Double Take: Soldier Boyz
Around these parts we don’t really need a reason to celebrate the career of Michael Dudikoff.
We celebrate Michael Dudikoff on his birthday (October 8th for those of you not in the know). We celebrate Michael Dudikoff on Lincoln’s birthday. We celebrate Michael Dudikoff on Bastille Day. We celebrate Michael Dudikoff on Arbor Day. We celebrate Michael Dudikoff on Father’s Day. We even celebrate Michael Dudikoff on Mother’s Day.
In our minds, Michael Dudikoff is a national treasure and someone who should be celebrated 365 days a year. That is probably why there have been so many posts dedicated to Michael Dudikoff’s contributions to the world of action entertainment since this site launched back in 2014.
But there has never been a Michael Dudikoff post like this as I join forces with my fellow Bulletproof Action founder Chad Cruise and we do a Double Take on 1995’s Soldier Boyz…
THE END OF AN ERA
CTB: Maybe it is just me but Soldier Boyz felt like Michael Dudikoff’s last big action movie. Dudikoff’s movies were never big budget films but you can’t deny movies like Avenging Force, River of Death, Platoon Leader and the American Ninja movies felt big. I think part of that is the movies were shot on location in faraway lands like South Africa and the Philippines or unique places here in the United States like the swamps of Louisiana. Post Soldier Boyz, Dudikoff’s movies were scaled back. The exotic locales were replaced by sets built in studios or Canadian cities pretending to not be Canadian cities. Many of Dudikoff’s movies in the latter half of the 90’s also relied heavily on recycled stock footage giving them a low budget feel especially compared to the movies Dudikoff was a part of when his action career first took off.
CHAD: It’s amazing how the collapse of Cannon effected the direct to video action genre. Dudikoff might have continued to be a top guy going forward if Cannon had hung in there long enough to reap the benefits of wider distributions, DVD sales, and finally the online community, but it was not to be. Soldier Boyz was an end of an era in another way too; Dudikoff slipped into the role of the trainer and not just the guy doing the fighting. You can usually see the progression in action stars as they go from being the heroic savior to the vengeful father, then maybe they do a picture where they’re the master and training someone or the old angry grandpa if you’re Charles Bronson. This is the first film where I remember Dudikoff training guys and looking back it was probably not the best crew of people to give to him.
CHAD: I would have felt much better if Dudikoff had been portraying the same character that he did in Platoon Leader as it would have added depth to his character without wasted time showing his backstory, but Major Howard Toliver doesn’t need much time as he recruits his misfits and is on a plane in a flash. I’m not sure if it was his plan but piecing together the group of morons that he does makes Toliver seem like John Rambo. It also helps Michael Dudikoff as an actor to look good because every role not played by Dudikoff and Tagawa is a throw-away role. It makes the hero and villain look like Oscar winners by comparison. Dudikoff obviously has soldiers skills but he’s so busy ordering kids around that we don’t get enough to push the movie forward based solely on entertainment value. I would have also liked some sort of showdown between Toliver and Vinh Moc, maybe with Vinh Moc executing a mother/daughter to complete the arc for Toliver’s character, and give him some added reasoning for accepting a suicide mission other than “he had nothing better to do”.
CTB: I’m not sure if Toliver “had nothing better to do” or if he felt he had nothing left to lose. The fact that Toliver did agree to lead the mission all for a hefty charitable contribution made the movie feel like an extremely deadly game of Celebrity Jeopardy. Who risks their life to help out their favorite charity!?!? But let me address the elephant in the room (and Chad I’m shocked you did not bring this up), Michael Dudikoff did not have his trademark hair in Soldier Boyz! Even in Platoon Leader, a drama set during the Vietnam War with a much more serious tone, Michael Dudikoff kept his awesome 80’s hair. So I was SHOCKED when I first saw Dudikoff in Soldier Boyz… it was akin to seeing Charles Bronson without the mustache or Chuck Norris without the beard.
