Laser Mission (1990)
First off, Laser Mission came to me in one of those cheapass public domain box sets with a bunch of other sci-fi movies. All well and good, but there is nothing at all about Laser Mission that would be considered sci-fi, it's just a straight up direct-to-video action film. I guess whoever made the box set just saw the word "laser" and threw it in (I'm surprised Office Space wasn't in here as well, since it has "space" in it). I'm already pissed off and I haven't even turned the movie on yet.
Laser Mission opens with a party at some fancy gallery, attended by a few dozen over-dressed rich people sipping Cristal and eating caviar. The centerpiece of the night's festivities is the "Verbeek diamond", which is 526 carats (that's a big rock!) and cut like a teardrop. I assume this is the sort of thing that goes on in galleries, but I wouldn't know, I can't even get invited to a bar-b-que.
The Verbeek Diamond, looking very glass-like here.
Just then a knock-out gas canister hidden in a campaign cooler explodes! Out rolls a thick cloud of noxious smoke, which quickly incapacitates the guests. Strolling through the smoke, gas masks on, come a small band of armed burglars. They swipe the diamond and run off (more on the diamond later, I promise, but don't worry about it for now, it doesn't show up until the movie is almost over).
Ok, enough of that rot, let's meet our film's hero. He's Michael Gold, ex-CIA mercenary, freelance adventurer, and hired killer working for the highest bidder. Michael is played by 25-year old Brandon Lee, son of the legendary kung fu artist Bruce Lee, and has nice hair and really white teeth. He's contracted by the US government to meet with a foreign scientist (named Professor Braun) and see what it would take to get him to defect to the USA.
Michael has his own theme song! It's Mercenary Man by David Knopfler (brother of Mark of Dire Straits) and it's a terribly 1980s Joe Walsh-y synth-rock tune that burrows into your stomach and lays eggs that by the end of the movie will hatch and burst out of your ribcage and feast on your entrails. I hate that song.
Yes, your song gives me this face, also.
The first half of our movie is set in the African nation of Angola. However, the movie calls it "Kavanga", but absolutely everything points clearly to Angola. At this time in history (late 1980s), Angola was a Cold War battleground, with the Soviet-backed government fighting tooth and nail against a variety of rebel groups, which were secretly supported by America and South Africa at various points in time. The Soviets didn't want to see their own soldiers killed in Angola (they were busy dying in Afghanistan) so they looked to their fellow communists in Cuba for help. Castro needed something to sink his country's already piddly GPD into, so he agreed to send part of his army to Angola to fight a proxy war with the Soviets against local rebels. It didn't go too well, and Angola can be thought of as Cuba's Vietnam (or Iraq).
A number of other review sites have gone to great lengths to pound our movie for having Latinos in Africa, some even claim the movie was set in Cuba, but I can't bang on them too bad. After all, most of the reviewers were still in elementary school in the 1980s, and even the older ones can be given a pass for not knowing their obscure sub-Saharan African geopolitics. I'm a Cold War history buff, so I knew, but that's not saying much for me and my social life, is it?
While I'm thinking about it, why would they bother to change the name Angola to Kavango anyway? It's not like the nation of Angola is going to sue the filmmakers over some breach of sovereign rights or something (not sure if Angola even has lawyers, or VCRs, or electricity for that matter, so they might not even have been aware that Laser Mission even existed). But I'm getting away from the review here, sorry.
A Cuban Army encampment from later in the film,
showing some cool WP jeeps (like the UAZ 469) and the like.
So, once Michael bluffs his way past customs, he goes to visit Professor Braun, who is out along the beachfront watching sea gulls. This ex-pat scientist is an expert on lasers, speaks with an on-again-off-again German accent, desperately needs an eyebrow trimmer, and seems nearly senile. He's played by 73-year old living legend Ernest Borgnine, who really must have been hard up for money to appear in this crapfest, but who at least tries to read his lines well. The Professor wants to defect to America, as he's not happy with the Soviets anymore. There's some dated "Star Wars" missile shield talk, and the Professor says he's tired of working on military laser projects, which are all about "fire from heaven and melting men". I guess he's wanting to settle down somewhere in California and raise grapes or something, that's what all Eastern Bloc scientist want to do, right?
