Kino brings us a double feature of two Michael Dudikoff Vietnam flicks. The first, 1988's Platoon Leader is one of the most unashamedly titled movies I've ever seen, obviously meant to capitalize on the Oscar-winning Platoon which already had its fair share of knockoffs after its release, and perhaps mislead a few renters at the video store into picking the wrong one. Like the other copycat movies this takes place during the Vietnam war in the late 1960s. Dudikoff is Lieutenant Jeff Knight, who arrives to, well, lead a platoon of soldiers after their previous leader couldn't hack it- apparently going nuts and spending most of his time in his bunker before being sent home. The soldiers don't expect much more from Knight and he feels he needs to prove himself to them. He doesn't get off to a great start however as he's almost killed by a land mine and the soldiers figure him gone, but are then surprised when he returns after a few days in the hospital. The other soldiers are your textbook Vietnam-movie characters, some of them a bit likeable but turn out to be the first to be killed in action. This was released by Cannon Films and directed by Aaron Norris, Chuck's brother. As a B-movie it's OK, but overall relatively insignificant compared to the bigger film it cribbed its title from.
Soldier Boyz from 1995 takes place in the present day, at least that of when the movie was actually released. This was an even more minor release as I honestly hadn't heard of it until this disc came out, but it's actually the better of the two. It borrows a bit from Band of the Hand as it puts some troubled youth into a rather extraordinary situation. Here Dudikoff plays Major Toliver, who has left the military life and now makes his living at the California Youth Authority where bad kids are incarcerated. He's called back to duty when a plane of charitable Americans carrying needed food and supplies for poor Vietnamese crashes, killing all but Gabrielle (Nicole Hansen) who happens to have a rich father (Hank Brandt). A gang of bad guys, led by popular screen villain Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, takes Gabrielle hostage hoping to use her to bargain for demands from the US government- but her father enlists Toliver to go rescue her. He agrees but only if he can also bring a few of his charges along, who will get a second chance at freedom and living clean lives if they help him succeed. (The title makes sense from all of this until we find out one of the "Boyz" is actually a girl.) They fly off to Vietnam where Toliver dresses them in camouflage gear and they all make a run to rescue Gabrielle, but of course the bad guys get word of their arrival and try to stop them. Though the war has been long over, the gang here still finds plenty of traps set for them and would-be killers hiding in the trees. One of the hooks here is that many of the kids have racial prejudices, but are forced to see the good in others no matter their race in order to survive. Overall this movie is pretty dumb, but certainly good for a laugh. Although it hails from the 90s it has the qualities of a good-bad 1980s video store rental or late night cable find- and it was in fact available only on VHS and no higher quality format until now. As an interesting side note, I caught Darren Aronofsky's name in the credits as a second-unit director, and while I don't even remember this hitting theaters there was a tie-in CD-ROM game.
Both movies get good presentations here, far better than they likely ever had before. Both are in true 1.85 aspect ratios from clean sources- parts of Soldier Boyz look a bit out of focus but that's likely how it was shot. The Blu-Ray disc shows no compression artifacts, even in very dark scenes.
Platoon Leader's sound mix is surprisingly good- originally in Ultra-Stereo, the cheaper alternative to Dolby, it's presented here in 2-channel DTS Master Audio and with proper decoding would almost be mistaken for a 5.1 mix (which in 1988 was limited only to the really big movies that got released on 70mm film with magnetic sound.) Most notable is the frequent sound of helicopters flying from front to rear, along with ambient jungle sounds. The only fault here is the dialogue doesn't stay centered, instead bleeding a bit into the front left and right channels as a few titles have tended to do. Dialogue is also a bit hard to understand at times, and no subtitles or captions are included.
Soldier Boyz with its matrixed Dolby Stereo mix gets the same treatment. Dialogue here fares much better, staying properly centered, and sound effects are strong though not nearly as surround-heavy as the first movie.Extras:
In short this release can be summarized as bad VHS rental night in hi-def, giving both movies a quality presentation lacking in that format and likely in many of the theaters they were shown in. Each movie would be a bit of a hard sell on its own, but presented together at the usual price of one movie makes for a fun evening and pushes this release into Recommended territory for those who appreciate this genre warts and all.