FIRECRACKER 1981 aka NAKED FIST
Jillian Kesner (Susanne Carter), Darby Hinton (Chuck Donner), Raymond King (Rey), Ken Metcalf (Erik), Peter Cooper (Pete), Don Bell (Japanese fighter), Vic Diaz (Grip)
Directed by Cirio H. Santiago
The Short Version: Lifeless, but fun "remake" of TNT JACKSON (1974) strips away the blaxploitation element and adds lots of sex and mild gore to the mix. Star Kesner does quit a bit of stripping herself in this mildly diverting drive in trash from Corman and Santiago again complete with HK style sound effects and fight scenes as well as a finale utilizing the same location as the climactic battle seen in the far more insipid ENTER THE NINJA (1981). Yet again the highlight of this skimpy, lowbrow entertainment is its use of a topless kung fu fighting heroine. Ironically, FIRECRACKER has a bit more pop than the TNT that was lit six years earlier.
***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity***
Martial arts instructor, Susanne Carter travels to the Philippines to find the murderer of her sister and discovers her last days were spent in and around a martial arts nightclub that also operates as a front for drug trafficking. Here you could enjoy a meal and watch fights to the death. Carter gets close to those running the organization and eventually falls for the top fighter of the establishment, himself a member of the drug syndicate.
In what is simply a refurbished version of TNT JACKSON (1974) with a lot of added sex and some gore, much of that films crew returns for this New World Pictures release. The movie itself is very ordinary and outside of Kesner's incredible (and frequently undressed) body, you're likely to remember nothing about it at all once it's over. The plot appears to have taken a jumping side kick to the skull as it's down for the count for the duration of its brief 77 minutes. The near nonstop action, sex and one of the most annoyingly repetitive soundtracks you're likely to ever hear for a cheaply made B picture will take your mind off things like the gaping plot holes, the lack of a script and absence of exposition.
No fight choreographer is listed, so I am assuming stunt coordinator Ron Pohnel was responsible for the predominantly average fight scenes. Still, they're a step up from what passes for battles in TNT JACKSON (1974) and resemble HK style action sequences far more than American martial arts pictures of this time period. Some of the action scenes do briefly step foot into the realm of believability and other moments look like rehearsal footage. However, this second stab at this non-story is a moderate improvement in exploitation "quality" from its blaxploitation predecessor, a genre style that had dried up by 1981. Santiago returns to direct once more in an attempt to make a better movie, which isn't much of a feat.
Taken as simple exploitation, FIRECRACKER excels despite its flimsy budget, although Santiago does manage some awe inspiring atmosphere with its sweaty and expansive Filipino locales. Fans will also recognize the arena of death as what appears to be the exact same location for the finale of the sincerely stupid Cannon flick, ENTER THE NINJA (1981). Working with a handicapped script and bad acting, the plethora of action and sleaze is the main attraction here. There's more nudity, more bloody violence and more fights which makes this a more attractive package than its skimpier forebearer. The only thing there isn't more of is a cohesive plotline. In fact, there's scarcely any story to speak of.
One of the films high points is the semi-hilarious sex scene which sees our two lovelorn combatants preparing to wet up the sheets but not before the villain, Donner, meticulously cuts Carter's clothes off with a knife. From both pants legs right up to her shirt and bra, her clothes are shorn away (the first of a few times). Then it's Donner's turn to shred his attire all the while Carter sensually whispers into his ear, "I can feel the blood pulsing inside your head." The crew must have shot this scene last as I can't see them ponying up for a new pair of clothes for these two.
The second is a sequence that was reportedly shot by Allan Holzman (FORBIDDEN WORLD) to add some additional skin. The scene has our lady with the thunderbolt kick being chased by two thugs. Running in high heels, Carter ends up losing pieces of her clothing during the chase till she's down to nothing but her bra and panties. It isn't long before the sultry and alluring actress loses the bra, too. This scene one ups the similar boobilicious battle from TNT JACKSON (1974). Kesner is far more convincing in the fight sequences regardless of not having any martial arts background whatsoever (even though the trailer would have you believe otherwise).
While she's hot to trot when she's onscreen--whether fighting or not--Kesner's acting is less inspiring, though. Speaking of which, the acting here from virtually everybody is of a porn movie level which isn't surprising considering the films tone and the way sex is spread throughout. Kesner was married to cinematographer Gary Graver at the time and she would go on to appear in a few more exploitation pictures such as the cult fave RAW FORCE (1982) and the overly silly and sexy BEVERLY HILLS VAMP from 1989. She passed away from leukemia in 2007 at 58 years of age.
Some will find FIRECRACKER a blast during its brief 77 minutes and others will likely forget about it shortly after its finished. The minimalist plot was recycled at least two more times with ANGEL FIST (1993) and ANGEL OF DESTRUCTION in 1994. FIRECRACKER is typical disposable drive in entertainment that does just that--it entertains; but there's nothing here--apart from the unforgettable Jillian Kesner--to sustain a shelf life beyond its meager running time. The alternate title of NAKED FIST suits the film much better. Under its FIRECRACKER moniker, the film fails to make much noise at all.
This review is representative of the Shout! Factory 2 DVD set paired with TNT JACKSON (1974) and TOO HOT TO HANDLE (1977).