Two brothers are forced to put aside a bitter sibling rivalry when their father is murdered by a lethal terrorist syndicate. While each follows a different path towards an inevitable showdown with the villains, they both manage to fuck up in equally illogical ways.
Director: Lucas Lowe
Screenwriter: Keith W. Strandberg
Cast: Loren Avedon, Keith Vitali, Rion Hunter, Joseph Campanella, Wanda Acuna, David Michael Sterling
When the day comes to finally retire, I plan to walk away from the world of business fully cashed out with no loose ends. I will grow a wily and unkempt beard, live somewhere deep in the woods, and brew my own mindbending moonshine. Retirement is a difficult proposition that, for some, leads to part-time consulting or inspires an outright refusal to quit. For those involved with the dangerous world of covert operations, the concept doesn't appear to exist at all. The field is a dangerous web of death and deceit that never fully relinquishes its grip from those who partake in the madness.
John Alexander (character actor Joseph Campanella) is a classic case of the former workhorse who can't walk away from the game. He keeps former agency cohorts as social buddies and his son, Casey, is deeply entrenched in the "Company" work as a hard-kicking field agent. Portrayed by Keith Vitali, Casey leads a quiet and modest life. A carousel of smoking hot ladies, a shiny performance sportscar, and designer suits at least two sizes too big are a few of the luxuries in which he indulges on a regular basis. Having followed in his father's footsteps, he is regularly lauded by John and his CIA friends as he consistently farts excellence as a model of covert greatness. Very quietly, of course.
Not all of the senior Alexander's clandestine genetics were passed onto his progeny though. His younger son, Will (Avedon), stands firmly against everything his family's employers do. He refers to the lot of them as babykillers and has no qualms about rocking a swanky Soviet-inspired denim jacket at his dad's birthday party with scores of CIA employees in attendance. He ain't no fairy peacenik, though, working as a karate instructor by day and ... probably something in retail at night. Despite his ambiguous academic credentials, he lives the grimy undergraduate lifestyle. His wheels: a used VW Bug. His meals: loaves of bread and cola in the can.
Will is not unlike many younger siblings in feeling overlooked and underestimated due to his older brother's stature. The source of the tension between the two brothers isn't explicitly stated but we can infer it has something to do with Will being a stubborn nancy and Casey being a cocky prick. Papa Alexander recognizes his sons' unique differences but wants nothing more than for the three of them to spend quality time together. His silly insistence on investigating a terrorist syndicate sorta puts an end to that aspiration, because they show up to his pad after his birthday party and give him a surprise present: a Rolex! Ha, kidding. It was actually a violent and bloody death.
Leading the group of assholes-for-hire is the devious Franco, played by Rion Hunter. A veteran of action television with few film roles under his belt, Hunter more than holds his own in this early and rare role as main scoundrel. Other than a trademark deathblow, the cardinal rule for any martial-arts villain is a striking visual presence and Franco nails it in every conceivable way. His signature look forgoes sinister for stylish -- an incredible bottle-blonde mullet paired with a rotation of turtlenecks and stylish jackets with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow. It's Miami Vice meets Dynamic Dudes on Don-Niam-as-Stingray Boulevard and it works to great effect. His deathblow is equally memorable: a bird-sized metal dart launched with expert precision.
Not only does Franco walk the walk, but he talks the talk with several great lines. He remarks at one point that singed human flesh smells much like roast pork, and while this is a precarious assertion at best (I'm in Camp Grilled Chicken) he sounds confident saying it. Throughout the film, Franco's line delivery boils over with a relaxed arrogance befitting a terrorist leader who has consistently evaded capture and while neither he nor his minions appear to have any concrete political beliefs, they definitely have demands. We never learn what those demands are, but Franco insists that they definitely have some. Furthermore, the group is based in that most fiendish cesspool of terrorist strongholds -- Florida. My guess is their list of demands begins with a better hangout in a different state.
Most of the second act follows Will's adventures in planning and executing an infiltration of Franco's gang and Casey's attempts to prevent his brother from getting in over his head. Throughout this process of push-and-pull, the energy normally reserved for hating each other is instead used to fuel their collective thirst to avenge their father's death. I'm not sure what that says about the human condition, but I can say that the net result is a lot of fucking kung-fu. Among the three entries in the NRNS franchise, Blood Brothers has the slickest action choreography and highest volume of hand-to-hand fight sequences by far. That being the case, it also has the highest amount of visible stunt doubles and the most ridiculously convuluted plot in the series. And while I sincerely feel the original NRNS set the bar for technically inept American martial arts filmmaking, the boom mic here makes so many onscreen appearances it should have been given an acting credit. I'm not sure how director Lucas Lo managed to overlook this most egregious set of errors but I have a feeling he was too busy shooting technically proficient fight scenes with visible stunt doubles.
The film culminates with several kidnappings, an incredible showdown inside an airplane hangar, and even a cameo by a certain 41st President of the United States. Also: buckets of drool, sweat, blood, and slo-mo, though I'm not sure if it's possible to place slo-mo in actual buckets. While Avedon is rock solid across all categories and Vitali's fighting skill barely manages to overshadow his atrocious (though amusing) acting, Rion Hunter shines through as the overall prime performer of the bunch. His Franco is the best creation of villainy in the NRNS franchise and while that might not seem like the biggest compliment, he's one of the best villains in the history of Western martial-arts film, though that doesn't seem like such high praise either.
Marked by great fight choreography and even better late 80s hair and fashion sense, Blood Brothers is the final official sequel in the No Retreat, No Surrender trilogy. This subtitle is fitting since the central characters -- much like the three films in the NRNS franchise -- have nothing in common with one another but find a way to work together because of the bond to the person who created them. As mentioned, it has the best fight scenes of the three films and much of it is on par with most Hong Kong output during the same era. It's a shame Rion Hunter didn't do more villainous film roles, but given the sheer volume of random black belts who won tournaments getting film roles during this period, it's no great surprise he didn't have long-term traction in the genre. A certain must-see, if not a must-own.