by Jef Burnham
Now available on On-Demand DVD from the MGM Limited Edition Collection.
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Imagine for a moment that you oversee the military forces of a small African nation, the president of which seeks to impress the world with the construction of a massive dam. Unfortunately for you, the native tribes residing in the valley to be flooded by the damming refuse to vacate their homeland. You can’t just flood the valley anyway, right? After all, once the press catches wind of it, you’ll have a PR nightmare on your hands! So what do you do? Clearly you’ve but one option, you hire a gang of well-armed mercenaries to quietly come in and blow the natives all to Hell with grenade launchers and rocket assaults! That way the press will never… um… Wait, no, actually that makes no sense at all. But it’s what Mercenary Fighters’ Colonel Kjemba (Robert DoQui, Robocop) decides to do anyway.
Cannon Group’s Mercenary Fighters stars Peter Fonda as mercenary leader Captain Virelli, who recruits our occasionally conscientious heroes T.J. Christian, played by beefy Scream King Reb Brown, and helicopter pilot Cliff, played by Super Fly’s Ron O’Neal, to aid in the aforementioned nonsensical scheme. In addition, Robert Mitchum’s eldest son, James Mitchum, appears as one of the more lascivious mercenaries. Quite the cast, right? Here, Reb Brown delivers one of his most solid performances, while doing what he does best all over this movie (i.e. alternately screaming and looking generally chipper). One scene (pictured here) finds Reb Brown one-arming a belt-fed machine gun as mortars fall around him, and is so manly that it will automatically triple your body’s production of testosterone, guaranteed! Peter Fonda, while not at his personal best, appears characteristically laid-back even as he fires grenades at mud huts from a helicopter. This positions Virelli as a far more natural villain than is found in most action movies and I think there’s something to be said for that.
To my mind, as an obsessive, drooling fan of cheesy action flicks, that Brown and Fonda appeared on screen together at all constitutes an unparalleled B-movie miracle. Not quite so convinced of the necessity of this pairing yourself? Consider this: Reb Brown had previously starred in the 1979 made-for-TV movie Captain America as Captain America himself, and Peter Fonda starred in the 1969 counterculture classic, Easy Rider, as Wyatt… a.k.a. Captain America! Verily, ‘twas a union written in the stars! The only movie that even comes close to replicating the magic of this team-up is Cage, released the very next year, in which Captain America and the Hulk open a bar together and, oh yeah, became underground cage fighters!
Given that this movie boasts two Captain Americas, Super Fly, and Robocop’s Chief, you would expect Mercenary Fighters to offer a roller coaster ride of non-stop action. And while the action is often more stop than non-stop, you won’t leave Mercenary Fighters unsatisfied, providing what you’re looking for is a movie that brings Reb Brown and Peter Fonda together at long last.
For more Captain America-related action from Cannon Group, I also recommend 1992’s straight-to-video Captain America (fancy that)— also available on On-Demand DVD from the MGM Limited Edition Collection.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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