I’ve been relieving my youth by watching the American Ninja movies over these past few weeks. And while it’s fun revisiting them, I can’t say that they’re good movies. But in this day and age of the internet and dozens of YouTube reviewers covering all kinds of similar schlock I learned of the existence of a similar movie: Avenging Force.
It seems that the best American Ninja movie isn’t actually an American Ninja movie at all. Avenging Force was made between American Ninja 1 and 2 by the same people. Same leads, same director, same stuntmen, same composer, same movie studio. Even the writer, James Booth, would go on to write the screenplay for American Ninja 2 and the story for American Ninja 4. He even stars in the latter movie as well as in this one.
In Israel Avenging Force was even released as American Ninja 2. This severely messes up the continuity since Steven James dies halfway through in this movie.
Avenging Force stars Michael Dudikoff as Matt and Steve James as Larry who become the target of a right wing paramilitary group named the Pentangle. James is running for senator and Dudikoff plays his friend. A friend who happens to be a former CIA agent and martial artist. Dudikoff is taking care of his kid sister due to their parents’ death.
The Pentangle occasionally hunt humans for sport in the bayou of New Orleans. The same premise for Jean-Claude van Damme’s best movie: Hard Target. After successfully eliminating James and his entire family they take Dudikoff’s sister hostage so they can lure him into their “most dangerous game”.
What strikes me the most about Avenging Force is how brutal and raw the movie is. Especially when you compare it to the American Ninja movies. The movie opens up with a hunt by the Pentangle, who dress up like Mad Max rejects. At that point the movie made me believe this was going to be as silly as the American Ninja movies.
That changes when we get to a Mardi Gras parade which is being targeted by the Pentangle. They open fire on James’ float which just so happens to have his entirely family on it. While he manages to survive his eldest son doesn’t. Just 15 minutes in and we have our first dead kid. It won’t be the last.
Aside from displaying the brutality of The Pentangle, the scene also function as a way to introduce us to Matt’s fighting skills. He’s on to them before they open fire and he dispatches most of them with his martial arts skills, but also a gun. A welcome change of pace when you’ve only seen Dudikoff handle sticks, swords and nun-chucks so far.
The Pentangle, who only want Larry dead because of the color of his skin, don’t give up that easily. They corner Larry and Matt at a shipyard resulting in a cat and mouse game. This is one of the highlights of the movie. Having disposed of the Pentangle goons, they take refuge on Matt’s farm. By now Pentangle is aware of who they are dealing with so they take out the big guns to Matt’s farm resulting in one of the most ruthless scenes in the movie.
They manage to kill Larry and his family, executing both his wife and son in cold blood. They kidnap Matt’s sister so they can sell her as a sex slave and leave him wounded behind. It’s up to Matt alone to find his sister and take down The Pentangle.
By now we are well into an hour of the movie and the final act consists of Matt being the target of the most dangerous game. This is the highlight of the movie, because it sees Dudikoff wading through a swamp while it rains taking on hunters one by one. The fights are actually brutal, a departure from all the choreographed martial arts scenes from the American Ninja movies. Matt takes plenty of hits throughout making him seem like an actual mortal instead of a super human. While it is a given he will win at the end, the stakes actually feel real and the outcome not sure.
One of the biggest assets of Avenging Force is John P. Ryan as Prof. Elliott Glastenbury, leader of the Pentangle. He’s deliciously evil and hams it up to 11. As Glastenbury he gets to deliver speeches drenched with racism including the line “Hitler was right”. He is one of the most vile characters I have seen on screen and it’s great.
Avenging Force is by far one of the best Cannon movies I have seen. The movie is entertaining, covers a lot of ground and manages to find a delicate balance between a serious action flick and the usual silliness that is incorporated in a lot of the Cannon output.