Director: Richard W. Munchkin
Writer: Joseph Merhi, Robert Tiffe
Cast: Jeff Wincott, Steven Vincent Leigh, Charlene Tilton, Michael Delano, Mike Toney, Ian Jacklin, Gerald Okamura, Ron Hall, Gary Daniels
PLOT THICKENERI’ve only been there once, but I can say from experience that when Las Vegas puts its hooks in you, it can be hard to break free. One minute you’re walking around on the casino floor, slack-jawed and overstimulated, and the next minute you’re $2,000 in the red, wondering where it all went wrong and why you’re wearing mismatched sneakers. (Don’t ask). Director Richard Munchkin and PM Entertainment honcho Joseph Merhi originally met in the City of Lights, so it’s no wonder that Vegas was often featured as a setting in many PM films. In 1992’s Deadly Bet, it’s also the antagonist.
Angelo (Wincott) and Isabella (Tilton) are a young couple on the verge of a move, trading the neon of Las Vegas for the natural wild of Colorado. This particular night finds them exchanging a hearty goodbye with Isabella’s lounge-singer brother, Frank (real-life entertainer Jerry Tiffe) before Angelo announces that he needs to settle a debt of $1,000. The creditor in this situation is Rico (Leigh) a suave fight promoter and fighter who gives Angelo the chance to settle the debt by taking a new bet on two fighters currently in the ring. Angelo’s fighter wins! The couple celebrates over drinks! A steamed Rico finds them later in the evening and challenges Angelo to a fight for even more money. This time Angelo not only loses, but made the foolish mistake of putting Isabella up as collateral. She begrudgingly goes home with Rico, but not before slapping Angelo in the face for his dumb deeds and broken promises.
Broken, alone, and flat-broke, Angelo must decide between two paths. One: cease gambling, get sober, and win back everything that he’s lost. Two: get shit-faced, owe more people even more money that he doesn’t have, and act like a total asshole. As you can probably guess, he spends a lot of time in this story stumbling down path #2 before he reverses course to take the first one. Along the way, he bets on college basketball, drinks whisky, sniffs the clothing Isabella left behind, and is forced into working as muscle for a bookie named Greek (Delano), who oddly decides not to go by "The Greek," perhaps because he's not really Greek. Neither was The Greek though!
This wasn’t Wincott’s first time at the chopsocky rodeo -- see Martial Law II -- but it would mark his first time as the leading actor in your standard 1990s kickboxing tournament feature. It also marked his last time in this sort of movie, which might demonstrate that you can only go so far working in that sub-subgenre. Much to my surprise, this was also the first of only two films he did with PM Entertainment, the other being 1996’s Last Man Standing, which I maintain is one of their top three films ever. This is just further evidence that unlike a lot of chopsocky stars who stay in their lane, Jeff Wincott is full of surprises. He attended the prom in Prom Night. He did a romantic comedy with Adrien Brody. He even beat up Dave Matthews. Not surprisingly, Wincott is the best part about this movie, and I say this as someone who is perversely obsessed with Zubaz pants and poorly lit action scenes.
The action scenes are fine by PM Entertainment standards, which is to say, 'poor' by 1980s Hong Kong standards and 'borderline genius' by 1960s Star Trek episode standards. For me, there were two stand-out fights worth mentioning. The random alley confrontation between Angelo and a group of thugs led by stunt stalwart Art Camacho is punctuated by some humorous dialogue where Angelo details his losses from that day before fighting off his would-be muggers. It made sense in the context of the plot and added a light, self-aware touch to the hero’s circumstances. The other fight of significance is the climactic blow-off between Rico and Angelo. It has drama, some blood, and decent kicks that make both fighters look competent, but the fight is also preceded by one of the most blatantly homoerotic pre-match stare-downs I’ve ever seen. Apropos of nothing, Angelo decides to jump up on the top rope in his corner in a split-legged position while flexing, and Rico’s face lights up like he just got served a plate of filet mignon after two months of forced Tofurky dinners. While the tone is not exactly foreign to a genre where muscular dudes beat the shit out of each other, it was a weird moment.
We’ve seen some wacky tournament fighting before, but the tournament featured in Deadly Bet stretches the laws of time, fashion, and even spelling. Greek tells Angelo it’s a 50-man tournament. OK then. The tournament then unfolds over the course of a single night. I hate to drop math on you guys, but assuming it’s a single elimination tournament, 50 fighters means 49 matches. How the hell are you going to get through 49 matches in one night? The sartorial choices add further confusion to the proceedings. Some of the fighters, Angelo included, don the unfortunate combination of bike shorts with white cross-trainers, giving this tournament the appearance of uncool dads fighting each other to exhaustion. And last, one of the people keeping tabs on the brackets spells Rico’s name wrong on the whiteboard. Whoever organized this tournament (hint: it was Rico) performed no quality control whatsoever, and really should have hired an event planner.
Regardless of the significance of their roles, there are plenty of faces in the film that will be familiar to fans of action b-movies. Gary Daniels shows up for a brief, non-speaking role as the fighter who wins Angelo a bunch of Rico’s money to set the plot in motion. Ron Hall took a small part as a tournament fighter. Ian Jacklin shows up as a shaggy bartender who tangles with Angelo over unpaid debts to Greek. And even Gerald Okamura (listed in the credits as his Irish doppelgänger, Gerald O'Hamura) gets in the ring for an underground fight -- and wins! Didn’t catch James Lew or Al Leong anywhere, but there *was* a scene where Isabella visits a hair salon. Maybe they were getting their hair did.
VERDICTDeadly Bet is one of several love letters from PM Entertainment to the city of Las Vegas. But instead of affectionate words, the letter is actually just a 47-page storyboard of Jeff Wincott repeatedly kicking motherfuckers in the face. The boozy, sin-soaked Vegas kickboxing film seems to be an actual THING (recall To Be the Best) and I’m going to chase down more movies like this one.
4 / 7