Hell Squad
(a.k.a. Commando Girls)

Director: Kenneth Hartford 
Bainbridge Scott, Tina Lederman, Glen Hartford

Recently I went to the genre index page of my web site to get a quick reference, but something made me stick around a little longer after getting the information that I wanted. Going through the web page, it really dawned on me as to how much work I have devoted to the web site, and that I hadn't found myself running out of things to say about various unknown movies. But that's not all. Looking at the page as a whole, I was also struck by how skimpy my science fiction/fantasy and my family film indexes look compared to the long lists of films found in my other sections on that web page. Especially when compared to the very long list of action movies that I have covered. I know I should review more science fiction/fantasy movies, as well as family movies, but I have found it very hard to find movies in those two categories that not only qualify as unknown, but spark my interest enough to watch them. And I have to confess it - I both love action movies and often find them easier to review than movies from other categories. Why do I love action movies so much? Well, there are several reasons for that. The main reason is that action movies contain, well, action. Seeing someone engaging in violent activity, from firing a gun to giving someone a big kick in the stomach really gets my juices going. That explanation also explains another reason why I love the action genre - there is a lot of variety to be found in the action genre. In the action genre you can find martial arts, weapons, explosions, and a whole bunch of different stuff. There's something out there for anybody's particular action taste.

That last reason - something for anyone's particular action taste - I would like to discuss a little more. The action genre doesn't just contain various ways to enact mayhem and destruction - it also happens to have many different subgenres. There are westerns, period martial arts movies, war movies, police movies... I could make this list go on and on for a long time if I didn't know how to restrain myself. But I would like to talk about one particular kind of genre in the action genre that I enjoy a lot, one that I have previously reviewed several different examples of for this web site. And that is the "putting a team together for a tough assignment that involves killing" genre. This particular genre has been around for a long time; the earliest example I can think of at this moment is the Akira Kurosawa movie The Seven Samurai, but I'm sure earlier examples could be found. Anyway, I love these kinds of action movies, watching many of them on my spare time and not for this web site. Why do I love these "team" movies? Well, it's usually an uncontrived excuse to bring together professionals of various skills, whether it be firing a gun or kicking people in the stomach. Not only that, it's an excuse to bring in individuals who have decidedly different personalities, and that also adds color to the movie. But I also like the movies because they can be seen as kind of a social microcosm. When these individuals first get together, there is usually some hostility as their different personalities and beliefs clash. But as time goes by, they learn to work together and eventually manage to overcome the challenge they signed on for in the first place. If characters in these movies can learn to work together and do well, then there is hope for the various countries in the world to learn to get along together.

As I said earlier, I have plenty of reason to seek out these "team" movies on my own time. But I have also done so on several occasions for this web site. Such movies include The Annihilators, The Deserter, The Five Man Army, and The Magnificent Seven Ride! Since I often don't like to repeat myself on a frequent basis for this web site, up to this point I had decided that Hell Squadthose reviews were enough coverage of the "team" genre for quite some time. But recently I stumbled across a new "team" movie - Hell Squad - that had a particular kind of team that came across as more fresh. The twist of the movie was that the people chosen for the team were women. That twist hasn't been done that often; in fact, the only other example of this that comes to mind is the 1970 made for television movie Wild Women. While the choice of picking women for a team sort of made sense in Wild Women, it's anything but in Hell Squad. Let me explain why by giving you a plot synopsis. In the United States, scientists have perfected a special neutron bomb that can wipe out people but leave buildings intact. Somewhere in the Middle East, Arab terrorists get wind of this new weapon and enact a plan to get it for their own. They kidnap Jack (played by Glen Hartford), the son of local American ambassador Mark (Jace Damon), and their ransom demand is the neutron bomb. Since the American government's policy is not to negotiate with terrorists, and that the American government is not willing to risk its own troops to rescue Jack, naturally Mark is deeply concerned about what might happen to his son. So he decides to contact his old friend Jim (Walter Cox), who is well versed in commando missions. Jim quickly whips up a plan to rescue Jack, and that plan is to train showgirls from Las Vegas in the art of commando warfare and send them out to rescue Jack once they are fully trained.

