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MOVIE CAPSULES

'Force' Avenges Action-film Wrongs

September 16, 1986|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

To paraphrase Chuck Berry: Roll over Walter Hill and tell John Carpenter and James Cameron the news--there's a rockin' young action director in town. He's Sam Firstenberg, who's pulled off a series of rave-up pictures for Cannon, including last year's "American Ninja."

Now he's at the helm of "Avenging Force" (citywide), a crackling, low-budget thriller that shows off his savvy action style, which combines a keen sense of pacing with some brawny punch.

Better still, the film (which reunites Firstenberg with "American Ninja" action hero Michael Dudikoff) is a refreshing change of pace from the recent gory right-wing revenge fantasies--call it "Rambo" for rugged liberals. This time the villains are a radical-right secret society of wealthy industrialists who get their kicks by dumping their victims in Louisiana bayous and hunting them down for sport. When they take aim on a black senatorial candidate (Steve James) and his family, his old pal, ex-CIA agent Matt Hunter (Dudikoff), teams up with his chum to battle the fanatical, racist thugs.

The story line is pretty preposterous, but Firstenberg keeps the fireworks coming so fast and furious that we don't have time to dwell on all the loony plot twists. He nudges the film along with jolting efficiency, carefully establishing the strong ties Hunter has with his old friend so that we have a strong rooting interest in the slam-bang struggle that follows. The crackpot villains are also deliciously evil. Their leader (John P. Ryan) is a marvelously baroque bad guy--when he garrotes a foe, he surveys his bloody trophy with the delicate touch of an art dealer sizing up a new canvas.

Firstenberg gets the most out of his Louisiana settings, staging a sizzling shoot-out during a Mardi Gras parade and taking us for a spooky outing knee-deep in the drizzly swamps. As the good guys, Dudikoff and James perform with edgy cool, offering welcome respite from flag-waving. "Avenging Force" (MPAA-rated R for its violence) has far more gore and brutality than necessary, but it marks the emergence of a truly gifted action-movie talent.

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