but alas, I was wrong.  Would I have felt differently “back in the day”?  It’s possible.  But here, today… I could handle it as long as Steve James was still on camera, but after that, it all went away.  As much as I normally love the cheez that is Golan-Globus, and as much as I’m inclined to like Michael Dudikoff flicks, I just can’t go for this one.  I’m still very glad to have seen it, but it’s definitely not making the party list.

Bottom line, if you’re not a dedicated fan of the Cannon/Golan-Globus era, you’ve probably never heard of Avenging Force before this anyway, and really, you’re not missing anything by being kept in the dark.  With that said, though, if you, like me, are a dedicated fan of the old Cannon/Golan-Globus flicks, then by all means, if you happen to find this rare hunk of ore in a video mine someplace, take it home and give it a whirl.  It is worth the experience for the connoisseur.  Just don’t expect a cheesy ride through the world of chop socky popcorn fun, because this is one thick and oppressive bayou.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, January, 2013


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