Savate (1995)

Savate (1995)- * * *

Directed by: Issac Florentine

Starring: Oliver Gruner, Ian Ziering, Ashley Laurence, Michael Palance, James Brolin, Donald Gibb, Marc Singer, Rance Howard, and R. Lee Ermey

Joseph Charlegrand (Gruner) is a French Legionnaire and a pioneer of a fighting style developed by the Legion, known as Savate. He and his fellow military men would practice their Savate and get into good-natured tournaments to hone their skills. But then along comes the dastardly Ziegfield Von Trotta (Singer) - who wears a monocle so you just KNOW he’s evil - and he heartlessly kills one of Charlegrand’s comrades. It turns out that Charlegrand must travel to the United States in his quest to find Von Trotta and get revenge for his friend’s death. This is the immediate post-Civil War period in Texas, mind you. Charlegrand becomes friendly with a brother-sister pair of homesteaders, Cain (Ziering) and Mary Parker (Laurence). The evil mayor of the town, Benedict (Ermey in an uncredited role) wants the land and threatens to raise taxes to exorbitant levels. The townsfolk resist, and Benedict has some gunslingers such as Mitchum (Palance) to enforce his will. But Benedict also holds an international “Tough Man” competition with a cash prize. Perhaps Charlemont should enter the competition, as no one in the wild west has seen kicking in fights before. Will he find Von Trotta, get revenge for his friend, beat Mitchum and the boys, help the homesteaders, fall in love, win the competition, and become a hero to the small town? It seems like a tall order, but will the power of Savate win the day? Find out later...

Fan-favorite director Isaac Florentine sure seems like he was having fun directing this one. He playfully reworks some classic Western (and especially Spaghetti Western) tropes, themes, and, for lack of a better word, cliches, and serves them up in his own, inimitable style. In other words, it’s “SWOOSH”-ing sound effects in the old west. It’s all pretty tongue-in-cheek and relatively upbeat - Florentine’s tribute to the movies he obviously loves and grew up with.

Sure, as moviegoers we’ve seen this plot countless times before, from Desert Heat (1999), to The Final Alliance (1990), to, well, just about anything you can name dating back through the history of cinema. But that’s not the point. Florentine has transposed modern-day fighting skills over an old west setting, and we thought that was pretty cool. You get to see Olivier Gruner as a cowboy. That alone is worth a look, and the concept of ‘Western Kickboxing’ is just so nutty, you have to love it. The music by Kevin Kiner is an unashamed and unabashed Spaghetti Western...well...bonanza, complete with Edda Dell’Orso-style vocals.  It really helps things along. But before you get too excited, there are, of course, some drawbacks.

A lot of times in the movies we’ve seen, there’s no one, clearly delineated baddie. Here, there are too many! You’ve got Von Trotta, Benedict, Mitchum, and any number of fighters in the Punchfighting ring (yeah, the Tough Man competition is Punchfighting. Old West Punchfighting.) Ermey is uncredited, Ashley Laurence doesn’t really do anything at all in the second half, Singer’s character isn’t really set up as well as he could have been, and was James Brolin even in this? His screen time is so minuscule, it’s barely a cameo. And, as usual, at times the movie drags a bit. But, as a display for stunts and fights, which we assume is the main point, it certainly succeeds, and we appreciated the offbeat angle of it all.

Somehow, Ian Ziering looks younger here than he does on 90210 (though to be fair, on that show the male leads were 39-year-old high school students), and he even does some light Ziering-Fu. Clearly this is Ian (pronounced eye-an, of course), at his best. Donald Gibb brightens things up and brings to mind the Bloodsport (1988) parallels, and, in a rare treat, Ashley Laurence says “Get off my land” instead of a cantankerous old man. So that was nice.

While PM was the production company, the movie was released on VHS in the U.S. on A-Pix with the undistinguished title The Fighter. For a reasonably enjoyable homage to Spaghetti Westerns featuring some B-movie names and some notable moments and ideas, Savate comes through.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett

Also check out write-ups from our buddies, DTVC and The Video Vacuum! 


