Return Fire (1988)

Welcome back to our two-day tribute to the martial arts films of Ron Marchini. Wow! Is his flick ever ripe for a Mill Creek movie pack bow. But we’re not here for a Mill Creek review, not this time.

We’re here for two reasons: First, to cross another Ron Marchini film off our to-do list of his eleven, all-too-short film career — a career that began in 1974 with the Leo Fong-starring (Kill Point and Low Blow) Murder in the Orient; we’ve done Death Machines and the one-two punch adventures of post-apoc law officer John Travis in Omega Cop and Karate Cop. The second: Adam West (Warp Speed), who worked with Ron again in Omega Cop.

Hell, yeah! This five-video-for-five-days rental just picked itself off the VHS shelf all by itself. Let’s unpack this old school actioner! And if you’re all set to pounce on the film, then you simply do not have the palate for all ’80s things Cannon and Empire, are not wise to the wonders of Michael Dudikoff, or working class, meat n’ potatoes action films title-prefixed by the word “American” and suffixed with words “Ninja,” “Fire,” or “Wolf.”

Unlike most of these cheesy VHS boxes . . . this scene — sort of — actually does occur at the end of the film — sans the Golden Gate blowing up, natch.

So, based on DVD cover and the year of release, you’ve guessed we’re bowing at the altar of the Church of Schwarzenegger with an inversion of 1985’s Commando (not to be confused with 1988’s Saigon Commandos) — right down to Marchini’s returning to-the-civilized-world government operative forced to rescue his kidnapped son. And the reason Steve Parrish’s son was kidnapped? Well, you need to watch Steve’s two previous adventures with the 1986-released two-fer Forgotten Warrior and Jungle Wolf: he pissed off all the wrong people, natch. Oh, and let’s not forget that Steve’s searchin’ and destroyin’ those jungles since 1985 in Ninja Warriors.

So, the Marchini Score Card: Two missions for John Travis. Four missions Steve Parrish. Two films with Adam West. And, in a twist: one film with West’s old TV sidekick, Burt Ward, in 1995’s Karate Raider.

Anyway, if you missed those not to worry: Return Fire, aka Jungle Wolf II, brings us to speed with “flashbacks” from those missions undertaken in ’86s Forgotten Warrior and Jungle Wolf — at least this film, unlike most of the low-budget Philippines’-produced potboilers, admits to their stock footage raiding of both films in the end credits (and don’t forget: the Philippines double as Central America in these films). And speaking of credits: In the opening titles, we learn Return Fire was made by AIP Studios . . . what the . . . the same AIP, aka Action International Pictures, run by David Winters and David A. Prior of Space Mutiny, Future Force, and Future Zone fame? Your guess is as good as ours . . . we dare to dream.

So, Stevo no sooner gets off the boat in San Francisco when a couple of pistol-packing, leather clad ruffians (Is that Ron Royce from Coroner?) pursue him through an abandoned (or after hours?) shopping mall. And the baddies kill a cop. And Stevo steals the cruiser to pursue the baddies. And Stevo’s on the hook for the murder. But the bad guys planned ahead: if they can’t get Stevo, they’ll get his ATV-loving son, Zac. Who’s behind the mayhem? His old enemy from Central America: drug boss Petroli (D.W. Landingham, also of Omega and Karate Cop).

Now, when I see D.W. I think of an older Nick Cage — and I mean that as a complement. Did you ever see the Cage in his recent, B-Movie action bad ass-ness in Arsenal? Cage — trashing desks and screaming, “They got the van! Get me back my van!” — would own the Petroli role. Petroli, thanks to D.W.’s take, is a baddy we love around the B&S cubicles, when he tells faux-Ron Royce (?), before putting a bullet in him, “I have to make an example of you. Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of your wife and kids.” Total Cageness.

Hey, but wait . . . where’s Adam West? Finally, 20 minutes in, West arrives . . . oh, no, not again: this is another West behind-the-desk gig, like he did in Zombie Nightmare. Yep, his Carruthers is behind it all as another bad-guy-masquerading-as-a-good-guy, again, this time: he’s a CIA honcho that wants Parrish and Petroli, dead.

