Fireback (1983)

Fireback VHS CoverWhat’s the perfect gift for a one man army? The One Man Army Gun of course! Sensibly code-named Omega (you’ll likely have already killed everyone with Omega before you can announce its official name during battle), it’s an automatic rifle, machine gun, grenade launcher, has a mini-missile and comes with built-in radio so that you can proudly broadcast all your carnage to your envious friends whose Omega hasn’t been delivered yet!

Once again proving though what a cluster the war in Vietnam was, just as Jack Kaplan is demonstrating it to his soldiers, they get overrun by the North Vietnamese! Omega never even had a chance to be used and Jack was captured by the Viet Cong. You can be forgiven for thinking that the remainder of the movie is about Jack breaking out of the POW camp and rescuing Omega so that they can team up and single-handed prolong the war another six months. That would actually make sense.

But such a film would not be directed by Filipino action movie vet Teddy Page (Angel in the Dark, Blood Debts) or star Richard Harrison (who also supposedly wrote the script in a day). And since this is a Page/Harrison production, Kaplan is instead rescued from the POW camp, goes home to find his wife kidnapped and then becomes a One Man Army to get her back! Which is just fine because watching anonymous thugs getting killed by Omega because of Kaplan’s personal vendetta is much more satisfying than seeing Filipino extras pretending to be Vietnamese troops getting blown up because of America’s failed foreign policy.

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Except that Omega was nowhere to be seen! Had the rescue mission failed and left Omega behind? Did Jack turn his back on violence after the war and thus had no need for Omega? Or is there a less sinister explanation? Like between fending off attacks from the kidnapper’s colorful henchmen and him having sexy flashbacks about before the war when he was screwing his wife near their pool, he just didn’t have time to mess with Omega.

Though Jack doesn’t know what happened to his wife while he was in the Nam, he knows enough to seek information at the local strip bar. You can count on three things taking place in an action movie at a strip bar. The hero gets a lead from a sleazy informant. The bad guy gets a heads up from a crony who works at the strip bar that the hero is looking for him. And skanky girls strip. It’s pretty much cinema malpractice not to put such a scene in your film.

A succession of silly thugs are dispatched to try and kill Jack. There’s a guy with a golden hand. A guy with an eye patch goes Cold War on Jack and attempts to garrote him with a wire from his watch. A guy named Cat Burglar has skills limited to picking the lock on Jack’s door even though Jack can hear it being picked. Leopard has a cane with a pointy end that he stabs Jack with. He even fights a ninja at the end of the movie! (Upside: Jack uses ninja costume to infiltrate the bad guy’s lair. Downside: he’s immediately recognized anyway.)

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If you’re worried that Duffy Collins (worst name for a crime lord ever) is going to run out of goofy dudes to harass Jack, Jack also spends a good portion of the film hiding in the jungle from a posse the police have formed to bring him in since he’s being framed for the killing of the only guy in town he didn’t really kill!

It is when he is fighting off the posse that Omega finally makes its appearance, following a welcome montage where Jack rebuilds it at a junk yard after making a terrible discovery about his wife.

We expected Omega to be used to kill all the bad guys (I was imagining Jack using the secret Super Trigger on Omega which fired everything at once on Duffy in the last scene), but he instead uses it kill the people working for the police. If that doesn’t make you uneasy, the scene where he shoots some of these guys in the back will surely make you cringe.

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All is forgiven though when Jack confronts Duffy and in glorious slow motion and with deranged facial expressions, he uses his ninja sword on Duffy repeatedly!

Fireback is terrible in every way that you would expect a Teddy Page movie to be. Dubbing and dialogue are in constant competition as to which is more heinous. Run down Filipino locations are passed off as someplace in America (just because the police chief’s office has two American flags in it, doesn’t make it twice as convincing) and once characters start talking about how Jack is hiding in the ruins outside of town or has run off into the jungle, it’s like they’ve just given up. I also never understood why a crime boss would bother kidnapping a woman, why no one would miss her, and why once the police realized she was kidnapped and what happened to her, didn’t bother to do anything about it other than lament that Jack would probably be killing a lot more people now.

For his part, Richard Harrison (Revolt of the Praetorians, Killers Are Challenged, Terror Force Commando) is the sort of star who migrated to Hong Kong and Filipino action movies in the 1980s from Italian exploitation cinema because he got older and grew a mustache, but mostly because the Italians stopped making the Peplum, Spaghetti Western, Eurospy and Poliziottesco films that were his stock in trade. There isn’t anything outstanding about him in this film beyond his impressive physical presence. Everyone else in the film are the usual unappealing rank amateurs these foreign shot action movies seem to require.

A hilarious exclamation point occurs when after Jack kills Duffy, text comes on the screen advising that Jack was caught a month later, went to prison and died of a heart attack there at the age of 42. Well shoot, thanks for ruining any chance of a sequel!

© 2015 MonsterHunter

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