One Man Army (1994)

PLOT: A martial arts instructor returns to his hometown after the death of his grandfather only to find that corruption has taken root. Will he dispense vigilante justice and let the heads roll, or run for public office and get a shiny sheriff’s badge?

Director: Cirio H. Santiago
Writer: Daryl Haney
Cast: Jerry Trimble, Rick Dean, Melissa Moore, Dennis Hayden, Paul Holmes, Yvonne Michelle, Nick Nicholson, Jim Moss, Ned Hourani

Before 1973’s Walking Tall was remade into a middling action vehicle for Dwayne Johnson in 2004, its premise had already been ground into dust by knockoffs and mimicry. 1980’s Defiance borrowed a bit from the Joe Don Baker classic and Robert Clouse cribbed from it rather liberally for 1990’s China O’Brien. Not to be outdone by some rinky-dink outfit like Golden Harvest Company, Filipino action auteur Cirio H. Santiago went back to the same well to make 1994’s One Man Army. He trades one blonde for another by reuniting with Jerry Trimble, and that’s not Jerry Trimble of Jerry Trimble Helicopters, but rather Jerry Trimble, the PKC WORLD KICKBOXING CHAMPION. Sorry for the all-caps text, but the box art and opening title sequence really got into my head.

Trimble plays Jerry Pelt, a martial arts instructor who receives a phone call so urgent that he takes it on the red phone in the dojo’s inner office. The news is terrible: Grandpa Pelt, the man who raised him, is dead. Continuing in the proud tradition of martial arts teachers driving total shitboxes, he packs up his rusty Volkswagen Bug and departs for his hometown. As soon as he crosses the county line, a group of boozehounds in a pickup truck run him off the road, damaging his car. He rectifies the situation only a few minutes later in the greatest gas station action sequence since The Jerk, and we’re off to the races.

Upon arrival to the sad and poorly attended funeral, he’s greeted by an old flame: high-powered attorney Natalie Pierce (Moore). Against the backdrop of this misery, though, Jerry re-establishes some old connections. He and Natalie share some dessert that night, his grandfather’s German Shepherd, Hank, is still barking up a storm, and old friend and local roughneck Eddie Taylor (Hayden) arrives with an invitation to catch up over a few rounds of brew.

During his night out on the town, Jerry discovers that things aren’t the way they used to be. He and Eddie arrive at the local watering hole to find it overrun with topless prostitutes cavorting with clients out in the open. In the bar’s backroom, bets are placed on unsanctioned full-contact fights. How did things get this bad? Not without a certain local sheriff named Pat Boze (Dean) turning a blind eye and a crime boss named Sharperson (Holmes) giving him a cut of the profits.

After a string of suspicious incidents involving arson, assaults, and human trafficking tunnels, Jerry decides to run against Boze for sheriff and clean up the town for good. With Natalie’s legal expertise, Hank’s knack for biting and disarming potential gunmen, and Jerry’s ability to rally crowds during montages with patriotic music, the campaign is well-equipped for the political meat grinder. It won’t be easy, though. Sharperson’s influence runs deep, and Boze and his crew are coked out of their minds with easy access to firearms.

While the plot points are tired and silly at times, I ended up enjoying One Man Army quite a bit. The film’s pace sucked me in immediately and the solid cast kept me engaged. Similar to Live by the Fist, this checks in under 80 minutes and Santiago wastes no time in establishing his hero with the gas station fracas around the five-minute mark. With his laid-back manner and easygoing delivery  -- he hails from Kentucky -- Trimble is a good fit as the righteous local hero. Character actor Dennis Heyward was cast perfectly as Jerry’s grizzled friend, and B-film veteran Dean is both intense and menacing as Pat Boze.

No stranger to the action genre -- she was the unfortunate victim of a bacon grease torture by Robert Z’Dar in Samurai Cop -- Melissa Moore is pretty solid, sharing most of her screen time with Trimble. While I’m not going to complain much about topless scenes, 66% of her nude scenes are completely (and hilariously) out of context. For instance, during a conversation about the sheriff’s race during a windy and overcast picnic, Natalie suddenly strips down and goes skinny-dipping to test Jerry’s courage. When he follows suit and jumps in, we know we’re dealing with a bad-ass motherfucker. He didn’t even wait for a full hour after lunch before swimming.

In Live by the Fist, Santiago did well to match Trimble up with a few legitimate martial artists at the back end of the film, escrima practitioner Roland Dantes among them. Dantes is absent from this production, and unfortunately there was no one to really take his place in what should have been the best stretch of fight scenes in the film. I spotted who I believe was an uncredited Ned Hourani fighting Trimble on a rooftop but the fight lasts under a minute, and no one else in the story is built up as a physical threat to Trimble’s character. This was a missed opportunity, because Hourani can hold his own during extended fight sequences, as evidenced by his work in Blood Hands and Fighting Spirit. The choreography is cookie cutter, but Trimble lives up to his reputation as one of the best kickers of his sport and the stuntmen sell pretty well.

If you enjoyed Live by the Fist, this is another enjoyable Filipino action romp from the same actor and director duo. The amount of heroic dog scenes with the German Shepherd are on par with the Benji and Rin Tin Tin franchises, so this might be something you can watch with the nieces and nephews. Just be sure that you get them to sign affidavits forbidding them from telling their parents about the voluminous amounts of cocaine use, boobs, gunfire, and kickboxing they’ll see in the rest of the film.

4 / 7

1 comment:

  1. Cirio H. Santiago directed this? So then I would assume that this takes place in Anytown U.S.A. but is shot somewhere in the Philippines. Or maybe the man actually shot this in the States? Hmm, the thoughts that flood a man's head when thinking of the cinematic works of Mr. Santiago.

    Anyway, I'm all for out-of-context or in-context female nudity. Good stuff, as always -- your review was good too.


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