Ron Royce with Swiss thrashers Coroner, left/left. Not Ron Royce-heavy, right.

Anyway, after the shopping mall . . . it’s time for another rock ‘n’ roll-backed montage at a construction pipeline storage facility, then the country-remote Parrish homestead (coming off like the siege at Brad Wesley’s joint in Road House — only that film wasn’t released yet!), complete with Snake Plissken-esque revolvers topped with gun sights. Then, a dirt bike vs. Camero montage. And those ’80s hair-metal synth-rockers backing the firefights, “Return Fire” and “Fight to the Finish,” are by Gunslinger (never released an album), the band of actor Michael E. Bristow, here as one of West’s agent cronies (he was also in Omega Cop and Karate Cop). The Gunslinger tunes are cool and fitting, but why, no Coroner?

You gotta love how Ron’s films are a family affair; for faux-Ron Royce, ain’t heavy . . . he’s my brother.

So . . . 35 minutes in and, yes, and more West . . . in a dark fedora and trench coat, giving us the backstory that, if Stevo didn’t screw up his last mission, we wouldn’t be here (see, those flashbacks weren’t superfluous stock paddding, after all). Yep, this is a Commando redux: the baddies even tote the subdued kid in a wheelchair. And . . . more factories and warehouses in montage. And more flashback from Stevo’s last two films, West’s secretary (Lynn O’Brien, in her only film role) becomes an ally, we learn Petroli and Carruthers are in the coke business together, and Stevo makes it worse by stealing their coke-converted-to-cash-packed van. And check out that rockin’ van vs. sedan montage — with Stevo’s ten-year-old kid tossin’ explosives! YES! Children and C4! And Stevo making that big weapons cache buy from an old war buddy to end this B.S. once and for all — with West begging for his life on a military airfield, clutching his coke satchel.

Phew. What a crazed paragraph. See how excited I am over this movie?

All that’s left is to season Neil Callaghan’s only directing effort (why, this is B-movie action-awesomeness that bests most AIP efforts) with lots of “rail kills” of the hold-your-chest-and-“Aiyeee”-plunge-to-your-death moments, high-speed dub to VHS tapes, and released into the marketplace at the local mom n’ pops Tapes n’ More and Village Video.

Now, in my never ending quest to defy our trope-laden (uh-oh) company edicts of “No Seinfeld references in film reviews”: In AIP’s other analogous (well, is it the same studio?) actioner known as The Silencer (1995), they went “Seinfeld” by casting Cindy Ambehul as the female-lead love interest. So . . . any luck with Lynn O’Brien and D.W. Landingham . . . Magic 8-Ball says . . . “No Soup For You.” Denied! Neither appeared on Seinfeld. Lynn would have made a great out-of-Costanza’s-league girlfriend, while D.W. would have made for a great Constanza boss at Kruger Industrial Smoothing . . . or at the “real” Vandelay Industries, for D.W. as a crazed latex magnate was a missed casting coup.

And so goes another “Warning Slip” in my mail-slot . . . and the adventures of Steve Parrish . . . which leaves Dragon’s Quest (1983), Ninja Warrior (1985), Forgotten Warrior and Jungle Wolf (1986), the ever-elusive Arctic Warriors (1989), and Ron’s swan song with Burt Ward, Karate Raider (1995), on the B&S About Movies to-do list. And it is an awesome to-do list — sink repairs, gutter painting, and leaky wall patches, be damned. For Ron Marchini* comes first. For he’s “Gold, Sam.” Gold!”

You can watch Return Fire on You Tube. It has the B&S About Movies seal of approval.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

* In the annals of martial arts tournaments, Marchini is remembered as Chuck Norris’s first tournament win (The May 1964 Takayuki Kubota’s All-Stars Tournament in Los Angeles, California) by defeating Marchini by a half a point. Another of Chuck’s old opponents, Tony Tullener, who beat Norris in the ring three times, pursued his own acting career with the William Riead-directed Scorpion. But what’s this: others say Norris never faced Marchini in the ring? The plot thickens.

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