Italian productions with questionable moral boundaries about intellectual theft are nothing new, but Fragasso and Mattei seem to be the masters at this sort of thing; Robowar, ShockingDark, and the previously reviewed Cruel Jaws are all films that have the distinction of existing in a limbo of so-bad-it’s-goodliness. Strike Commando is another in the duos line of ripoffs, this time an action movie that steals heavily from Rambo: First Blood Part II and yet still falls heavily short of the mark. You want muscles, sweat, and a lot of yelling? Reb Brown’s Sgt. Michael Ransom is here to completely eat the scenery.
Rosella Drudi takes up the writing duties here with a story about Ransom’s fight in Vietnam against a group of Russians who have been training Vietcong soldiers and wiping out various villages in the area. Luckily (or unluckily?), Ransom’s entire Strike Commando team is obliterated in a disastrous depot attack and nursed back to health by a Vietnamese village led by a priest, where he befriends a young boy named Lao and tells him about Disney World. Yes, you can’t have a gritty Vietnam story without at least one mention of Walt Disney and his merry band of characters. Poor Lao and the rest of his village are murdered by the Russians, led by WWE dropout Jakoda (Alex Vitale), and the rest of the movie is about Ransom getting vengeance for his dead friends.
Strike Commando‘s story is its weakest element, because it has far too many lulls and holes in its plot. At times extremely sentimental, at others particularly sadistic, neither Mattei nor Fragasso know where to land on the tonal spectrum, and this results in a lot of odd and unintentionally hilarious moments. The scene where Ransom holds dead Lao in his arms and weeps about Disney Worlds yet unvisited is so over-the-top there’s no way there’ll be a dry eye in the house – but due to laughter.
Truthfully Brown is the biggest saving grace for Strike Commando, because his hammy presence alone is what drives most of the film. Sure, there’s action here and there with noticeably bloodless squibs and quite a few stock footage inserts. But you’ve never really experienced action cinema until you’ve heard Brown wail Jakoda while emptying an entire clip into vacant thatch huts, or proclaim “Our father who art in heaven!” while jumping off an exploding boat. If viewers are invested in Strike Commando at all, it’s solely due to Brown’s enthusiasm to let loose.
Other than that, though, Strike Commando is certainly not going to be mistaken for a big-budget action movie. It may have the Filipino locale and a couple of helicopter set pieces, but it can’t make up for the overwhelmingly dull plot and nonsensical twist at the end of the film. There’s a reason people go back to Strike Commando again and again, much like Fragasso’s other opus Troll 2 – they just can’t get enough of how enjoyably bad it is.
Severin Films certainly treats Strike Commando like a blockbuster, giving it a new 2K scan from the internegative and providing both an extended and theatrical version of the movie. The extended version is about ten minutes longer than the theatrical and includes a few minor scenes that don’t impact the overall plot very much; these different versions are achieved by branching. The new 2K scan looks very good, with an impressive level of detail that features a minor unobstructive grain scale. The color grading is particularly noticeable, but overall Strike Commando has been given a complete overhaul from past VHS rips of the film and viewers are offered a visual treat only minimized by occasional quality dips during the extended cut scenes and, obviously, the grainy stock footage.
Audio is presented with both English and Italian LPCM 2.0 mono tracks. Ideally, viewers will want to watch the English version since the film was shot almost entirely in English; however, that track does occasionally suffer from fluctuation in dialogue volume and some heavier distortion. The Italian track may be a little more consistent, but it obviously does not match up with the lips. The disc also provides an English subtitle option that can be used for both English and Italian tracks.
Extra features include new interviews with Claudio Fragasso and Rosella Drudi shot at the same time in the same studio. Fragasso speaks about his work on the film with Mattei, noting that they shot in the same location as Apocalypse Now. Drudi talks about writing the film and the input she received from Fragasso and Mattei, eventually admitting that she thinks the film is quite good and features a strongly emotional story (agree to disagree). Also included is a short archival in-production promo video and the film’s trailer.
NEW 2k scan from the internegative
Includes both Theatrical and Extended Cuts
NEW War Machine – Interview with Co-Director Claudio Fragasso (HD; 19:45)
NEW All Quiet on the Philippine Front – Interview with Screenwriter Rossella Drudi (HD; 13:11)
While I can’t say Strike Commando is a particularly good film, it is one that cult film fans should see – it has the Fragasso/Mattei stamp of quality all over it, and Reb Brown puts in a performance that simply must be experienced. Severin’s release is definitely worth picking up for fans of the movie, since it does the film a great service restoring it to its glory with a new 2K scan and a couple of new extras where Fragasso and Drudi wax poetic about its cinematic offerings.