aka RUCKUS 2 - UNTERNEHMEN: CONDOR
Dir: Willie Milan
Cast: Vivian Cheung
by GÜNTER MÜLLER
Aaaahhh… the 1980s! The sheer unbelievable Ninja craze! More cheap but cheerful Namsploitation flicks you can shake a severed foot at! Insane post-nuke mayhem! Yeah, those were the days… Enter Wilfred (aka Willie) Milan. In 1986 the auteur behind such cinematic Filipino gems (well, not really) as MAD WARRIOR (1985) and W IS WAR (either 1983 or 1986 – depending on which source you believe) – two lesser known entries into the crazy post-nuke cycle initiated by George Miller’s MAD MAX 2 – THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981) – tried his hands on a movie that mixes two of those very promising subgenres in order to make some quick cash.
It’s Ninjas in Vietnam this time, and although this sounds too good to be true, ULTIMAX FORCE falls a bit short of my expectations. Perhaps you remember Cirio H. Santiago’s hugely entertaining action nonsense NAM ANGELS (aka HELL’S ANGELS IN VIETNAM, 1989), that has got quite a similar concept, but is ultimately more satisfying. In Santiago’s case a few ultra-tough members of the rocker gang Hell’s Angels go to Vietnam to rescue a bunch of prisoners, and this film works so well because no one (neither the makers nor the cast members) takes this ludicrous concept too seriously. By way of contrast ULTIMAX FORCE seems to be deadly serious in all respects.
It tells the story of four Ninjas who search for one of their friends who is held prisoner in Vietnam by a sadistic camp commander. Will our tough-as-nails heroes manage to free their friend before he rots in one of those dirty hell-holes? Much to my surprise they fail, thanks to the evil Colonel Minh who prefers shooting his prisoners before the rescue team arrives, but that’s about the only original point in this cliché-ridden, lowbrow action flick. The characters are so extremely one-dimensional (particularly Arnold Nicholas as stone-faced leader Chris Burton and Rey Vhen as mean, arrogant Colonel Minh) that they make John Rambo look like the most complex character on earth.
Produced by Pierre C. Lee and written by Joe Avalon, ULTIMAX FORCE is at least good if dumb fun, provided that you lower your expectations immensely. PLATOON (1986) it ain’t – it has much more in common with the MISSING IN ACTION trilogy (1984 - 1988), only cheaper, sillier, and less spectacular. So our Ninjas (who have really cool names like Chris Burton, Dick Foster, Bill Norton and Mike Dobson) stroll through the jungles, talk stupid things and bump off Vietcongs by the dozens. Not in that order, necessarily. Mostly they rely on their machine guns to wipe out their enemies, but sometimes they also use grenades, chains and – of course – their swords.
There are a few shootouts (often spiced up with the sight of unfortunate men being riddled with bullets), punch-ups, fights and explosions, but it’s neither spectacular nor the least bit memorable. Sure, it’s entertaining, in a naïve, trashy way, but it’s far from being great. At least ULTIMAX FORCE is a real Ninja movie, in contrast to all those chaotic Joseph Lai/Godfrey Ho/Tomas Tang patchwork flicks.
The British DVD has got a very poor picture quality, and – to add insult to injury – it is supposed to be cut too! ULTIMAX FORCE was also released on tape in Germany on the Mike Hunter label under the title RUCKUS 2 – UNTERNEHMEN: “CONDOR”. For whatever reason they wanted to make us believe that it is a sequel to the action flick RUCKUS (1981) that stars Exorcist-babe Linda Blair. ULTIMAX FORCE is good, undemanding fun, shot on a low budget, with no redeeming values whatsoever. In other words: eighty minutes of stupid entertainment, no more, no less.
[originally posted on Günter's "The Return of the Ninjas" website]
Thanks to Frank (Australian Video Covers) for uploading the trailer off an Aussie VHS. And thanks to Cristian S from RaroVhs for the Argentinean VHS cover. Thanks to Henrik Larsen of Obskuriøst magazine for the Danish VHS cover (and for selling me the tape! Cheers).