Sweet Justice (1992)

Sweet Justice (1992)- * * *

Directed by: Alain Paris and Allen Plone

Starring: Marc Singer, Finn Carter, Cheryl Paris, Frank Gorshin, Marjean Holden, Michelle McCormick, Catherine Hickland, Patricia Tallman, Kathleen Kinmont, and Mickey Rooney
Sunny Justice (Carter) is a spunky female kickboxer not afraid to take on a man in the ring. This quality is going to come in handy, because she stumbles onto a small-town conspiracy that could go, eventually, all the way to the top. Upon the death of her sister Suzanne (Paris), the mayor of a dusty ol’ town named Los Olivos, Sunny returns home, and after speaking to the Sheriff and Suzanne’s boyfriend, Steve Colton (Singer), and local yokel Zeke (Rooney), she discovers the culprit: an evil land developer (yes, another one!) named Rivas (Gorshin) who is also dumping toxic waste into the old mine (presumably where Timmy from Lassie got stuck every week). Deciding  to cut through the bureaucratic red tape, Sunny reconvenes her old commando unit, an all-female fighting force sanctioned by the U.S. Army. Here is the team, along with some of their relevant credits:

-  Kim (McCormick) - from Hawkeye (1988) and Showdown (1993)
- Chris Barnes (Catherine Hickland) - from Robowar (1988)
-  M.J. (Marjean Holden) - from Ballistic (1995) and Automatic (1995)
- Josie (Patricia Tallman) - known for her work in horror movies, and had a small part in Road House (1989)
- Heather (Kathleen Kinmont) - we all know her, but for those who may not, she is the former Mrs. Lorenzo Lamas and was in a bunch of his movies, such as CIA Code Name: Alexa (1992), Final Impact (1992), and Snake Eater II: The Drug Buster (1989), among others, but she also starred in plenty of stuff on her own such as The Art of Dying (1991) and Gangland (2001), to name just a few. And in further non-Lamas Lamas news, this movie reunites Kinmont, McCormick, and Branscombe Richmond (in a tiny part) - all seen in the show Renegade.
- and, of course, Sunny Justice (Finn Carter), who, coincidentally, was on an unrelated TV show called Sweet Justice a few years later. And her sister, the hot mayor (Cheryl Paris), was in the unfortunate Liberty and Bash (1989).

Will this power-packed team of fighting women get to the bottom of the conspiracy and get their man? Find out today!

Sweet Justice is essentially a cross between Hell Squad (1986), China O’Brien (1990), and Frame Up (1991). To paraphrase our friend Cool Target, the first 30 minutes are kind of slow, but after that, things pick up and become very enjoyable. In Frame Up, the Evil Land Developer (perhaps we should start now capitalizing it and calling them ELD’s for short, we see them so much) was Dick Sargent, and here it’s Frank Gorshin. Maybe aging TV actors are drawn to the role because it’s so perfunctory? It must be like a working retirement for them. Gorshin puts in a wacky performance, even Riddler-esque you might say? Mickey “Maximum Force” Rooney (he’s synonymous with Maximum Force, isn’t he?) puts in a top-notch sit-down role, but to be fair, it’s tough to tell whether he’s standing or not because of his height. When one of Rivas’s goons punches Zeke in the face, that’s when all bets are off and the girls get their SWEET JUSTICE.

It’s your classic “assemble a team” movie, and we always enjoy those. You really have to admire anyone who’s willing to drop their job to go on an illegal killing spree with their buddies just because one of them enlists you to. There’s even a classic training montage and shreddin’ guitars play on the soundtrack during fights. You’ve gotta love it. The women and their diverse personalities and fighting styles keep it from becoming boring. We thought another title for the movie (or another like it in the future) could be “EMPOWERMENT”.  You get the idea.

The team leader, Sunny Justice, is a pre-The Fight (2001) woman who takes on men in the ring. She was truly ahead of her time. And in Street Corner Justice (1996), Marc Singer played the immortal Mike Justus. Sunny Justice and Mike Justus together again at last. We celebrated. Singer has never looked more like Kevin Bacon than he does here. Maybe it’s the hair. While Finn Carter takes on the Cynthia Rothrock role from the aforementioned China O’Brien (there’s even a fight in a gym just like in that movie), we thought that if Sweet Justice were made today, the part of Sunny Justice could be portrayed by Gina Carano.

Featuring the prerequisite sax on the soundtrack, as well as end credits ballad “The Glory of it All” by Sherry Cameron, Sweet Justice is rollicking entertainment, perfect for video stores of the 90’s. Released by Triboro on VHS at that time, Sweet Justice is sweet viewing.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty