Bullet Points: Black Fire
The story I am about to tell you is not true… but it very well could be.
Jim Gaines is on the set of Cannon’s American Ninja in the Philippines. Gaines has a small role in the film playing a truck driver. His character is actually killed off in the convoy ambush at the beginning of the film but there he was on the set of a Cannon production. When Jim was not watching in awe as stunt coordinator Steve Lambert doubled for 17 people in the same shot, Jim found himself reading the script for American Ninja that was penned by Paul De Mielche. Jim starts thinking of how he would do things differently and immediately comes up with the story for his first movie Black Fire.
Gaines not only wrote Black Fire, he wrote himself in as the black sidekick to the star of the film, Romano Kristoff…
- Prologue: The movie begins in Vietnam, Sgt. Frank Johnson (Romano Kristoff of Doomsdayer fame) and Sgt. Jim Anderson (Jim Gaines) are patrolling the jungle with their unit. A firefight breaks out and Johnson is knocked the eff out by a grenade blast. While recuperating in the hospital, Johnson begins to have flashbacks to his childhood and his maternal grandfather of Japanese descent teaching him the ways of the ninja. It is never really explained how he forgot he was a ninja, but I imagine something traumatic happened to him to repress the memory. I guess it was like Ruby Sue in Christmas Vacation… she fell in a well and her eyes went crossed, then years later after getting kicked by a mule her eyes went back to normal. I don’t know. We also learn that the US Army also gave Frank Johnson the code name Black Fire at some point, because he had a mysterious past when he enlisted so nobody knew his actual name and I assume because it sounded cool and it was the same as the name of the movie.
- Interracial Bromance: Much like Armstrong and Jackson in American Ninja, Johnson and Anderson are the best of friends in Black Fire. They are sent on a special assignment to San Sebastian where they will serve as military advisors for the San Sebastian troops who serve under the command of Captain Salcedo. One night Johnson sees some suspicious activity when some of Salcedo’s men are loading up guns in the back of the truck that is carrying supplies to the other side of the island (we eventually learn that Salcedo is working with a rich guy named Luis Sanchez who owns a plantation on the other side of the island. The two are selling arms to the highest bidder.) Salcedo catches Johnson snooping around and quickly realizes Johnson is going to be a problem. I was confused as to why Johnson did not mention any of the shadiness he saw to his best friend in the world Anderson. Even when Anderson asks Johnson where he had been, Johnson is all stand offish. This behavior while lacking logic, does plant seeds for a plot twist later in the film.
- Damsel in Distress: Chantal Mansfield (in her first of two acting roles) plays Nancy, the love interest of our hero Frank Johnson. To change things up Jim Gaines did not make Nancy the daughter of Captain Salcedo like the Judie Aronson character in American Ninja, but Nancy is Captain Salcedo’s personal secretary. After the suspicious activity Johnson witnessed, he sweet talks Nancy into seeing if she can find any dirt about her boss… that’s right, Johnson doesn’t trust his best friend to help him, but tries to turn one of the people closest to Salcedo. Nancy does help Johnson, but in a twist I did not see coming Salcedo finds out and has her killed, then frames Frank Johnson for the murder. Salcedo has Johnson arrested and thrown in jail. Salcedo also pins the illegal arms dealing on Johnson. Since Johnson had been acting so strangely around him as of late, Anderson believes all of it and a wedge has officially been driven between our two best friends.
- Five Questions: At this point in the movie so many questions were swirling around in my head… like, did anyone else on the planet enjoy their job as much as the two guards who were hosing down Frank Johnson in his jail cell? Would Jim Anderson learn the truth about who really killed Nancy and the arms dealing? If so, would that lead to a rekindling of the bromance between Johnson and Anderson? Would Frank Johnson manage to escape jail and unleash holy hell on Captain Salcedo and Luis Sanchez? And would some sort of aircraft blow up while unleashing that holy hell? …if you’ve seen an action movie before, you can probably answer at least three of those questions.
As a huge fan of Cannon’s American Ninja part of me feels like I should have been offended by a movie that borrowed so liberally from a movie I love. But I think my love for American Ninja actually helped enhance the Black Fire experience. Yes it was a cheap knock off in many ways, but seeing the Jim Gaines interpretation of the story was at times fascinating.
The action was not top notch, but passable and the movie had a satisfying ending. And speaking of satisfying endings, how about I wrap up this review with some Bonus Bullet Points?
- Cannon Alum: Before his truck driver role in American Ninja, Jim Gaines had a small role in another Cannon film as one of Venarius’ men in Enter the Ninja.
- Disturbing Quote: “This local beer tastes like hot piss.” – Jim Anderson
- Spanish Ninja: If Michael Dudikoff, the pride of Redondo Beach, California, was the American Ninja, I guess Romano Kristoff’s Spanish bloodline makes him the Spanish Ninja.
- Name That Tune: I could have sworn at one point I heard an instrumental version of Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop”.
- Favorite Quote: “Who do you think this Johnson is? Rambo!?!” – Luis Sanchez
- Coming Attractions: I’m looking forward to telling you the not necessarily true story about what happened after Jim Gaines saw the Sylvester Stallone movie Cobra some day…