Yes, that's right, kids ‒ our favorite American Ninja has returned to kick a little ass on Blu-ray once more. This time around, the folks at Kino Lorber have given us a double feature of Vietnam-focused films to star the one and only Michael Dudikoff: 1988's Platoon Leader and 1995's Soldier Boyz.
Our first selection, Platoon Leader, hails from the Dudikoff's propitious Cannon days. Oddly enough, however, this was one of very few Cannon releases to not actually be produced by company founders Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus; rather, this drama set during the Vietnam War (and filmed in South Africa) was only distributed by the famous exploitation filmmakers. And their lack of input is somewhat noticeable throughout, as this is a surprisingly solid action flick from director Aaron Norris ‒ who also made a rare exception here: it's one of the few titles he helmed that didn't star his famous older brother, Chuck Norris.
Based on James R. McDonough's 1985 memoir of the same name (the wise Golan-Globus boys rechristening the story back from its original, alternate shooting title ‒ NAM ‒ in order to cash-in on Oliver Stone's Platoon), the story finds Dudikoff as Jeffrey Knight a fresh-from-the-academy lieutenant assigned to lead a platoon in war-torn Vietnam. But what they didn't teach him in the textbooks is war really ishell, especially when the other side doesn't play by any previously established rules. Were that not already bad enough, Lt. Knight is shunned and ignored by his rebellious and shattered men.
What follows is a low-budget, but nevertheless engaging tale of bravery, brotherhood, and ‒ the one thing everyone bought their ticket for in the first place ‒ bloodshed. Also starring Robert F. Lyons, Michael DeLorenzo, Jesse Dabson, Rick Fitts, and the great William Smith, Platoon Leader is ripe with action sequences and explosions, faithfully fulfilling its duties without being too terribly invasive in the department of dramatics. Granted, it's not as delightfully cheesy as many of Dudikoff's other movies (or any of the similarly-themed movies Teddy Page cranked out in the Philippines at the same time), but it still gets the job done.
Sadly, I cannot say the same for our next flick, 1995's Soldier Boyz, a film which only seems to validate the theory regarding the quality of any movie title which employs what one might refer to as "gangsta grammer." An unsuccessful attempt to merge the classic "suicide squad" war film subgenre with Hollywood's then-popular string of inner-city crowd pleasers such as Boyz n the Hood and Dangerous Minds. Of course, those aforementioned movies were at least semi-believable in their premise: a tough teacher somehow manages to break down the barriers and reach a group of rebellious urban youth.
And then there's Soldier Boyz's premise: an ex-military man (Dudikoff), who now works as a counselor at a youth correctional facility, recruits six (presumably underage) kids from different walks of (stereotypical) life to take with him to South Vietnam. The reason? For a suicide mercenary mission to rescue billionaire Hank Brandt's humanitarian daughter from the evil Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, naturally! Seriously, that's the plot of this one. But even that horribly unbelievable excuse for a plot cannot compare to the sheer stupidity viewers encounter as this one plays out before their disbelieving eyes.
Speaking of eyes, keep one open for a hilarious cameo by befuddled character actor Don Stroud, who tries his best to remain unnoticed beneath a ridiculously large (and upside-down) eyepatch. Amongst the at-risk youth in this cheapo flick ‒ which includes two black hoodlums, two Latin spitfires, a neo-Nazi skinhead, and an innocent Jew (!) ‒ are Tyrin Turner, Jacqueline Obradors, Channon Roe, and the one and only David Barry Gray. The makers of Soldier Boyz obviously had high expectations for their little movie (despite noticeable squibs and crewmembers on-camera), and even produced a PC CD-ROM game!
And while that computer game is nowhere to be seen in this Michael Dudikoff double feature from Kino Lorber, the fact that you get two B-grade action flicks for one is a blessing indeed. Both films are presented in 1.85:1 MPEG-4 AVC transfers and look quite nice. Of course, these were both low-budget features to begin with, so you can't expect perfection. This is particularly noticeable during the darker moments of Platoon Leader, wherein the black levels not only look too dark, but are about as flat as the plot of both movies themselves. But beggars can't be choosers when it comes to titles like these; I doubt most fans will make a fuss over it.
The slightly confusing "color-coordinated" main menu (which is also the only menu) also includes an option to play a number of other Michael Dudikoff and Aaron Norris features.
Best recommended for the more devout Dudikoff fans out there.