No Surrender Cinema: Blackbelt II: Fatal Force
Roughly 24 years ago, I was skimming through the latest TV Guide when I saw a listing that stopped me in my tracks. The first Blackbelt movie is one that I count among my favorite action movies of all time, so imagine the joy I felt when I saw that the sequel was going to premiere on cable. I was convinced that this movie was going to be awesome, maybe even better than the first Blackbelt, even though Don “The Dragon” Wilson was not taking part in it.
It would take me another decade to find out just how wrong I was about Blackbelt II: Fatal Force.
What I thought was cruel fate at the time turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I had completely forgotten to set the VCR to record it, and missed a few additional showings before moving onto other things. I never even saw so much as five minutes of it on television. As I got older the movie became an afterthought that would pop into my head every so often, but I just wasn’t eager to seek it out. Considering I’m the guy who spent half of his childhood trying to track down an out of print copy of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (and succeeded!), I can’t explain why it became less important to me over time. So when I walked into Wal-Mart one day and saw an endcap full of Roger Corman’s action movies on VHS and DVD, it was a pleasant surprise to see Blackbelt II among the titles. Returning home with several bags full of movies that included the entire Bloodfist collection, the Carnosaur trilogy, and a few other goodies, it was Blackbelt II that I decided to watch immediately. The movie that lit up my TV screen for the next 80 minutes what not what I envisioned it would be back when I was 13. It wasn’t what I was expecting as I excitedly grabbed it off the shelf in Wal-Mart just minutes before. In fact, it barely deserves to be called a movie at all.
Confused by that last statement? Let me explain. Blackbelt II has literally nothing to do with its predecessor. In fact, it was made four years prior to the original Blackbelt! At that time, it got a “blink and you’ll miss it” release as Spyder before being shelved indefinitely. After Blackbelt did well as a rental and on cable, Roger Corman blew the dust off Spyder, added a little extra footage (and honestly, I’m not sure what footage was and wasn’t there in 1988, so I can’t break it down for you), and slapped the Blackbelt II label on it. Oh, and he also made sure to advertise star Blake Bahner, whose big claim to fame was a bit part on Days Of Our Lives, as a WKF World Kickboxing Champion, despite there being no evidence of a professional fighting career. Throughout Blackbelt II, Bahner barely throws any kicks, and has all the grace of a yellow belt on sedatives.
I won’t spend too much time complaining about Bahner because there is a LOT to try and explain about this movie. I’m pretty sure there were more storylines in this movie than there were kicks thrown. After establishing Brad Spyder as a generic “cop who plays by his own rules”, he’s chewed out by his cartoonishly Irish captain (John Dulaney), who I’m shocked didn’t offer him some Lucky Charms after his tirade. Spyder’s partner Lee Stokes gets a call from his brother Jeff, a heroin junkie that Jeff thought died in Vietnam. It turns out that a group of mercenaries is running a scam where they claim that some of the soldiers that went MIA in ‘Nam are alive, and they’ve been hired by millionaire Pendleton (Paul Holme(s), who would go on to be the evil businessman Sharperson in Jerry Trimble’s One Man Army) to find his son Kevin. In the movie equivalent of a botched spot (shout out to you wrestling fans), a voiceover calls him “Kevin J Pendleton” while on screen he’s listed as Kevin O. Pendleton. Great quality control there, Rog. Anyway, the junkie Stokes is mixed up with the mercenaries, and they kill Lee when he shows up in Hawaii to reunite with him. This sends Spyder on the warpath, seeking vengeance for his partner’s death. Corman piles on MORE plot points once Spyder sets foot on the island, something about Hawaiian cops being corrupt, Pendleton being a heroin dealer, and Spyder’s only friend on the Hawaiian force winding up dead as well. In fact, pretty much everyone who comes into contact with Spyder in this movie winds up dead. Think of him as the girl from The Ring, only with hockey hair. All these threads are loosely tied together for a climax that contains fist fights, gunfire, and even a helicopter crash all delivered in an uninspired, unspectacular fashion.
When I was first given the opportunity to review movies here at Bulletproof Action, I took the name No Surrender Cinema for my column not just as a nod to a certain Kurt McKinney movie, but because of my willingness to watch most movies that pique even the slightest bit of my interest. I’ll give anything a chance to win me over, and thanks to my eclectic taste, the letdowns have been few and far between. Blackbelt II is one of the few that pushed me to my limit. I had such high hopes for this one, but reality set in only minutes into the movie. It has no charm, no amazing choreography, not even a witty line as a saving grace. Even the scenes that come off as slightly humorous were filmed with serious intentions, like Spyder’s Irish caricature captain shouting him down, or Lee Stokes getting shot over and over, even doing an Undertaker sit-up before he finally succumbs to his wounds.
The first Blackbelt had two of the best martial arts movie actors in Don Wilson and Matthias Hues. Just those two names alone let you know that you’re guaranteed at least a few good fight scenes. It also had a darker feel to it, with a twisted storyline that set it apart from other action releases of the time period.. This “sequel that’s not really a sequel” has almost no martial arts action, a story that bounces around like a ball from a vending machine, and one of the worst movie heroes of all time in Brad Spyder. It’s clear this was made to cash in on popular mid-80’s actioners like Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra and Chuck Norris’ Missing In Action. Since that was obviously the intent, it’s a mystery why anyone would think disguising it as a martial arts movie would work out any better than the initial Spyder release in 1988.
If you’re willing to watch Blackbelt II: Fatal Force despite my warnings, you’re out of luck online. There’s nothing on YouTube aside from the trailer, nor do any of the usual streaming sites have it available. It is available on DVD for just a few bucks on Amazon, but unless you truly enjoy obscure and awful action films, keep the cash in your pocket. As for my copy, it’s going back onto my VHS shelf to collect dust, just waiting to be shown off again when someone asks me about the worst movies I’ve ever seen.