Sweet Revenge

Director: Mark Sobel
Nancy Allen, Ted Shackelford, Martin Landau

With all the reviews I have written, it is getting harder and harder with each new review to start off by discussing some sort of topic that I have not discussed before. I am pretty sure that what I am about to discuss is something that I have more or less discussed before in a previous review, though with the hundreds of reviews on this web site, I am not about to go back and read each and every past review to unearth the fact whether I have discussed before the topic I have chosen to talk about. But I think that I can be excused if I am to repeat myself. After all, film critic Roger Ebert stated the following quote - "What does cocaine make you feel like? It makes you feel like having more cocaine." - by comedian George Carlin over five times in his reviews over the decades. And Ebert managed to win a lot of praise and awards (including a Pulitzer prize) for his reviews despite the fact that he was repeating himself. So I may be on my way to winning a Pulitzer prize for my writings if I am about to repeat myself - especially since now I am also starting to suspect that I may have mentioned that George Carlin quote repeatedly used by Roger Ebert in a past review. Anyway, what is it that I would like to discuss? It's the fact that all of us, whether what sex we may be, whatever age we may be, and whatever place we may be living on this earth, have needs. Some of these happen to be base desires that all of us have - a need for enough nutritious food in our diet, clean and abundant enough water to drink, and enough warmth and shelter in our lives being just a few such examples.

Those examples I have just stated are pretty obvious ones, enough that I think pretty much everyone would list if they were asked the question as to what humans need and desire. But I would like to talk a little about some needs and desires many of us might not want to admit that we have buried deep down in our souls. Needs and desires that may not be constantly brought up, but in the right conditions can be prodded enough that the need and desire comes up with a vengeance. Which is an appropriate way to describe it, because what I would like to talk about the most is revenge. A feeling that you have to get back at someone for a wrong done against you, whether it be a bully at your school to whoever the annoying person is that, as I write this, is hogging all the dryers in my building's laundry room, which prevents me from getting all of my laundry done as quickly as I would like. Unless you are one of those people who has gotten religion and says that vengeance is the Lord's work (why should God have all the fun?), I think you would agree that you at times share my occasional feelings of getting back at someone. Why is it that so many of us sometimes get this feeling of wanting revenge? A little thought comes up with several possible reasons. One reason is that we want the other party to suffer as much - or more - than we did when we were wronged. They should get a great taste of what we had to go through. Another reason is that when we are wronged, the balance of power is turned around. If we manage to get revenge, then that places us in a superior position. I think it's safe to say that most of us want to feel superior to the other people around us.

It probably comes as no surprise that tales of other people getting revenge against someone have proven to be very popular for centuries. If, for some reason, you don't know the reasons why, I'll list a few reasons. One reason is that with seeing or hearing about someone's vengeance, you Sweet Revengecan live through that person. You can for a short time imagine yourself in the vengeful person's shoes and in a way feel you are getting satisfaction for whatever slights have been done against you. Another reason is that with seeing or hearing about someone's vengeance, you can feel safe - you can see vengeance going down, and not worry about possible consequences because it's not happening to you. All this explains why depictions of revenge in motion pictures have been so popular since the birth of cinema. I admit that I am always up for some onscreen revenge, so I was pleased when I got my hands on a copy of the released by Roger Corman Sweet Revenge. While the quality of Corman's personally produced movies started to slip in the '80s - when this movie was made - he just released this movie, though some report erroneous claim he was a producer. The Motion Picture Corporation of America, a company which often makes high quality direct to video movies, actually made it. So I had some hope it would be decent entertainment. Here's the plot description from the back of the video box: "Beautiful young women are vanishing from the streets of L.A. - and reappearing in a remote Asian jungle, on the auction block of the sadistic criminal mastermind Cicero (Landau, Strange Shadows In An Empty Room). When a top TV reporter (Allen, RoboCop) picks up his trail, Cicero drugs and abducts her, only to see her bust out of his hellish prison camp with the aid of a roguish smuggler (Shackelford, The Young And The Restless) and three feisty American girls. Determined to avenge themselves on the fiendish Cicero, the five allies embark on an outlandish - and dangerous - campaign to infiltrate his heavily guarded tropical fortress and halt his unspeakable flesh-peddling operation!"