CTB: If you are among those who feel that the quality of an action movie villain determines the overall quality of an action movie, you must think Soldier Boyz is a damn good movie. Soldier Boyz had “The Emperor of Action Movie Villains” Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Vietnamese despot Vinh Moc. Even if you had never seen any of Tagawa’s other evil efforts in movies like Showdown in Little Tokyo, Kickboxer 2: The Road Back or The Perfect Weapon, Tagawa’s portrayal of the ruthless Vinh Moc in Soldier Boyz is enough proof that Tagawa is among the best at playing the worst. Let’s take a look at some of Moc’s evil deeds… First, the guerilla leader orders that a United Nations plane that was on a peace mission to bring food and medical supplies to those in desperate need be shot down. Moc and his rebel forces then raid the crash site, killing those who stand in his way and taking the supplies for themselves. When when of Moc’s men questions him, Moc shoots him dead. Moc then kidnaps a young woman who had been volunteering her time to work on the UN relief efforts. When Moc realizes this woman (played by Nicole Hansen of American Cyborg: Steel Warrior fame) happens to be the daughter of a wealthy CEO, Moc decides to use her to blackmail her wealthy daddy for a huge sum of money, money that will be used to bank roll Vinh Moc’s military expansion plans.
CHAD: I love Tagawa because he was front in center during the era of “if you’re an Asian guy you can play any Asian guy”. You could pretty much pull an ethnicity out of a hat for any of Tagawa’s films and see which group he’ll play as. Will he be Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, maybe throw in a Mongolian or something. Back then, if you were Asian you were going to be asked to play them all! Tagawa not only did what he was told but he did it with style. He could do more by squinting his eyes and staring someone down than others could do with pages of menacing lines. If you don’t think so then you’ll only have to watch a couple of the movies listed above to see it for yourself. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is among the greatest movie villains of all time.
THE DIRTY HALF DOZEN
CHAD: Soldier Boyz is the perfect amalgamation of all those amazing early 90’s gangster/school movies with the military rescue genre. Dudikoff’s recruits people for his mission based on their gimmicks. He must have had a checklist of stereotypes that he had to hit before he could board the plane for Vietnam. He’s got the black thug, the Hispanic thug, the white supremacist, the big rapist, the “innocent” Jew, and the tough Latina. I never remembered that these people all came from a youth penitentiary, which makes the fact that they’re going on somewhat of a suicide mission even worse. The attempt is made to make each of the crew somewhat sympathetic to the audience but I generally didn’t care about any of the characters. It’s hard to make a bunch of gangbangers, neo-nazis and rapists into sympathetic on screen characters. The other thing that is hilarious while watching Soldier Boyz is how the team goes from trying to kill one another to fully invested in the mission in a matter of hours. Maybe Dudi is that good at training people! A few of the characters pick up the soldiering ways right away and a couple of the others still do the old “gangbanger shooting” style where you hold the rifle in one extended arm like an idiot. While probably more realistic, since these guys wouldn’t know how to use these weapons, it makes mission success much less likely. I guess if you’re looking for realism and watching Soldier Boyz then you’re already barking up the wrong tree.
CTB: Soldier Boyz really wanted to be an updated version of The Dirty Dozen but found out that is easier said than done. Lee Marvin’s character in The Dirty Dozen recruited his men from a military prison, so each of the characters already had military training and combat experience making it more believable they could succeed at their mission. The Dirty Dozen also had a 2 hour and 30 minute runtime so they were able to develop the characters more and spend more time getting them from prisoners with no future into an elite fighting force. Soldier Boyz had to tell their tale in 90 minutes, so the characters were simple stereotypes that would be easy for the audience to follow and the inexperienced actors to portray. The runtime also meant they were going to need a montage or an overnight transformation for this crew of ne’er do wells to be ready to take on Vinh Moc’s forces. Could the movie have been longer? Sure, but with Soldier Boyz I think the term “less is more” comes into play. As much as it wanted to be The Dirty Dozen, it was a different time in Hollywood from when that classic film was made. Soldier Boyz was never designed to be a widely distributed theatrical release. It was meant to be a mindless action movie to fill some time on a premium cable network and a fresh video on the shelf for some action lovers to rent. If you overthink Soldier Boyz you will not enjoy it. But if you go along for the ride with Michael Dudikoff and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa you’ll be just fine.