Thursday, April 14, 2022

Warbus (Italy, 1985)

Forewarned: A meandering, all-over "review" with spoilers and attitude.
A war film, and despite being an Italian-Philippine production, its tale is told, as normal, from an American perspective. And also, as is normal, despite all the possible aggressions/invasions/wars that the US of A supported and/or participated in between the Second War to End All Wars and 1985 (i.e., 1945, China; 1945-53, Philippines; 1946-49 Greece; 1950, Puerto Rico; 1950-53, Korea; 1953, Iran; 1954, Guatemala; 1956, Egypt; 1958, Lebanon; 1961, Cuba; 1961, Congo; 1961, Laos; 1963-73, Vietnam; 1964, Brazil; 1965, Indonesia; 1965-66, Dominican Republic; 1967, Greece; 1970, Cambodia; 1973, Chile; 1975, Cambodia; 1976, Argentina; 1976, Angola; 1980 till today, Afghanistan; 1980-88, Iraq; 1981-85 Nicaragua; 1981-92 El Salvador; 1983, Grenada...*), Warbus is set in the old faithful location, Vietnam.
* Interesting to consider in view of how many of those wars, supported by the Republican Party (and, admittedly, the Democratic one, too), were fought to end or prevent a "one-party system", many a contemporary Republican would love to establish a one-party system in the US today.
Okay, let us start off by saying that this film would have been indefinitely better had it unleashed some machete maidens (trailer), but it hardly even shows any real skin despite a sex scene or two. 
Danish trailer to

And so little nudity despite the fact that Warbus was written and directed by "Ted Kaplan", otherwise known as the not-too-obscure, lower-echelon, Italo-sleazester Ferdinando Baldi (19 May 1917 – 12 Sept 2007), the scriptwriter of Velluto Nero aka Black Emmanuelle White Emmanuelle (1976 / trailer) and director of such [truly] notable films as the odd Ringo Starr western Blindman (1971 / trailer), 3-D cult western Comin' at Ya! (1981 / trailer), and the violently sleazy George Eastman-penned cult flick, Terror Express (1979 / Italo trailer).*
* To give credit where credit is due, Baldi started his career a bit more upper-crust and even directed a rent-paying Orson Welles in the films David and Goliath (1960 / trailer) and The Tartars (1961 / trailer) before sliding, by way of numerous at-times really good spaghetti westerns, into trash and sleaze and Asia-set war films. 
But for all its lack of unclothed flesh, Warbus does have two heterosexual pairings, one of which is luckily not shown in too much detail as it is the kind that would probably meet the approval of Florida's Matt Gaetz in that the young lass looks to be a few years shy of legal. (But then, as some people might say, all is fair in love and war... and popular viewpoints regarding what is acceptable behavior were different in the days of the "crime without a victim". But the obvious age difference is grotty...)
But to get to the film that would have been better with some machete maidens. Or, for that matter, some Philippine monsters with funky teeth and guck glued to their faces. But no, instead we have two male models and an uncredited Italian cult character actor, the great Benito Stefanelli* (2 Sept 1928 – 19 Dec 1999). The last masculine specimen plays a gruff, manly, and enigmatic Australian (as in "mercenary") named Debrard — spoiler: he makes it. 
* Stefanelli, if you didn't know, is found in almost every Sergio Leonie film, including A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and the rest of Leonie's masterful westerns, and also graces movies as diverse as Castle of Blood (1964), Stuart Gordon's Pit and the Pendulum (1991 / trailer) Ruggero Deodato's The Barbarians (1987 / trailer, see: Richard Lynch Part II) & Phantom of Death (1988 / trailer), So Sweet So Dead (1972, see: Farley Granger) Umberto Lenzi's Ironmaster (1983 / trailer), and the fun western  Amigos (1968 / trailer). As one was once apt to say, "He's the shit, man!" (And sort of sexy in a gruff, dirty, DILF bear sort of way.) 
If you like explosions, you'll probably find Warbus just your thing, because it features tons of explosions. Indeed, whatever the budget was for the movie, most of it probably went for the pyrotechnics, as every hut gets blown sky high (as does a shoreline, numerous gun posts, cars and trucks, and diverse other things).* Not all that much blood, though, considering how many people get shot or blown away, but since when does anyone expect reality be echoed in movies? Give us the pyrotechnics! 
