American Commandos (1986)

American Commandos is the sort of film where the hero’s wife is introduced just long enough for him to tell her that he doesn’t know what he would do without her, thus tipping the audience off she’ll be dead within the next two scenes.

It’s also the kind of movie where the little orphan boy that the hero adopts in Vietnam in between fire fights is unironically named Charlie. And it’s the kind of movie where one of the guys he fought with in Nam became an Interpol agent who helps him battle the heroin trade in the Golden Triangle which just happens to be run by another guy he fought with.

And it is most definitely the kind of movie where the guys who fought together were known as the Rat Bastards.

In short, American Commandos is a classic.

Christopher Mitchum plays Dean, a Nam vet who earns a living working the night shift at a gas station. This is the part of the piece where sophisticated critics would roll out the Robert Mitchum comparisons and acknowledge that while Chris looks a bit like his dad, his acting talents look a bit like those of his brother James Mitchum (Raiders of the Magic Ivory).

Is Chris Mitchum awful in this movie? Without a doubt. Blessed with the natural stiffness and inability to do anything other than recite his lines in a dull monotone that all folks who should never set foot in front of a camera have, Chris reminds us that not only do most sons of famous actors not grow up to be Michael Douglas or Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., but most don’t even grow up to be Antonio Sabato, Jr.!

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But would we even remember Robert Mitchum today if he made movies with Bobby A. Saurez instead of Jacques Tourneur, Charles Laughton and David Lean? At best, Saurez can be described as the lower budget, less talented Filipino version of low budget Filipino directing legend, Cirio H. Santiago. And Cirio’s best movies were shot in a rock quarry and/or featured Richard Norton in leather pants!

Clearly, comparisons between father are son are disingenuous since Chris and Robert worked in two totally different professions. Robert made movies. Chris made fodder for the bottom of your 1980s video store’s shelves so you wouldn’t have to go home empty-handed when the good stuff from Van Damme, Dudikoff and Bronson were rented. Frankly, this arguably makes Chris Mitchum’s contributions more important to late 20th Century videophiles than his much more talented father!

It’s just another night shift for Dean at the local gas station. But what at first seems to be the usual five dollar gas purchase by a gang of thugs turns into a robbery attempt! Dean didn’t mow down hundreds of North Vietnamese regulars though just to come back to the states so that druggie scum could steal the night’s take!

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Like any quietly deadly Nam vet from the mid 1980s, the hold up attempt ends with Dean pulling his piece and giving chase, before majestically standing in the road, one man against the onrushing tide of filth threatening to overrun our great nation! Several bullets later, American Commando is ahead of the punks 1-0! But the rest escaped, prompting the police to advise American Commando to watch out for retaliation.

But if anyone knows that freedom isn’t free, it’s American Commando! And by that, I mean the freedom to whup ass! So it is that the robbers waste no time striking back, raping American Commando’s old lady and killing precious little Charlie! And while he’s calling for an ambulance for his wife, she’s so traumatized, she freaking suicides right there with a straight razor!

And you can bet the local cops are as useless as the safety on American Commando’s pistol! And even if they weren’t, would an American hero like American Commando sit around at a support group for grieving pussies and hope that the cops make a lucky traffic stop and arrest the killers only so that some liberal judge can give them probation? Or would he cause an ammo shortage in the tri-state area?

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But what seems like a straight forward Death Wish-style revenge melodrama quickly ramps up into something even more silly as the mayor demands something be done about American Commando killing all the town scum! A federal agent shows up and visits American Commando in his jail cell (I don’t think he was ever charged with anything beyond being way too awesome) and before you know it, they’re shaking hands on a mission that will reunite the Rat Bastards to destroy the heroin trade in the Golden Triangle! It didn’t make any sense and any character with half a brain in the movie told American Commando it was impossible, but he was undeterred! And with good reason because one of the Rat Bastard’s hobbies is building armored personal vehicles!

Following a montage of American Commando designing things and his team building stuff, they’re forced to bust out of their garage in their vehicle after getting ambushed by guys working for Somsak, the drug kingpin who used to be a Rat Bastard himself! For the rest of the film, American Commando and his crew fight a running battle with these guys as they make their way to Somsak’s heroin lab.

Somsak appears periodically barking orders over his walkie-talkie talking about Plan B and then Plan C once it becomes apparent that American Commando won’t be stopped. (Plan C tells you everything you need to know about this movie as it consists of dropping grenades from a plane onto American Commando’s armored truck until the armored truck and plane finally crash into each other!)

Mindless mayhem fills up the remainder of the film with poorly edited action scenes (like when American Commando supposedly blows a road up) and unconvincing gunfire (people fall over after a gun is aimed in their general direction) before the explosive climax where American Commando faces one final temptation (don’t worry – it ends like you hoped it would – with him yelling “nooooo!” and shooting a guy in slow motion).

Much like its hero, American Commandos isn’t flashy and more than a bit amateurish (the heroin story line just sort of materialized with no explanation and other than actual actor John Phillip Law, it felt like Suarez intentionally cast people who had zero training, ability or presence), but it chugs violently and stupidly along just enough to not be worse than you already imagined it was going to be.

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