Professor Braun (why is he in Angola of all places?).
Their chat is interrupted when they are captured by some dudes with tranquilizer dart guns. Michael wakes up in a prison cell, to be told that he's to be killed in morning on charges of espionage (his "trial" took place while he was asleep). In one of those moments where we actually learn something interesting in the midst of our z-grade action film, we are told that the guillotine that will execute him in the public square was a gift from the King of Belgium in 1907 (take that, wikipedia!).
The guillotine, seen through the prison cell bars.
Michael here meets Russian Colonel Kalishnakov, who will be a major player in our film from here on out. He's played by Graham Clarke, who has been in some action movies that I've never seen but heard were truly awful. Remember that the Cuban army here in Angola is "working with" the Soviets, who provide "advisors", which to anyone who has studied the beginnings of the Vietnam war, sounds familiar.
Colonel Kalishnakov (and yes, that's a pretty hokey
name, like naming an American military man "Colt").
The next morning, as the dimwitted guard comes to take him to his execution (just one unarmed guard, mind you, to take a known killer spy to his death, so none of what happens next is a surprise) our action kicks into high gear. Michael escapes, cutting down anyone who gets in his way and picking up weapons as he goes along. Using a Street Sweeper rotary-cylinder shotgun, an AK-47, and a knife, he leaves 14 dead men in his wake. The last death, a soldier chopped in two by the guillotine, is edited out, the first of many "too gory" or "too sexy" scenes that are excised from my print (sadly).
Michael with his shotgun (in a scene reminiscent of
the third level of Doom II: Hell on Earth).
Cut abruptly now to the US embassy in Angola (I assume). Michael has made it here unscathed and is being debriefed by his CIA handlers. These two guys (who look like Mister Clean and Bob Newhart) are royal dicks, and are suspicious of Michael's story (though they might have heard about the gunfight in the city center). They won't pay him unless he gets Professor Braun back, though that really seems like a job for a crack ten-man commando team with helicopter gunship backup and satellite recon, but what do I know. Michael says he'll do it for the money, but also because he promised the old man he'd see America one day (aww, how nice).
Michael chats with his handlers.
The CIA guys tell him to go meet the Professor's daughter Alissa, as she might be able to help. On the way out the door, Michael turns to them and says, "You sure know how to win friends and influence people." He delivers this line (and numerous other lines in this movie) with such a cheesy grin and proper enunciation that it makes me think he rehearsed this line fifty times in the mirror just before the camera rolled. Brandon Lee might have been many things (and I can't really think of any right now) but a master thespian he was not.
A quart of grease in his hair and a pencil-thin fake mustache later, and Michael looks the part of a Cuban Army captain, and he then parachutes into the outback of Angola (makes little sense, why take the risk when he could have just donned his disguise and drive there from the embassy?). He's able to bluff his way into a small platoon of Cuban soldiers and steal their jeep.
Michael is a master of disguise. Ha.
It's here that we meet two new characters, both Cuban soldiers, who will be with us to the end. Manuel and Roberta are two total dumbasses who provide the "comic relief" for the movie, constantly popping up to mangle bad jokes and stare agape at our heroes as they do something wacky. Roberta, by the way, is played by Maureen Lahoud, who is listed in the credit's a second time as the "secretary to director", which makes me think that she got this part by sleeping with the director.
Manuel and Roberta.
Let's meet Alissa, played by twentysomething Debi Monahan, a bit-part television actress who worked steadily in the 1990s before falling off the planet. She's not exactly attractive in the face, though she'll do in a pinch, and her voice is irritatingly whiney, which is only slightly more annoying than her massive frizzy perm. She does have a huge rack, though.
