Sunday, January 4, 2015

Reel Bad Cinema: Force Four (1975) review



Owen Wat-son (Jason), Warhawk Tanzania (Adam), Malachi Lee (Eric), Judie Soriano (Billy), Sam Schwartz (Z), Sydney Filson (Felicia), Frank Ruiz (Juan), Alex "Plus One" Sternberg (George), Moses Illiya (Sam), Wilfredo Roldan (Rodan), Roscoe Richardson (Casey)

Directed by Michael Fink

The Short Version: Ghetto fabulous kung foolery is unintentionally hip to the groove for such a shambolic, impoverished production. Fink's flick is not only the ROBOT MONSTER of martial arts movies (and about as long minus all the filler), it harkens back to a time period where you could go to a theater and pay to see somebody's home movies on a big screen. From the cardboard sets to the crap editing, and even worse choreography, FORCE FOUR makes DOLEMITE look like ENTER THE DRAGON by comparison. Four times the bad movie funk, FORCE FOUR is solid, man... reeeaaal solid.

Four stylin', super flyin' secret agent kung fu experts are hired to retrieve a witchdoctor fetish doll worth more bread than they had to make this movie. Stolen by a jive turkey crime lord named Z, by the time they catch the big boss on the flip-side, the theft of the African artifact is really just a front to sell heroin on the streets of New York.

Brilliantly bad black action flick gets down to business by showboating its cast of real martial arts experts. At the end, the filmmakers remind us once more of the black belt status of the main cast and everybody else that appeared; even the poster boasts, "See 28 black belts in action!" You'd never know it judging by the furiously shitty choreography -- easily ranking among the worst ever captured on film; and out-awfulling the similar choreo crud of DEVIL'S EXPRESS (1976). The whole show is a One-Take-Willy with fists and feet missing their marks, moves are flubbed, guys fall on their ass trying to kick, and characters at times forget what sort of maneuver they're supposed to do.... and the cameras just keep rolling. Not restricted to the action, the entire show is one mistake after another -- and that's part of its charm.

Characters are engaged in conversation and the dialog is looped on top of each other with absolutely no regard to syncing who is speaking the lines; sets are flimsy, giving way when extras are thrown into them. Elsewhere, the camera can't make up its mind if it wants to be in close-up or a wide shot; and the same funk music cue plays ad infinitum. The editing is a shambles, too. Scenes tend to go on way too long; but this might be intentional since the whole movie is only 70 minutes long plus a climactic three minute montage of the crummy action, plus three more for the equally repetitive end credits.

Going back to the blistering non-action, there are a few moments that actually look pretty good, but these are outclassed and pummeled into submission by a black belt fury of faulty kung phooey. Two members of the title quartet, "Oboson" Owen Wat-son and Professor Malachi Lee did the choreography. Frank Ruiz, founder of Nisei Goju Ryu Karate is credited with handling the knife fight between him and one of his real life students, Wilfredo Roldan (who would return in DEVIL'S EXPRESS). Ruiz plays a high ranking thug in FORCE FOUR, and looks about as convincing as everybody else. That old saying that martial artists don't always make good onscreen martial arts is more than applicable here. Going even further in convincing the viewers its participants can kick your ass, a post-credits statement assures us....

"All martial arts sequences in this film are authentic. No attempt has been made to enhance or alter actual fights by the use of special effects or trick photography. A slow motion camera was used to capture certain techniques."

The filmmakers probably should have used some trick photography to make the fights appear as something other than monumentally sloppy. The authenticity on display makes Rudy Ray Moore's DOLEMITE (1975) look like Bruce Lee in ENTER THE DRAGON (1973). Now there's a bad movie dream project -- Dolemite Meets Force Four!

The guy in the air is about to bust his ass.

Possibly due to the tight pants and platform shoes everybody seems to be wearing, when kicks are thrown, the cast strain to get them higher than waist level. "Oboson" Owen Wat-son (also in VELVET SMOOTH) and Alex "Plus One" Sternberg are the only two performers who have an actual decent fight in this mess, and the former is obviously skilled as seen in this trick he does with candles and a sword during the end credits. 

And speaking of platform shoes, Warhawk Tanzania pimps a flashy, shagadelic wardrobe to rival Pam Grier's in FOXY BROWN (1974). Unfortunately, those gold lame overalls he wears in DEVIL'S EXPRESS are absent. With only two films under his (1st degree black) belt, the flamboyant Tanzania could be described as the Elvis Presley of low budget martial arts movies. There's something mysterious, even fascinating about the man. It's a combination of his serious, if lousy looking onscreen martial arts, his garishly over the top nom de plume, and the fact that he seems to have dropped off the face of the Earth. Most everyone associated with this picture did little else afterward as far as movies are concerned.

Barry Rosen, production manager on FORCE FOUR, and director of DEVIL'S EXPRESS chose Tanzania as the lead in the latter picture; which also had some of the same cast and crew members. Rosen went on to a successful career as a producer of films and television.

FORCE FOUR has literally nothing good going for it outside of a multitude of technical deficiencies. One area it actually wins a fight is in its music via a few snappy tunes by an obscure clone of Tony Orlando and Dawn named Life, USA. Get down and funky with such smooth grooves as 'Force IV Theme', 'Fistful of Force', and the "live", poolside performed 'Loving You Is So Beautiful'.

Much like the regional horror and hixploitation movies down south, New York had its own "regional" flavor with a glut of martial arts exploitation films; many of which were shot on the flimsiest of budgets, and gave new meaning to the term 'quickie'. Possessing a black belt in celluloid incompetence, FORCE FOUR (1975) is at the top of that heap, and a hip joint for bad movie buffs and black action completists.

This review is representative of the Code Red double feature DVD paired with THE GUY FROM HARLEM (1977). Extras and Specs: 16x9 widescreen; trailers.

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