* "[Warbus] was cheaply made and we were paid cheaply for it. But it was a start." Gwendolyn Hung, 2012, @ Blood Brothers. 
As so often with Vietnam War films, Warbus opens with a credit sequence that is so stars & stripes & "Our Boys" that it comes across to the non-initiated as ironic, but despite the film being a Italo-Filipino production, it is doubtful that there is any irony intended behind the opening credit sequence. No, this is a serious, Americans-be-badass movie, which means that yes, Virginia, it's sort of fun to watch (once, maybe twice). The bronze statue memorial shown in the credit sequence, of three young soldiers, two white & one Afro-American, echoes the racial combination of the later trio of manly soldiers in the film, so you may or may not assume that Warbus tells their story.
Not that there is that much of a story, as the plot is minimal at best. Basically, it is video-game level: journey from Point A to Point B, avoid or kill all Vietcong along the way. But a plot like that naturally leaves a lot of room for explosions and shoot-ups, the real stars of the whole project, so once the credit sequence ends, the gunshots and grenades start falling. And while the explosions are real, the film, like so many war flicks, has one major flaw in its reality that is always hard to overlook: for all their firepower and numbers, not one of the Vietcong could hit the side of a barn if they were standing three yards away from it, whereas the imperialist good guys can hit anything they aim at. (Clearly, we should not have lost the war.) But numbers matter, and there are many more Vietcong than good guys, so the film does have its noble sacrifices.
Warbus proper opens with a missionary compound somewhere in Buttfuck, Vietnam, under attack by the Vietcong, and the escape of an amazingly tiny group of sundry people: a bordello mother and her daughter, Milo, (Zeny R. Williams & Josephine Sylva, but who know who plays whom); Anne (Gwendolyn Hung*) and Ronnie (Don Gordon Bell of Cleopatra Wong [1978 / trailer], Firecracker [1981 / trailer, see Dick Miller Part VI] and Raw Force [1982 / trailer], currently looking for backers for the movie  Chicken Zombies [2020 / "trailer"]), a missionary couple with a dysfunctional marriage; the previously mentioned enigmatic Aussie Debrard; and a good-guy Vietnamese, Major Kutran (played by the former Filipino mainstay character actor Ernie Zarate [d. 2017] of Caged Fury [1983/ trailer]). Grenades fly, guns shoot, everyone dies but our motley team of seven (counting the bus driver), who ride off on a big yellow school bus only to get intercepted by a trio of American soldiers, the hot-headed Gus (Romano Kristoff, born Francisco Xavier Garcia Peña & currently living in Phuket, Thailand, of Firecracker [1981 / trailer, see Dick Miller Part VI], Horror Safari [1982 / trailer] and Ninja Warriors [1985 / trailer]), the Afro-American Ben (played by the Afro-Swiss Urs Althaus, mildly famous as the first Black model to ever grace the cover of GQ [cover above] back in the day when no cis-gender read the rag, also found in Lucio Fulci's The New York Ripper [1982 / trailer], Warrior of the Lost World [1983 / trailer], and Name of  the Rose [1986 / trailer]), and handsome blonde Sgt. Dixie (New Jersey-born fashion model & D-actor Daniel Stephen, photo below, of Warriors of the Lost World [1984 / trailer] and 2020 – Texas Gladiators (1983/ trailer]).
And so it comes that the now-expanded team makes its way across enemy land to get to a location where they can get picked up and brought to safety. Of course, there is some friction along the way, but before long they all start working together to survive... and work together is more or less what they do to the end, even during the big final at the deserted camp where they have to wait until morning for the helicopters. Big show down time, noble sacrifices and all. 
* One might wonder why the Long Beach-born Elizabeth Gwendolyn Cook would give herself a stage name that makes her sound like the kind of transgender porn film star that would be fun to meet — but the fact is that she was supposedly married to a "Billy Pui Hung" at the time. Elizabeth Gwendolyn Hung still lives in the Philippines, but who knows if she still has long hair.