Michael meets Alissa at the zoo where she works by disguising himself as a hunchbacked street beggar (his father must be rolling over in his grave). After some initial hesitation on Alissa's part, they agree to meet that night for dinner to talk.
Michael meets Alissa.
With some time to kill before dinner, Michael goes to Professor Braun's apartment to look for clues. He breaks in, sneaking past the laughably weak security, which includes our comic due Manuel and Roberta (who are busy playing dice and not listening to orders over their radio). Michael finds some basic blueprints for a laser gun of sorts (one page suggests that it's designed to be mounted on an Apache helicopter, but not sure about that). I should note that we never actually see a physical laser prop in this movie, only this quick shot of some diagrams.
Blueprints and Xeroxed photos, that's our "sci-fi" element right there.
Michael then sets off a hidden alarm and the bad guys chase him out of the apartment, though no one seems to be able to catch him and his nifty leaping and running thing. I guess Brandon Lee is in good shape, he certainly seems to be able to run fast. In yet another egregiously bad moment, he falls through the roof of a house while escaping, lands on a diner table as a couple is eating, then leaps up and says as he leaves, "I just dropped in to say bon appetite." Who wrote this script? That's a rhetorical question, don't answer, we all know that Saddam Hussain wrote it.
Time now to go to the Neon Restaurant for Michael's dinner with Alissa. This is an excruciating scene, as Brandon Lee's acting ability is pretty much limited to "smarmy bastard" or "death machine", so him trying to be all Rico Suave on her just comes out wrong. It doesn't help that Debi Monahan's voice is so high-pitched and pouty that you want to stab yourself in the eye every time she talks. Alissa turns out to be a bitch from hell, the worst date you can imagine, but Michael gamely gives it a try, flirting and smirking along as my fists clench up with helpless rage at this waste of time. Why can't there be lasers?
Michael gets all dressed up and meets the lady for dinner.
I will say, however, that Alissa looks skanky here (in a good way). Her blue dress, with the plunging-neckline, shows off an impressive set of breasts (lifted by a bra two sizes too small) and long, lean legs. As it turns out, she will be wearing this dress for the entire rest of the movie, which was a surprise to me (but not a bad surprise).
Alissa later in that dress. Yum!
Once Michael realizes that he's not going to get into that dress anytime soon, he gets back to business. They go to find a friend of her father's, another scientist guy here in town. Entering his apartment, they find the man near dead! As Alissa cradles him against her busom (and yes, he does take a look) the dying man croaks out, "Braun...skeleton...look for..." before dramatically expiring. I know it's a standard movie cliche, but seriously, when in the recorded history of humanity has any dying man taken the time to give out plot-relevant information with his last gasp?
Dying old guy (stop staring at her breasts).
Outside the apartment, there are two soldiers in a Volkswagon Kombi minibus. Michael and Alissa's Breasts (they are so distracting, I can't think of anything else when she's on screen) shoot them dead! The surprise is that Alissa also has a 9mm Baretta handgun in a quick-draw holster strapped to her right leg and a quick trigger finger! There is clearly more to her than meets the eye, though she's not letting on.
Alissa has good marksmanship form.
So they check out the VW, which turns out to be helpfully piled high with guns and ammo (what was it doing here anyway?). Michael gets in the back and grabs a gun while Alissa's Boobs slide behind the wheel. There doesn't seem to be anyone chasing them (as they have time to stand around and banter) so I don't understand why the coming car chase/gunfight happens, but I guess our "action" was beginning to drag a bit so we need something to liven it up.
Alissa driving (I said, stop looking at them).
A lightning quick editing cut later, and they are being pursued through the streets of the city by soldiers, Cubans and Russians, all driving a variety of vehicles and shooting like mad as civilians run in terror. Using a FN-FAL rifle, his pistol, and a grenade, Michael kills seven men as well as destroys a Land Rover 109 truck, a Ford panel van, a VW Passant wagon, a Russian Xavante jeep, several fruit stands, and a plate glass window. Despite all the point-blank shooting, neither Michael or Alissa's Mammaries get a scratch, even though the minibus is shot full of holes. In contrast, every burst of fire from Michael hits home with uncanny accuracy, which just goes to show how awesome he really is.
Van chase, trading paint with the Rover.
Those comical Cubans have a scene here, as well, which made my eyes roll. They crash into the water avoiding bullets and when they climb out, we see that Roberta isn't wearing a bra. Manuel falls instantly in love and for the rest of the film is constantly making comic advances at her, which she just as comically rebuffs.
Escaping the city, they drive south towards the Namibian border, crossing into the region known as the Skeleton Coast (the dying old guy said "skeleton", remember?). This is one of the most inhospitable deserts on the planet, a place of barren dunes and dead men, where even the locals don't travel unless they have to. Hey, what's the gas mileage of a VW minibus, anyway? They've been driving a long, long time on one tank of gas.
Cruising through the desert, on the lookout for Jawas.
At the border crossing they find it guarded by a unit of Angolan soldiers. Instead of waiting until nighttime or even going around it (both suggested by Alissa's Hooters, who are clearly the smart ones), Michael decides to fight their way through in broad daylight against overwhelming odds. Seems like suicide to me.
Still, armed with a shoulder-fired rocket launcher, the FN-FAL rifle, and a few grenades, they give it a go. Racing through the middle of the encampment at top speed, they kill eight men and blow up a guard tower and a fuel tank farm before their luck runs out. An RPG brings them to a halt, and it's only through the grace of the screenplay that Michael and Alissa's Gazeboes escape the burning wreckage without so much as a singed eyebrow. On foot now, they cross the border and enter Namibia.
Note the gunpowder packet in the barrel, clearly a prop weapon.
They walk through desert, with no water and Alissa in high heels. They should have been dead in an hour, but this is a movie, so they walk for days without trouble. They learn about each other as they go. Alissa's Fun Bags are clearly hiding something (metaphorically speaking), as her prowess with the gun and the driving says she's more than just a zoo keeper. Once she slips up and says "the professor" instead of "my father". Michael lets it go, he knows that something is fishy, but he feels he's totally in control (which no man ever is when it comes to a woman) and is content to flirt with her and smirk a lot.
Walking through desert.
They eventually meet an old drunken prospector and his bottle of Jack Daniels and sleep the night away. They wake up at dawn, having cuddled against the chill (which neither seems to enjoy), to find the man gone. This scene did little to advance the plot other than to show again what a flaming bitch Alissa's Honk Hogans are and how perfect Michael's hair stays no matter what the circumstances. And can he grow facial hair? Because he's clean shaven in every single scene of this movie.
The old prospector.
They are chased by some bad guys now. A local archer in sandals and a European on a horse with a rifle both attack but are killed with ease. The horse escapes and they chase after it, knowing that they'll never get out of this desert on foot. A last attacker does battle with Michael, and gets his neck snapped in the end. The man does give some information before he's put down, that they are being hunted by Eckhardt, a "hunter/tracker, a soldier of fortune" paid for by Kalishnakov to eliminate them both.
The last attacker, actually the film's director in a cameo.
They finally catch up to the horse (which is out wandering around in the desert without food or water, just like them, which can't be healthy). They ride into a city in Namibia as that Mercenary Man song pounds through my laptop's speakers, making me wonder why they couldn't afford to pay for a second song. Seriously, with all the money blown on this movie, couldn't they have anted in a few extra bucks for a better soundtrack? Did Knopfler work for free with the stipulation that his lone song be used as often as possible? It's not even a good song.
Riding the horse.
They go to a fancy hotel (after first leaving the horse with the dumbfounded valet) and needlessly pose as husband and wife to get a room. Instead of buying new clothes, they just have the hotel clean and press her blue dress and his suit. You'd think that Alissa's Head Lights would at least want some new shoes, after all she's had to put up with, but she's got other things on her mind right now.
At the hotel.
