Everyone’s favorite hippie action hero, Peter Fonda, plays Virelli, a long-haired Vietnam vet turned mercenary who is hired by a corrupt African general (Robert Doqui) to protect the construction of a dam that will result in the flooding of a native village. Got all that? Though Fonda is top-billed, he is not the star of the film. The star is Reb Brown, who plays T.J. Christian. T.J. starts out as a member of Fonda’s team but then he falls in love with a nurse (Joanna Weinberg) and he switches sides. The villagers need someone to lead their revolution and all it takes is hearing Reb Brown do one of his trademarks power yells to know that he’s the man for the job. Reb Brown was famous for yelling whenever he did anything and he yells a lot in Mercenary Fighters, even more than he yelled in Space Mutiny.
Mercenary Fighters is a typical Cannon film from the late 80s. Like many of Cannon’s mercenary movies, it was covertly filmed in South Africa, at a time when apartheid was still being enforced and Nelson Mandela was still sitting in a prison cell. (Cannon was not the only film company to secretly make movies in South Africa during the Apartheid Era. They were just the most blatant about it.) Richard Kiel apparently turned down Peter Fonda’s role. It’s hard to imagine Kiel in the role but perhaps that’s because Virelli is a quintessential Peter Fonda-in-the-80s role. Fonda glides through the film, delivering his lines like a California surfer who just smoked the kine bud. The presence of Ron “Superfly” O’Neal and James “son of Robert” Mitchum serves to elevate the film’s cool factor while Robert Doqui brings some “I’ve worked with both Robert Altman and Paul Verhoeven” credibility to his one-note role. Mercenary Fighters is good for anyone who is into either mindless Cannon action movies or Reb Brown yelling while shit blows up behind him.