Monday, November 3, 2008


"Armed Response" (** out of ****) qualifies as one of B-movie director Fred Olen Ray's better crime thrillers. David Carradine plays Jim Roth, a Los Angeles barkeeper in his own bar who suffers from Vietnam War flashbacks. Interestingly, the Vietnam sequences in his memories emerge as much as an indictment of the historic American-Asian conflict as the after effects that the fighting inflicted on his psyche. Unfortunately, the helmets and the uniforms don't contribute to the authenticity of the action, though everything else about this sequence passes muster, especially the choppers. Carradine dons the smallest possible helmet imaginable and looks too old. Meanwhile, spaghetti western star Lee Van Cleef minus his hair piece is effectively cast as Carradine's crusty, ex-detective dad Burt Roth. Japanese actor Mako of "The Sand Pebbles" does a credible turn as ruthless Yakuza boss Akira Tanaka. Last, but not least, horror movie icon Michael Berryman of "The Hills Have Eyes" registers a memorable appearance as one of Akira's more sinister henchmen. The scene where Berryman blasts one of expendable members of the Roth family with a shotgun will stick in your mind because he wears a jump suit with a yellow smiley face on the left breast pocket.

Chiefly, the predictable but entertaining T.K. Lankford screenplay pays homage to the 1940s mystery thrillers that starred Humphrey Bogart, particularly "The Maltese Falcon." The Yakuza wants a valuable statue back, so they hire an unscrupulous gumshoe. Cory Thornton (B-movie veteran Ross Hagen of "The Devil's 8"), who dresses the part persuasively from fedora to trench coat) and his honest partner Tommy Roth (Brent Huff of "I Spy Returns") who is also Carradine's younger brother to collect it. Carradine has yet another younger sibling who gets involved in the plot later and suffers horribly at the hands of the Yakuza. Initially, at the rendezvous to exchange the stature for the money, treacherous Cory double-crosses bad guy Steve (Roger Corman stock player Dick Miller of "Small Soldiers") and his sexy, pistol-packing sidekick Deborah (Laurene Landon of "Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold") at a remote spot in the desert. Cory makes it look like Steve and Deborah pulled the double-cross, when in fact he engineered it and his gullible partner fell for it. No sooner have they apparently dispatched Steve and Deborah than a carload of thugs careen toward them out of the nearby hills. Tommy takes them out with a Vietnam era M-16. Cory wounds Tommy, but Tommy manages to escape in a bullet-riddled car with the statue. Tommy makes it back to older brother Jim's residence, dramatically smashes through the window and falls on Jim's wife (Lois Hamilton of "The Electric Horseman") as they are quarreling about the night-sweating flashbacks that have made Jim so irritable. Of course, neither Burt nor Jim tells the police anything about the statue. They decide to launch their own investigation.

Fred Olen Ray keeps the action moving at a fast clip in this trimly-paced 85 minute melodrama. He sets up the plot in about 30 minutes then has Akira and Jim tangling with each other over not only the statue but also his $100 thousand dollars.
Moments of humor are few and far between in this straight-laced Chinatown shoot-em up. You'll hate Ross Hagen's deceitful private eye, but you'll cheer his just comeuppance in the final scene. X-rated porn star Michelle Bauer has an eye-spinning turn as an exotic dancer in what ranks as the only semi-nude scene in "Armed Response." Mind you, "Armed Response" is NOT a classic, but it doesn't waste time telling its formulaic, hard-edged story. Ray maintains more than a modicum of credibility while he adheres to the conventions of the genre. Lee Van Cleef gets to trade shots with the bad guys but he plays more of a sidekick to Carradine than a leading player. If you look hard enough, you'll spot Fred Olen Ray as one of the bad guys. Atmospheric locations and film noir style lighting enhance this respectable actioneer.

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