“American,” a young Vietnamese refugee says to Sgt. Mike Ransom, “tell me about Disneyland.”
Ransom tells him all about Disneyland, a magical place where, according to Rasom, the trees are made of ice cream and genies pop out of lamps. Ransom breaks down in tears, sobbing as he realizes that his friend will never get to experience Disneyland firsthand.
Years later, Ransom is in Manila, blowing up a former American military officer who gave aid to the communists. “DIE! DIE!” Ransom shrilly yells as the man literally explodes in front of him. And while the man may not have been one of the good guys and he did a lot of bad things during the Vietnam War, it’s hard not to feel that Ransom’s attitude would get him banned from Disneyland. Not even the ghost hitchhikers at the Haunted Mansion would want to accept a ride from the “Die! Die!” guy.
That Mike Ransom, he’s a complicated man. As played by Reb Brown, he’s also at the center of the 1987 Italian film, Strike Commando. As you can probably guess from the film’s title, he’s the leader of an elite squad of soldiers, a team of strike commandoes who are determined to lead America to victory during the Vietnam War. We’re continually told that Ransom is the best, though we don’t see much of evidence of it. He’s the type of commando who specializes in sneaking behind enemy lines and hitting the communists before they even realize he’s there but he’s so bulky and loud that it’s hard to imagine that he’s ever been able to successful sneak around anywhere. He has a particularly bad habit of shrilly screaming every word that he says. Even when he’s not telling people to die, he’s yelling. He’s like the athletic coach from Hell.
In fact, as I watched Strike Commando, I started to wonder what it would be like to live next door to someone like Mike Ransom.
“Hi, Mike, are you doing okay?”
“I’M DOING GREAT! GREAT! GREAT!”
“Any plans for the day?”
“I’M MOWING THE LAWN! MOWING! MOWING! MOWING!”
“I think I’ve got some mail for you that accidentally left in my mailbox….”
“THE POSTAL SERVICE LIED! LIED! LIED! LIED!”
At first, living next door to Mike Ransom would probably be entertaining but I imagine it would get kind of boring after a while. Yelling can be an effective way to express yourself but it loses its power if that’s the only thing you ever do. The same can be said for Strike Commando as a film. It gets off to a good start, with several extremely over-the-top action sequences and, of course, Mike telling a little refugee child about Disneyland. But the second half of the film, which involves Mike being held in a POW camp and meeting a fearsome Russian torturer named Jakoda, drags a bit because there’s only so much time you can listen to Ransom yell before you start to tune him out. It doesn’t help that the second half of the film features some particularly nasty torture scenes. Still, it is somewhat redeemed by a scene where the Viet Cong attempt to force Ransom to broadcast a propaganda message over their radio station. “KEEP FIGHTING!” Ransom yells into the microphone. Hell yeah! You tell ’em, Ransom!
Strike Commando was directed by Bruno Mattei, an Italian exploitation filmmaker who was never one to just turn things up to ten when he could turn them up to 11 instead. Strike Commando was obviously meant to capitalize on the success of the Rambo films. In typical Mattei fashion, the action is over-the-top, nonstop, and more than a little silly. Mattei was never shied away from embracing excess and Strike Commando has everything that you would expect from one of his war films: lots of stuff blowing up, heavy-handed use of slow motion, and plenty of grainy stock footage. You have to admire Mattei’s dedication to always finding something for Reb Brown to yell about.