Such as sex in hotel room with a smarmy freelance spy (eh, Michael). Now, sadly, we don't see anything even PG rated, but my edited version may have cut a lot out (the edits are choppy). A trashy b-level action movie like this, especially filmed overseas, most probably had some boobies in this scene, but my version takes all the fun away. I've been watching those sweater puppies bounce and jiggle for an hour now, and I don't think it's too much to ask for just a quick glimpse.
In the morning, Alissa's Lady Lumps sneak out and get into a car chase with Kalishkanov and his henchmen (they were down in the lobby and she stole their Mercedes SEL and they carjacked a rusted-out VW diesel Golf). Despite what would seem like an insurmountable difference in both driving skill and horsepower, Alissa's Chest Cushions are caught and captured.
She's forced to call Michael and tell him she's being held at Eckhardt's hunting lodge, which is about 20 miles outside the city. Michael storms the compound at night, killing one guard by frying him against an electric fence (ouch!) before begin captured (when he falls into a hole). I know he's the "hero" and all, but throughout this movie Michael's shoot-first style has gotten him into trouble at every turn, but he never learns.
He's taken to the lodge where he's tied up in a room with Professor Braun (captured by Eckhardt way back when, remember?). Left alone (for some reason) they get a chance to catch up. The Professor explains about the bigass diamond and how the badguys are planning on using the rock plus his knowledge of lasers to "create a nuclear weapon". I just wasted fifteen minutes of my life on Google and I can tell you with certainty that this idea is fucking stupid. Why couldn't they just say "make a bigass laser to zap stuff with"?
Now we get to meet Eckhardt, played by 51-year old Austrian actor Werner Pochath. He's a very intense-looking curly-haired man who likes to kill people and then roll around in their blood (I made that up, but he's such a psychopath that I wouldn't doubt it). Eckhardt takes the opportunity to strut and brag about how awesome he is, but Michael keeps his cool.
Colonel Kalishnikov is partners with Eckhardt on this mad scheme (though if I were Eckhardt I'd worry about him stealing any finished designs for Mother Russia). Kalishnakov leaves them to go to "close the mine". It's never really explained about this diamond mine, why it matters to the story, other than a location shoot for the last 20 minutes of the film. Maybe since they have the bigass diamond now, they don't need to be wasting time and money digging up little ones.
Eckhardt now does the single most retarded thing I've ever seen a movie villain do. He frees Michael's bonds and tells him that he "always gives intruders a sporting chance" before he kills them. The problem is that he's telling this while NOT holding a gun to his head, but just standing there smirking. In fact, Eckhardt turns his back several times to gloat about his stuffed head collection, allowing the much younger and stronger Michael a chance to use his kung fu skills on him. It's really no surprise then that Michael beats the unarmed (and fucking stupid) Eckhardt to a pulp and then tosses him off the roof to impale him on a wrought iron fence.
Echhardt and Michael talk amongst his trophies, right before Michael owns him.
Michael then takes care of a white guy ninja guard by breaking his back over his knee (in a scene that lasts like five seconds but was surely edited down from a much longer length). He then frees Professor Braun and they head off towards that mine to find his daughter and shoot some people.
Meanwhile, at the mine (which is out in the rocky arid desert), they are closing up shop (again, it's never explained why they are out here in the first place, but it doesn't matter, I assume). The soldiers (locals under Colonel Kalishnakov's orders) start shooting the slave laborers working the mine and lay a dynamite charge to seal the mine shaft. This must be an illegal mine then?
The rat-bastard commie Kalishnikov now takes the opportunity to try and rape Alissa, who is tied to a chair in the mine's foreman shack. It's not too sexy a scene, mainly because Debi Monahan is a rotten actress, and also because the soundtrack is blaring some horrid 1980s instrumental tune over the scene. He cuts her bra strap with a straight razor and throws diamond chips in her lap (seriously), but all he really gets for his efforts is one forced kiss and then a kick in the crotch (again, seriously).