I swear to you that I did not make up this ludicrous movie premise! Yes, the character of Jim apparently thought it was better to train showgirls with absolutely no previous combat experience in the art of commando warfare rather than hiring readily available and long seasoned mercenaries to save Jack. As stupid as this premise sounds, it could have been worse. You see, nine years after Hell Squad was made, a Michael Dudikoff movie by the name of Solider Boyz was released that had more or less the same basic premise, except that it had juvenile delinquents being trained in commando warfare. To me that's an even stupider idea, though even if that Dudikoff movie did not exist, the premise of Hell Squad would still be idiotic. To the movie's credit, there is absolutely no explanation given as to why Jim thinks that the best way to go is to train showgirls in the art of commando warfare - I am sure that if Jim's reasoning had been said out loud, whatever it would have been would have come across as so lame that it would make the stupid idea come across as even stupider. But it's not just that the idea of hiring and training showgirls in commando warfare is stupid, it's that the movie thinks that there would readily be available a lot of showgirls who would quit their job for something much more dangerous. When Jim subsequently flies to Las Vegas, it doesn't take him that long to find enough showgirls who agree to such a dangerous assignment. Making this even more stupid is the way that the assignment is offered to the women. Not one real detail of the assignment is brought forward, and the women are told that they'll only learn what the assignment is once they go through (unspecified) training and only if they are subsequently chosen to participate, with the promise of five hundred dollars a week during training and twenty-five thousand dollars on completion of the subsequent assignment. I can tell you that there's no way I would blindly go into something that was unspecified except for a promise that there would be hard work and danger - and for what I consider to be little money. So I find it hard to believe that there would be plenty of showgirls who would agree to do this.

Let me say it again - the setup for Hell Squad is unbelievably idiotic. Still, while the film had a moronic setup, there was still a chance the movie could have worked if the movie had some key ingredients done strongly. If the rest of the story had been executed with reasonable intelligence, and if there were good action sequences, good production values, swift pacing, strong villains, and protagonists that were likable and believable, the filmmakers might have pulled off this project. The words "had been" in the previous sentence probably gave you a clue as to the actual results. Reasonable intelligence? You've got to be kidding. The women are whipped into being expert commandos with just ten days of training... Arabs are seen guzzling bottles of beer... The undercover women after one battle in the desert return to their hotel wearing their uniforms and carrying their assault rifles... The women's climactic raid to save Jack is done with all the women wearing one or two piece bathing suits.... are just some of the many unbelievably stupid touches found in Hell Squad. The stupidest touch, however, is a surprise twist in the final few minutes that is so unbelievably moronic that even my expert words could not properly describe. Good production values? Please. We're talking rock bottom here. There's ample stock footage, poorly recorded dialogue despite the boom mike making frequent appearances, the terrorists' hideout often looks like a disguised locker room, the soundtrack uses the same bars of music over and over, the same camera angles are reused in locations used more than once, and the locations used to depict the desert (both American and Middle Eastern) are some of the dreariest and dullest I have ever seen. Curiously, there are a few places where some serious money was obviously spent - a couple of camels are seen at one point, one battle involves a working tank, and another with a working airplane. Though these serious purchases by the filmmakers probably blew most of an already limited budget, explaining why so much of the movie comes across as appallingly cheap.

At this point, lovers of movies that are so bad they are good must be drooling. I'll admit that Hell Squad's stupidity and cheapness does generate some laughs. But I also have to admit that I didn't laugh that often. Most of the movie comes across in a dreary fashion. Good action sequences? Neither genuinely good nor unintentionally hilarious. Seeing the women stiffly execute martial arts moves or blandly fire their guns doesn't generate any sparks. There's no real energy to be found to make the action entertaining in any way. Swift pacing? Not in this movie. Hell Squad pads out its thin story with scenes that have little to nothing to do with the squad making progress in their aim to rescue Jack, from scenes of the squad resting in their hotel and taking baths together (though showing little nudity), to going out and gunning down various Arabs (who turn out not to be associated with the terrorists.) The depiction of the terrorists brings up the next subject: Strong villains? The movie is very shy about showing the villains. Apart from a couple of minutes depicting a sheik (Marvin Miller, Prime Time) with ties to the terrorists, there is practically no attempt to make the bad guys real characters. They're a faceless mob. A movie like this needs a strong villain, and we don't get anything near this. As for protagonists that were likable and believable, these characters for the most part suffer from the same problems as the movie's antagonists - none of them, except for their leader Jan (played by Bainbridge Scott) particularly stands out. We don't learn anything about them, not even their names. And yet... there is something likable about these women. It could be their spunky spirit, their determination to get the job done. It could be their camaraderie, their obvious team spirit and support of each other. It's probably all of these things. While the actresses playing these showgirl commandos aren't great at acting (more than once they stumble over their lines of dialogue), they are enthusiastic, and give the movie the little energy it has. Looking at Hell Squad as a whole, it's hard to believe that the filmmakers managed to get at least one thing right, but I always give credit where credit is due.

(Posted January 9, 2017)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: The Deserter, The Five Man Army, The Magnificent Seven Ride!