Action Films

Cop movies, revenge films, fisticuffs, martial arts and war movies.

Cage

Cage_1989_poster

One of the great joys of quick-dry cement-headed action flicks like Cage is reveling in a piece of art which couldn’t be made today, especially given how folks are offended by just about everything it seems.

Featuring the Twin Towers Reb Brown and Lou Ferrigno, who’ll kick your teeth in even as you cower in your safe space, Cage is another one of those human cockfighting ring action flicks similar to Bloodsport. However it’s a wagon-load more racist. But have no fear. Nobody comes off well in this.

Reb (Scott) and Lou (Billy) play army buddies fighting over in Vietnam. Billy is seriously injured and airlifted back home, recuperating in a Veterans hospital. Scott helps him recover from his injuries and eventually, both of them are working honest-to-goodness blue collar jobs tending to the waterhole they opened, “Incoming.”

It’s frequented by two buffoonish stereotype Italians, Mario and Tony, bottom feeder mobsters, who just happen to be there when some equally buffoonish Mexican stereotypes rob the place. Impressed by how Scott and Billy (especially Billy) handle themselves, the indebted mob duo decides to kidnap the mentally challenged Billy and force him to fight in the underground Los Angeles cage fighting circuit.

The fighting ring, which isn’t unlike the earliest savage incarnation of the rule-free UFC, is governed by perhaps the ethnic group that comes off the least well in this production, the Chinese. Their champ is bankrolled by a Triad mobster and is king of the hill, top of the heap…

REB_BROWN_FERIGNOOf course, Scott has to track down his brother, and enlists the help of a reporter trying to break the story for the LA Times. Meanwhile, poor Billy has to fight for his very survival.

Cage is laughable, yet remains highly watchable. Reb Brown exudes effortless charm. He may possess an acting range from here til the end of your arm, but there’s something indescribably awesome about the man, without whom we wouldn’t have our podcast*.

Notable as well for featuring the uncredited ex-prison boxing champ Danny Trejo in a rather thankless role as hired muscle.

*** (out of 5)

[*CHECK OUT OUR PODCAST OF CAGE!]

The Challenge

the_challenge1982A down on his luck boxer who needs a big score to get himself back on his feet is the plot to about 1,000 genre films from the 40s to the 60s. In The Challenge, the challenge as it were was to do something different with this trope.

In the case of this 1982 John Frankenheimer actioner, it’s a gig escorting a rare family heirloom from Los Angeles to Kyoto, Japan.

The piece in question, a samurai sword, was exchanged for a pack of smokes in World War II, and an enterprising GI brought it to LA. Its rightful owners want it back and the scion of the family, wheelchair-bound Toshio, hires a washed up California prizefighter to be its keeper.

Wearing the gloves is Scott Glenn as rugged Murphy, lured by the (still) impressive sum of $500/day, to smuggle the weapon in a golf bag through customs.

Unfortunately, the sword is not the genuine article. It’s a set up.

Others have their eyes on the prize, including Toshio’s evil uncle, Hideo, a business big-wig with a sprawling corporate compound that’d shame Facebook headquarters, featuring a slot where an ancient samurai sword should be…uh…slotted?

By this point, Hideo’s fully Americanized henchman Ando has unceremoniously tossed Toshio head over wheels out the back of a moving van and is threatening to kill Murphy if he doesn’t provide details about the weapon’s whereabouts.

But damned if he knows.

Turns out finding the real sword involves infiltrating a samurai school, run by none other than the legendary Toshiro Mifune as Toru Yoshida.

Where do Murphy’s loyalties lie? Does he bow to goon pressure and swipe the sword?

Co-written by John Sayles, the man behind three of our site faves, Piranha, The Howling and Alligator, The Challenge is fairly engaging stuff. Sayles keeps things moving at a nice pace, introducing lug Murphy to the decorous, simple pleasures of Japanese dojo life (we imagine Steven Seagal* enjoying this too for a bit, before that gave way to the pleasures of the Japanese buffet).

And in The Challenge, Murphy is, of course, bested by some righteous black belt artistry and demands that he be trained in the deadly arts before being swayed by the ways of the samurai.

And after being thrown out of the temple, he has to prove himself to get back in their good graces by withstanding burial up to the neck with no food nor drink for days.

The Challenge is by no means a classic, but does feature some kick-butt kendo, and some kyudo (Japanese archery).

*** (out of 5)

[Editors’ note: the movie is also notable for something else: aikido choreography by the bloated ponytail himself, then billed as “Steve” Seagal.