Theme Song: I had this one totally locked in for a bad 80s rock song but there wasn’t one. It was pretty upsetting.
Interesting Dated References: Referring to a bar as “an AC/DC kind of joint.” Every trite but awesome action movie cliche ever delivered with the perfect amount of sincerity.
Best Line: Said in one monotone drawl — “Look around, we’re all victims.” Again said in one monotone drawl — “You look good, I’m standing like an asshole, come in.”
Social Context: Take the moral compass, personal struggle and plot elements of Death Wish and First Blood, then remove the moral compass and personal struggle. This movie has no social context whatsoever, which kind of rules. It almost wholly represents the year it was made in, having no redeemable value whatsoever, except for being totally awesome and an enjoyable movie through and through, as long as you can suspend disbelief.
Summary: From the box, “All the fiery action of RAMBO … all the vengeance of DEATH WISH … .” There’s a million Rambo derivatives (ex-soldier dropped into foreign land to do something for the government) and a million Death Wish variations (working-class guy’s family is raped and/or killed; he takes revenge), but never something that promises to be a combination.
American Commandos begins with the ever-present C-grade but awesome Christopher Mitchum as Dean Mitchell the gas station worker who is also a Vietnam veteran. Totally believable. Some guys rob the gas station, their leader is shot by Mitchell, and they immediately (possibly even that same night) take revenge by killing Mitchell’s kid and raping his wife. Then they go party and call Mitchell on a telephone to tell him what happened. When he returns home, his wife is so traumatized by the rape she kills herself. That was all in like five minutes. Right in line with this pacing, the next day Mitchell finds a girl who was witness to the gas station robbery. He gives her a good shaking and she gives up two names. Then the bad guy who looks like Waylon Jennings starts shooting at them. Naturally, the woman takes the bullet. After a brief car chase in a really inconspicuous car:
Mitchell finally catches and kills the bad guy who looks like Waylon Jennings. After that, the cops say they won’t be able to find the other guys, and Mitchell goes home to reflect. During this reflection, one of the worst montage’s I’ve ever seen begins: We see Mitchell meeting his soon-to-be Vietnamese wife at a children’s adoption clinic. Then we see their first date, which includes walking, drinking out of a can, normal-style kissing, French-style kissing, and sex. Then Mitchell goes to catch up with his old ‘Nam buddy Creeper:
Creeper happens to be a walking billboard for Olympia Beer, which automatically makes him awesome. Creeper spills some beans on where Mitchell can easily find and kill one of the burglar/rapist/killer guys and it then takes about 10 seconds for him to find, chase, and kill the bad guy. The sheriff then confronts Mitchell on whether or not he “may be the one killing these junkies.” Apparently the sheriff is a moron since all of this is within a night or two of the raping/murdering of Mitchell’s family by the junkies. Creeper coughs up some more information, this time wearing an all over print Budweiser shirt I would bet $5 I could go get out of my dad’s closet right now. Then a third bad guy is found and killed in a scene that takes way longer than the others. The sheriff finally has enough, and he and some committee of businessmen hire Mitchell to go to Bangkok to bust up “where the heroin comes from.” Mitchell clarifies he will need “some of his buddies from ‘Nam.”
So now we just got done watching the Death Wish half, and now we are about to enter the Rambo half. They don’t even really attempt to link the two acts together, other than by indicating the burglar/rapist/killers were on heroin, and now he’s going to stop all production of heroin in “the golden triangle.”
So the guys seem to be defending a village from a bunch of shirtless Filipino guys who are attacking the village. The team of commandos all runs away onto a boat and try to detonate the dock, all the while being chased by more shirtless Filipino guys.
When the dock doesn’t blow, the Fat Guy charges the Mexican guys with two grenades. Then we’re back in America. I just realized that whole scene was supposed to be a ‘Nam flashback.
Mitchell gets flown into Bangkok and proceeds to make contact with his old ‘Nam buddies. This list includes:
Brutus the massage parlor proprietor, Creeper (see above), and a bunch of other less awesome guys. Then there’s Somsak who was with them in ‘Nam, but doesn’t want to join in because he is obviously making all his money from heroin sales. The other guys spend their time building a bunch of modified trucks and motorcycles, and getting massages. At one point they infiltrate some drug dealers and Mitchell says something to the effect of, “In the morning we launch, we’ve got to stop them from making more heroin.” Like it’s one guy making all the heroin everywhere.
Meanwhile, Somsak snoops around and readies an Army to counter attack his former friends. Once the guys have built their armored vehicle and get it in working order, Somsak and his men decide to attack. Remember that scene in Weird Al’s UHF during the Rambo parody sequence? This fight scene is pretty much exactly like that. The American Commandos stand there getting shot at, then unload sprays of bullets that instantly level all attackers. Also, all the attackers are wearing perfectly good street clothes.
Most of them are in fact wearing tight denim jeans. This is no kind of outfit to wear if you were going in to shoot up and attack a group of American Commandos in the jungle. So naturally the guys kill every single person and escape. The sole survivor on the Clean Dressed Junkie Army (CDJA) radios in to Somsak to tell him “Plan A has failed!”
In a fit of rage, Somsak demands his army “go to Plan B!” It’s refreshing to see such a well organized team. Plan A must have just been to wait for the good guys to finish making the armored vehicle, then attack. Plan B seems to consist of following good guys and shooting at them from cars as well as shooting at them from a helicopter.
When that fails, another C.B. call lets Somsak know “Plan B failed.” So Somsak instructs them to, “Move to Plan C.” Plan C involves more shootouts, a plane, and an explosion. Unfortunately the explosion involves Brutus ramming the plane with his truck. RIP Brutus.
So as the script would have it, all the American Commandos figure out their old buddy Somsak is behind “all this heroin.” After what seems like 45 minutes, the three remaining American Commandos sneak up on guards, and then confront and kill Somsak.
This is everything that’s good about B-grade, or even C-grade, action entertainment of the middle 1980s. It should be noted Somsak was played by Franco Guerrero of One-Armed Executioner fame. That’s probably because American Commandos was directed by the same director, Bobby Suarez. A director of many exported Filipino movies (this being one), Suarez knew his shit. He got in, told the story and got the fuck out. If you’d like more information about Suarez, check out Machete Maidens Unleashed on Netflix Straming. Rambo + Death Wish = American Commandos.
Poster and Box Art: The good thing about the posters for Rambo was that if you saw the artwork had a really buff strong guy in it, then that’s what you got in the movie. This isn’t the case with American Commandos. As you can see:
Chris Mitchum isn’t built at all like he’s painted on the poster. But that doesn’t matter because the poster is everything that’s good about action movie posters of the 80s: Explosions, men, guns. It doesn’t get better than that.