“Avenging Force” is an unsung masterpiece in the Cannon catalog of high-caliber action pictures of the late ‘80s. The film packs enough thrills to keep audiences on the edge of their seats, while maintaining engaging characters and an offbeat premise.
The premise follows Capt. Matt Hunter (Michael Dudikoff) on a personal mission to help an old friend, Larry Richards (Steve James), and his family as he runs for U.S. senator in the state of Louisiana. Death threats have been made to Richards’ family because some the townspeople are still hung up on racial issues, despite the fact Richards seems to have what it takes for the job.
During a parade in Mardi Gras, Richards and his family are attacked, fatally injuring one of his sons and leading the two main characters on a journey of revenge. This journey shifts gears midway, delivering some unexpected moments that lead to an uncompromisingly brutal climax in the backwoods of Louisiana.
The climax is slowly built up throughout the entire picture when we learn the villains in “Avenging Force” hunt men for sport. The last 20 minutes of the film are of Dudikoff in pure survival mode against the forces of this secret society, one that’s eerily similar to the Ku Klux Klan. The action in the climax doesn’t let up for one minute, and the fight choreography is exquisite. But several earlier action sequences are also excellently done throughout the picture, and serve as a reminder of just how cool Dudikoff and James were when they dominated action pictures back in the day.
James made a career playing supporting characters in a multitude of films in this genre. He had an amazing amount of knowledge, and skill of martial arts to play these roles in his sleep. Sadly, his career was cut short on December 18, 1993, due to a losing battle with pancreatic cancer. The world lost the chance to see him in a leading role, but with the legacy he left behind, we all know he could have pulled it off.
Dudikoff was tailor made for these types of films, but never seemed to garner fame after the last wave of Cannon films hit theaters. Still, he remains a staple of the genre to anyone that ever watched “American Ninja.” However, in “Avenging Force,” his performance is much better than his work in the latter due to the fact he seems much more comfortable in this role. His attitude and style are much more mannered.
The reason for that may be that the man behind the camera was Sam Firstenberg, who also directed “American Ninja.” The trio of Firstenberg, James and Dudikoff was able to mature over the period of a few little films, which allows for the dialogue and action to naturally flow onscreen.
The closing sequence seems to hint that a sequel was on the way. Unfortunately, that is something audiences missed out on, and with the passing of time, it seems less and less likely that it will ever happen.
“Avenging Force” is a bold, in-your-face action picture that delivers on all fronts. It’s solid entertainment for the intended audience, and that simplicity is why it is great.