Speaking of the Philippines: we once knew a guy who blew Europe for the island nation. The 70-plus-year-old husband of the sister of the guy whose nephews were the sons of the secretary where our mother's daughter-in-law worked. One day the good soul cleaned out the family bank account and dumped his twenty-odd-year younger wife and two young-adult kids for a string of 18-year-old-or-younger girlfriends somewhere tropically pleasant. After he dumped his last 18-year-old receptacle, who swore she would make him regret it, he went to visit some other equally old, nubile-minded expat who was together with his latest ex's best friend and, while there, never finished the worst-tasting cup of coffee he had ever had, made by his ex's best friend. (You don't think old white men with barely legal receptacles make the coffee, do you?) It was his last cup of coffee, actually. He gave his brother a delirious midnight long-distance phone call that evening, screaming "She did it!" She did it!" in between babbling about coffee and that day's visit to his friend, until the line went dead. The next day his 18-year-old ex just happened to stop by and found: a very dead old man in filthy fruit-of-the-looms lying in the middle of a room smeared everywhere with shit and projectile puke. She called the police and then the one son in Europe that she had met, screaming at him over long-distance telephone that he should tell the police that the money in the safe and the car belong to her, but he didn't. Long story short: she got neither the car nor the money, and the autopsy report stated that the old guy had died of a heart attack. (Too much Viagra, probably.) 
When it comes to explosions and bullets, as previously mentioned Warbus has both in excess, to the detriment of more than one attractive natural formation. Character development is virtually nil or sudden — like when the Ronnie goes from duplicitous to a team player — but we do at least learn the backgrounds of the various characters along the way, which makes them a bit less one-dimensional. And their interaction also grows along the way, from fear and contempt to mutual responsibility and respect and even willy-wetting "romance". But War and Peace the film is not, it is Warbus, so stuff like that is quick and secondary to the point of the movie, explosions and bullets.
Of course, as to be expected the movie does have its action-scene gaffs, the scenes that are mean to be thrilling or even tragic but end up laughable. Our favorite is, of course, the old chestnut so common to this kind of films: when an unarmed Anne faces death (or maybe forced impregnation — after all, she's white and the bad guys aren't), Debrard bursts into the room from behind and machine guns down the two Vietcong without one bullet hitting Anne, who is standing directly in front of the bad guys. (Talk about amazing aim.) The later noble sacrifice of Major Kutran is also pretty funny, not to mention totally expected. And whatever you do, don't leave the star & stripes behind.
Face it, though: few people who don't like war flicks are going to bother watching a cheesy war flick like this. Indeed, they probably shouldn't. But if you're a fan of the genre, Warbus is more than watchable and has enough action to entertain, especially if you like explosions more than bare boobs. And the movie's lead blonde, Sgt. Dixie, will definitely appeal to your latent homosexuality because, well, he's a fit slab of good-looking young manhood with a flat stomach and arms that'll make your saliva glands work overtime who even looks huggable when wearing glasses. (Really, why no full frontal nude scene? No big guns anywhere?)
As obscure as the movie might be, Warbus seems to have done well enough that a few years later, in 1989, and even more obscure Afghan-set war movie, Afganistan – The Last War Bus / L'ultimo bus di guerra, got released. Directed by an even more obscure Italian director, Pier Luigi Ciriaci (4 Jul 1946 – 6 Mar 2009) as "Frank Valenti", the flick tried to hitch itself to the first film's tail by taking the a.k.a. title of Warbus II (Spanish trailer). Made the year after Rambo took on the Russians in Afghanistan (trailer), Warbus II was the final feature film of its "star", the hunky Italian non-thespian Mark Gregory (nee Marco Di Gregorio), an "androgynous heavy metal teenager with a love for bodybuilding [who] was ripped straight from his shoe repair shop and thrown directly onto the silver screen" [Worse Movies], whom some might remember from his illustrious acting turns in such fun stuff as Enzo G. Castellari's 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982 / trailer) and the sequel Escape from the Bronx (1983 / trailer), Blue Paradise a.k.a. Adam and Eve (1983 / trailer), as well as Thunder (1983 / trailer) and its sequels.
One thing that both Warbus and Warbus II do have in common is something they share with hundreds if not thousands of other movies out there: the great Italian master of poster illustration, Enzo Sciotti (24 Sept 1944 – 11 Apr 2021), did the original posters.
German Trailer to

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