The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission

When watching a made for TV movie, there's a certain amount of 'cheese factor' to be expected.  With a lower budget, smaller cast, and in general smaller scale, it obviously lowers your standards some as a viewer.  That was the case when I bought The Dirty Dozen Double Feature, two sequels starring Telly Savalas building off the premise of the original 1967 movie starring Lee Marvin.  Take 12 prisoners sentenced to death or long prison sentences, train them and send them on a suicide mission.  Simple enough, right?

I reviewed the first Savalas sequel, The Deadly Mission, a few weeks ago and gave it 2.5 stars based mostly on its entertainment value.  A bad movie, sure, but an entertaining one if nothing else.  The same applies for the other sequel, 1988's The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission, but basically take down everything a notch or two.  Once again filming in Croatia and Yugoslavia -- I'm guessing it was cheaper to film there -- 'Fatal' is that nice blend of too many explosions, too little story, and a cast of has beens, never will be "stars."

It's 1943 and Allied intelligence has received reports that Adolf Hitler has a plan to put the Fourth Reich into play so Germany and the Nazi Party can live on for years regardless of how WWII ends.  Major Warden (Ernest Borgnine) again orders Major Wright (Savalas) to assemble a commando squad of prisoners sentenced to death or long prison terms, train them, and then parachute them into enemy territory.  Hitler's plan requires 12 men to travel by train east to Yugoslavia, but Wright and his squad must intercept the train and kill everyone on board.  As if their mission wasn't suicidal enough, a Waffen SS general (Matthew Burton) knows Wright's objective and is planning to stop him thanks to a traitor in the newest Dirty Dozen.

Where the other three DD sequels at least attempt to have some fun with the convict commandos, 'Fatal' doesn't give much of an effort.  This group includes soap opera star Hunt Block, Alex Cord, Erik Estrada, Ernie Hudson, John Matuszak (who played Sloth in The Goonies), boxer Ray Mancini, and Richard Yniguez. Instead of writing actual characters, 'Fatal' just borrows from the original.  Cord is Charles Bronson, Hudson is Jim Brown, Matuszak is Clint Walker, and Estrada is a mix between Savalas' Maggot and John Cassavetes.  Even worse than the other sequels, the rest of the dozen aren't even identified by name, not to mention never actually seeing their faces.  They are the definition of a 'Redshirt,' a character meant to be picked off but here it barely registers because we don't actually know who they are.  Of the actual name actors, Cord leaves the best impression as Dravko, an Eastern European immigrant turned soldier.  Also look for Taxi's Jeff Conaway as Sgt. Holt, replacing Vince Edwards in the loyal sergeant role.

Now all stupid allusions about having character development aside, the action isn't half bad here.  Granted it's that ridiculous TV movie action, but hey look! Gunfights and explosions!  The action scenes are basically Wright and the Dozen standing in the open gunning down German soldiers in every direction.  The dust settles, all the Germans are dead, the Dozen have a wound or two, and the story moves along.  There's a ridiculously high body count -- see all of them HERE, SPOILERS obviously -- and eventually the Dozen do begin to get picked off by some German soldiers who can actually shoot.  Making this all better though? Some of the nameless Dozen from 'Deadly Mission' return here and still don't get any lines!  Too perfect.

By now both late in their careers, Savalas and Borgnine are clearly slumming for work.  It's the type of movie though where if they weren't in it, there would be NO reason to see this.  They're both having some fun even if Savalas looks like he's wearing a helmet three sizes too small, and Borgnine spends most of his time looking at a map screaming about saving his men.  Still, they're Hollywood legends so they get a pass.  And if nothing else in the originality department, 'Fatal' has a female member of the Dozen, not a convict just a tag-along.  The Fall Guy star Heather Thomas plays a language expert needed for the success of the mission (I guess?) and shows she clearly didn't get the job because of her acting ability. She gives what could be the most wooden performance I've seen in awhile.

Because there's little else to say about this made for TV sequel, I'm including some links to three action scenes so anyone curious can see what they're getting into.  There's The Living Dead -- actually a cool scene even if it's completely ridiculous -- then Surprise Attack on a moving train, and Off the Rails, a self-explanatory scene if there ever was.  Average in every way and below average in a couple more ways, this is a pretty awful movie, but I can't completely rip it to pieces.  It's mindless enough to be entertaining so that counts for something.

The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission (1988): **/****   

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