At about this point, Michael and Professor Braun show up and start shooting, Michael with a pistol and the Professor with a pump shotgun (I wonder, as I tend to do, why Michael didn't grab one of the dozens of high-powered rifles that Eckhardt had laying around his lodge instead of sticking to his dinky pistol). It's amusing to watch Borgnine, a rotund fat man in polyester slacks and deck shoes, "running" around a mining complex and shooting people with a shotgun while shouting insults in a fake German accent (worth the price of admission in my opinion). At this point all hell breaks loose and everyone starts shooting at everyone else.
The Professor on the move.
Left alone once the shooting begins, Alissa escapes her bonds (after Kalishnakov carelessly left that straight razor close enough where she could kick it off the table, flop her chair over and scoot over to it and cut her bonds) and she starts shooting, grabbing a pistol from the table. A number of soldiers with AK-47s helpfully hold their fire as she charges at them and shoots them dead.
Alissa freeing herself.
Those two comic relief Cubans, Manuel and Roberta, are also here, reduced to breaking rocks in punishment for being such dumbasses. Once the shooting starts, they see that the slaves (which would be them) are going to be killed and agree that they need to "help the Yankee" if they are to survive. So Roberta thwacks a soldier with a shovel, grabs his rifle, they steal a Land Rover and begin fighting the good fight.
The Cubans at the mine, roughing up some poor soldier.
And now we have our big ending battle, a frenetic 15 minutes of exploding stuff, extras falling down, prop guns chattering, and Alissa's Knockers bouncing and jiggling like the halftime show at a Lakers game. In the ensuing action, nine poor slaves are killed in the crossfire, while thirteen local soldiers are shot dead in return. A Russian lieutenant (Kalishnakov's aide) is also killed when Michael drops some rocks on him.
Near the start of the battle, Michael gets shot in the lower stomach by a .45 caliber handgun at close range and goes down. But he's up in a flash, and for the rest of the film shows no ill effects of the wound, other than having a blood stain artfully down his shirt. This is, of course, a typical movie cliche, where the hero can take all sorts of hits and keep fighting, but the bad guys go down in a lifeless lump when someone's swinging boot comes within two feet of them. I'd complain more, but this sort of thing is so rampant in movies that there's no point in it.
Stomach wound, must have missed the organs.
Colonel Kalishnikov is featured prominently and gets a lot of good lines and actioney moments. He takes six bullets to the chest, but comes back up thanks to a bullet-proof vest, only to go back down when the TNT explodes close to him, but comes back up again all bloody but still determined, and then finally is killed when Michael runs him over in a Land Rover and squashes him into a brick wall. I'm going to miss the Colonel, his slimy, over-the-top evilness and Cold War stereotypical Communist bloodlust was the best part of this tepid film (other than Alissa's Twins, that is).
The Colonel gives it one last shot before dying.
When Professor Braun first lays eyes on his "daughter" Alissa, we get the "big surprise", she's not his daughter at all! This would have been more surprising if they hadn't been dropping hints all movie long to this effect. Plus, this is a crappy b-movie so it's not like the audience is really that emotionally invested in the plot or these characters.
Hey, that's not my kid (but damn, cover those up).
Just then a red and white Bell helicopter drifts into view, coming down to land nearby in a cloud of dust. The two CIA guys from the US embassy jump out, along with a big-boned blonde girl who might very well be a man in drag. She/he turns out to be Professor Braun's real daughter! Here, yes here in a war zone, in a foreign country, with American intelligence agents. Imagine the odds.
The real daughter (on the right).
Michael and Alissa's Hooters laugh and joke about money and diamonds and halter tops and Carlos Mencia and airline food and how he's still standing after being shot and all. Good times. And to cap it off, those two rascally Cubans steal the helicopter! But they can't fly it, so it jigs and dips all over the place as the two CIA goons run after it, flapping their arms and yelling! Comedy gold, I tells ya, comedy gold!
The Cubans have the last laugh.
I am glad someone was amused by this horrid movie. I want my afternoon back.
Written in May 2008 by Nathan Decker.
comments powered by Disqus
that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...