ARMED RESPONSE (1986)
The response to this film, armed or unarmed, is 'yuck!'
San Diego Union, The (CA) - December 9, 1986
Author: David Elliott, Movie Critic
Rarely passes a day that I do not thank the god of puff -- whose name is said to be Morty -- for movie press kits. Were it not for the promo packet on "Armed Response," I wouldn't know that...
Director Fred Olen Ray "has received attention among horror film buffs for 'Prison Ship,' 'Bio-Hazard' and 'The Tomb'..."
Brent Huff, playing one of Lee Van Cleef's three sons, is "one of the fashion industry's leading male models" and "one of the entertainment industry's most exciting new stars" (thanks to such star-makers as "The Perils of Gwendoline" and "Nine Deaths of the Ninja.")
Michael Berryman, the giant actor with the most notable deformed face in movies since Rondo Hatton, has "additionally gained notoriety for his recent appearances in two Motley Cru music videos."
But let us tear ourselves from this pasture of plenty and chew the cud of crud that is "Armed Response." Yes, Lee Van Cleef -- who has perhaps the ugliest non-deformed face ever to grace a screen -- does indeed turn paternal, after decades as a vicious lone rogue. If you grew up watching '50s Westerns, you knew the villain was likely to be (a.) Lee Van Cleef, (b.) Jack Elam, or (c.) both of the above.
So now he appears gray and grizzled, yet with those rodent teeth and slit eyes still scary enough to spook a moray eel, and he has three sons (the only possible resemblance to Fred MacMurray). Van Cleef plays an alcoholic World War II vet who runs a bar with son Jim (David Carradine), a Vietnam war vet, on the fringe of L.A.'s Chinatown. Other sons, apparently veterans of street crime, are Clay (David Goss) and Tommy (exciting new star Brent Huff).
Trying to work a deal involving a stolen statue, Tommy is double-crossed by slimeball hustler Cory (Ross Hagen). Cory is working a bad number on mobster Tanaka (Mako), who gets his devil mitts on Tommy and tortures him by "bone-scraping" with acupuncture needles. What follows is quotable:
Tanaka, dripping irony: "Here we are again -- the evil yellow man torturing the valiant white hero."
Tommy, expiring proud: "Thank God I was born American!"
Well, Tommy dies American. So does Clay. Now down to one son, Van Cleef boils into a revenge spin. In the midst of flashbacks to Vietnam napalming, Jim (Carradine) unleashes his kung-fu death feet on the hoods. In a Chinatown curiously deserted, father and son win a long, blazing battle while a police unit sits a few blocks away, deaf to explosions.
Payoffs include Jim blowing up Tanaka after the dispatch line, "Rest in pieces," and the stunningly homely Berryman, one of Tanaka's boys, doing a suicide car crash into Van Cleef's bar. Then, though their livelihood is wrecked and two of the brothers are freshly dead, the surviving family survey the ruins and laughs -- the family that slays together stays together?
Other jollies include Laurene Landon as Deborah, a crazed, machine-gunning mama who is described as "a little hyper." And, for connoisseurs, a running duel of klutz acting between Van Cleef (at 61 still a master of the non-nuance) and Ross Hagen, who does dodo reactions of surpassing awkwardness.
Director Fred Olen Ray grubs straight down to sleazoid basics; he even makes the Vietnam scenes look like a National Guard exercise equipped with Korean War surplus. There's craft, if not art, in reducing pork bellies to dog food. Ray has the gift.
"Armed Response" * A CineTel release. Directed by Fred Olen Ray. Written by T.L. Lankford. Produced by Paul Hertzberg. Photography by Paul Elliott. Music by Tom Chase and Steve Rucker. With David Carradine, Lee Van Cleef, Mako, Lois Hamilton, Ross Hagen, Laurene Landon, Michael Berryman. Rated R. In local theaters.