Sunday, November 1, 2015

War Bus II aka War Bus Commando aka Afghanistan: The Last War Bus (1989)

WHAT DO WE CALL THIS MOVIE?? The on-screen title for this 1989 Italian-produced action/war film is Afghanistan: The Last War Bus, although that was the title given to it upon it's U.S. video release. This is not a sequel to the 1986 film War Bus, although one of the international releases of this movie gave it the title War Bus 2. I think I will re-christen my 2005 Honda Accord "the War Bus" because I have said and typed those words together waaaay too many times this week. They have become part of my everyday conversation at this point.

Check out the VHS box art for this one. The star front and center, surrounded by fire and guns. I definitely would have found it hard to skip over this one in the video store.

From the top, this film was directed by Frank Valenti, whose directorial experience includes Delta Force Commando, Soldier of Fortune and Delta Force Commando II: Priority Red One. I have not seen Delta Force Commando but I have seen Delta Force Commando II, and if Delta Force Commando is anything like Delta Force Commando II then I need to seek out Delta Force Commando. Mr. Valenti has also directed episodes of the soap opera One Life to Live, and I'm left wondering if there were any commandos in those episodes.

Afghanistan: The Last War Bus stars Mark Gregory, and this actually marks the last film on his docket. IMDB does not list another film to his credit after this one. That's really a shame because he was carving out a niche for himself on the b-movie market with starring roles in 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Escape From the Bronx (sequel to the film listed prior), Thunder 1, Thunder II and Thunder III, and yes, Delta Force Commando. I can only imagine your disappointment in the fact that he did not make it to Delta Force Commando II. Here, Gregory plays "Johnny Hondo" (great name) and as the film opens, we find him scaling down a mountain wall to infiltrate a Russian compound that is holding an American hostage. He rescues the man, and they make it to safety, but not without killing many poorly-skilled soldiers. Johnny heads back to his ranch in Montana for all of two minutes before he is visited by Gen. Ken Ross, who is played by the great character actor John Vernon, whose greatest role was probably as Dean Wormer in Animal House. Although here his voice is dubbed over, which just turns this whole event up a notch, in my opinion. Anyway, Gen. Ross lets Johnny know that his father, also a general, is dying. Johnny goes to his father, who wants Johnny to undertake a mission that cannot be completed successfully, but he just has to do it in order to re-establish his father's military honor. Even though it doesn't make any sense, we all know that Johnny will agree to do it. The story is that Johnny's dad was in Iran when the Shah was overturned, and he stayed behind in order to hide some valuable documents. He hid them on a bus that was left in Afghanistan, and Johnny must attempt to locate the bus and retrieve the documents.

Johnny heads to Afghanistan where he is introduced to his radio guy, who likes to eat canned peaches like there's no tomorrow, and his ammunition guy. Then he meets Linda Cain, played by Savina Gersak. Ol' Johnny gives her the once over, but nothing happens. There is no sexual tension between these two whatsoever, which is surprising, because Linda is the kind of gal that gives out free "good luck" kisses to anyone that is on a secret mission, apparently. The team here is basically useless, as they stay back in their bunker waiting for Johnny's radio transmissions. Johnny is forced to parachute miles off course because of Russian jets patrolling the area and starts walking through the cold Afghan desert. We know it's cold because Johnny opts for the stealthy white turtleneck look. Along the way, he encounters Russian soldiers, and easily dispatches them. He appears to get shot at least once, but is so tough that he shrugs it off like nothing happened. He dispatches a tank and a helicopter all by himself. This guy is amazing. He meets a young boy named Kabir, who agrees to help him if Johnny promises to take him back to America. Johnny agrees, because he is so wrapped up in his mission that he is unaware of any immigration laws that are in place. Johnny gets caught by some Afghan bandits and is tortured and gets BLOOD ON HIS WHITE TURTLENECK! Somebody is going to pay for that, and sure enough....

Johnny finds two American soldiers held captive, one of which is Capt.Boyd, played by Mario Novelli. He knew Johnny's father and knows about the secret inside the bus. The other captive soldier is played by Bobby Rhodes, who makes a surprisingly solid turn here as the Sarge. Johnny persuades the two to help him repair the bus so they can drive it back to the Pakistani border and to freedom. This is when we get an A-Team-like sequence where they prep the bus with armor and spare parts that they stole from another bus in town. Then the movie really picks up when the Russians chase them through the desert. This leads to a scene where Johnny takes down yet another helicopter by himself. The guy is a dreamboat, I'm telling you. Does our hero make it back with the bus intact? I think I've already given away enough of the plot.

Let's get down to the critical aspect of this review, shall we? The plot was fine for this type of movie. It was simple enough to follow what was going on. The motivations of some characters were somewhat muddled, and these motivations were blown off with a shrug of the shoulders on the part of the writer, David Parker Jr. The dialogue was horrible, which was actually part of the film's charm. I know I'm not watching an Oscar-winning film here, so give me what I want, which is stupid lines of dialogue. The actors being overdubbed probably led to some of the seemingly poor acting, but see my previous statement. The action scenes were your pretty standard "everybody fall down when bullets are shot in your general direction". Stuff blows up, which is always good. I always enjoy it when a jeep just explodes when it goes off the road. The villains were uninteresting, as they were nameless and faceless soldiers who hadn't had a day of training in their short careers, although the Russian commander proved to be one tough son of a gun. He survived a grenade attack, a flaming gas can exploding, and I thought he was going to survive that helicopter explosion, but alas....

The film had a good start, a slow middle and an exciting ending. The quality of the film making had some charm, and I did have a goofy smile for most of it. On the b-movie scale, I give this film a 3/5. 

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