Platoon Leader / Soldier Boyz (Michael Dudikoff Double Feature)

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Dec 12, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


If there were justice in this world, Michael Dudikoff would be an Expendable. It's really not fair that Dudikoff isn’t universally revered as one the ‘80s biggest action stars; he came out of the same school of low-budget action filmmaking – the beloved, defunct Cannon Group – that turned Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme into movie stars, but for whatever reason isn't held in the same light. Here we had an actor with Ryan Gosling’s good looks and arguably better acting skills, but unfortunately worse judgment when it came to selecting projects. American Ninja and its first sequel made him into a legit, international star; follow-ups such as the immensely entertaining Avenging Force and River of Death were further showcases for his talents as an actor and stuntman. By the ‘90s, though, his name was appearing less frequently on theater marquees than it was on direct-to-video releases.

Kino Lorber Studio Classics pulls Double Dudi on this Blu-ray set, packaging together two of Dudikoff’s Vietnam-adjacent action films onto one disc.

Platoon Leader: A lily-fresh West Point graduate, Lieutenant Jeff Knight is airlifted into one of Vietnam’s most dangerous zones and put in charge of a Bad News Bears-like platoon of grizzled insubordinates. Unwilling to follow his lead at first – the lieutenant hasn’t seen the same shit they have, see? – the men eventually come around when Knight survives a mine explosion and returns to the front to resume command. This is the sort of steeliness that earns your platoon’s respect.

The Cannon Group’s Platoon Leader was directed by Aaron Norris, little brother of the studio’s biggest star, Chuck Norris. It’s admittedly rough going at the start – the platoon is primarily made up of one-dimensional war movie stereotypes, and once it’s established that school hadn’t fully prepared Knight for the horrors of ‘Nam, there is only so long that the movie needed to keep hammering in that point. Once Dudikoff’s character snaps into reality and takes charge, however, the movie improves and becomes less about the platoon’s personal dramas. Some of the movie’s later firefights get pretty tense. Do come in prepared for some of the usual chest-beating and flag-waving of the subgenre; the Viet Cong are treated mostly as faceless baddies only there to be blown up and shot up en masse in gratuitous slow motion. Expect American bullets to hit three enemies at once, and single grenades to explode multiple times and in different locations.

Soldier Boyz: Who needs SEAL Team Six when you have six juvenile delinquents? Michael Dudikoff plays Howard Toliver, a prison counselor in a SoCal correctional facility for young people. We’re given our first (and only) hint at a vaguely badass backstory when a five-star general and a billionaire biotech magnate interrupt his cafeteria lunch to recruit him on a dangerous, top secret mission. The billionaire’s daughter was kidnapped while on a humanitarian trip to Vietnam; the perpetrator is an internationally-notorious terrorist played by Mortal Kombat’s Shang Tsung, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. The reluctant Toliver agrees to the mission, on two conditions. The first is a $10 million donation to the prison for scholarships and educational materials. The second, and completely baffling: Presidential pardons for the six gangbangers, drug dealers, and serial murderer-rapists he’ll handpick to bring along with him on the rescue mission. 

Our Soldier Boyz then head off to Vietnam, where Toliver spends an afternoon training them to be green berets. Over the next couple days, they learn to put aside their differences, work as a team, kill a few hundred terrorists, and finally rescue the billionaire’s daughter. Half violent war film, half after-school hood drama, Soldier Boyz is such an insane mixture of genres that it’s hard to look away from. The trailer actually describes the film as being “In the tradition of The Dirty Dozen, Boyz N The Hood, and Platoon,” which would feel like a movie marketing mad lib were it not a description of 1995’s Soldier Boyz to a tee.

While Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray set upgrades the films for high definition, the movies’ low budget nature does show through. (The nighttime jungle scenes in Platoon Leader are as incomprehensibly dark as they were on VHS.) Extra features include trailers for these two films and KLSC’s other Dudik-offerings, Avenging Force and River of Death, as well as the Aaron Norris-helmed Delta Force 2. All three of those movies would be recommended over the ones included here, but if you’re a diehard Dudikoff fan – and really, more of us should be – then you’ll find enough entertainment here to make this set worth a look.

www.kinolorber.com/film/platoonleadersoldierboyzmichaeldudikoffdoublefeature




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