If you ask me, Sweet Revenge's plot setup is a great one for a B movie such as this. Just think about it for a little. We not only have protagonists seeking revenge, but prepared to inflict great damage in order to accomplish it. And most of these vengeance-seeking protagonists are women; I don't know about you, but for some reason I find women in movies who are on a violent rampage to be strangely compelling. And while I'm speaking of women, the whole women-in-slavery subplot promises some serious sexual sleaze. So does the movie deliver A grade B movie sexiness and violence? Well, before I get to answering those questions, I'd like to take a look at the movie's characters and the actors who play them, starting with Landau and his Cicero character. A revenge movie really needs a good villain, one who who both acts and executes actions in an appropriately nasty way. Unfortunately, Sweet Revenge lacks such a villain. For starters, Cicero is mighty slow to start acting like a villain; after making a short and wordless appearance in the first scene of the movie, it takes almost half an hour before he shows up again. And his appearances from that point on are both sporadic and short; the part is only a notch or two above extended cameo status. Even worse is that Cicero, in all of his appearances, doesn't manage to make much of an impression. He makes very few actions, doesn't talk tough that much, and Martin Landau's performance of this character is quite lacking, to put it charitably. In fact, Landau seems greatly unhappy to be in this movie, understandably so, since he made this movie during an especially lean period when he wasn't being offered that many quality roles, which lasted until his Oscar-winning role in Ed Wood. With Landau clearly not having any fun, it's hard to get any enjoyment out of any of his scenes, and the movie greatly suffers for this.

As it turns out, most of the bad guy actions come from Cicero's henchmen, but none of them manage to make much of an impression, despite the novelty of one of them being played by a woman. With the bad guys in Sweet Revenge being so lacking, it's up to the protagonists to save the movie. But the good guys aren't much better than the villains. As the one male protagonist, Ted Shackelford plays the role, as written, as a somewhat dim-witted kind of hero. Sometimes this does result in some goofy charm, but more often than not the guy simply comes across as being dumb, dumb in a way that is not very endearing. The chief female protagonist, played by Nancy Allen, suffers from the fact we don't learn very much about her. We learn this reporter has a young daughter and a significant other in her life (it's not made clear if it's a boyfriend or a husband), but that's it. Even worse is that she chooses to sleep with Shackelford's character merely days after seeing her significant other gunned down before her eyes. It's no wonder that Allen seems to be phoning in her performance, something that the other chief actresses (including Michele Little and Gina Gershon) seem to be doing as well in their even more poorly written roles. I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be some potential viewers who won't care about the poorly written female roles in Sweet Revenge, and are more concerned with how the women in the movie are exploited. I hate to break it to them, but they will be sorely let down by the movie's feeble attempts in this area. There is only one scene of nudity, and it's little more than a blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of exposure. The aforementioned sex scene is the only one in the movie, and both participants don't show anything significant. Apart from that stuff, the only other indignity heaped upon the women is seeing them get shot up by the slavers with what appears to be heroin, but the women don't seem to suffer any lasting effects from this, addiction or anything else.

It's not only the actors and the four(!) credited screenwriters that fail to make any real impact in Sweet Revenge, but also Mark Sobel, the movie's director. In fairness, he does get a little support from various members of his crew. Surprisingly for a B movie like this, the musical score by Ernest Troost (Tremors) is accomplished by a full orchestra instead of a synthesizer, and it does boost the feel of the movie whenever it's played (though eventually it becomes repetitious.) Also, some of the Filipino locations are well chosen and add some production values, though the scenes shot back home in California's Bronson Canyon don't fit with the Filipino footage. And Sobel manages to wrap the movie in just seventy-nine minutes, including the credits, so the movie doesn't overstay its welcome. Actually, in some aspects the movie understays its welcome. When the protagonists unfold their plan to storm Cicero's compound during the climax, do you know how long this sequence lasts? By my estimate, not more than five minutes. I can tell you I was sorely disappointed by not getting more of an epic fight and villain dispatch. But come to think about it, that may have been for the best, because the action that is displayed throughout the movie is sorely underwhelming. Sobel pretty much films the action as people simply firing guns mixed in with people simply getting shot - there's no feeling of power or tension of any kind. The title might claim otherwise, but the revenge displayed in this movie is some of the dullest and least passionate I've seen in a movie for a long time. The best I can say about the end results of Sweet Revenge is that the 1980s Roger Corman just distributed the movie and not actually had any hand in its creation.

(Posted January 5, 2018)

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See also: A Bullet For Sandoval, Outlaw Force, Tuareg: The Desert Warrior