Running Time: 90 minutes
Year of release: 1985
Director: Umberto Lenzi
Production Studio: Euramerica International Film
“Call it bravery…Call it courage…Call it guts…Whatever you call it, they’ve got it!”
Well, I call it casual racism and not so casual misogyny. And they certainly have that in spades.
So here we have Thunder Squad (also known as Wild Team in the US) starring none other than Antonio Sabato and directed by Umberto Lenzi. From Italy. He’s Italian.
That’s right, genius, this is one of those Italian movies. A low budget action knock off that piggybacks off of Hollywood tropes without really understanding why they work in the first place. As a sub-genre of Good Bad Movies, Italian films are actually fairly new to me. I imagine them to be like those Turkish knockoffs of superhero movies that are incredibly cheap attempts at making some money at the expense of everyone’s attention span.
I’m certain, though, that I am oversimplifying here and that Italian film making has WAY more to offer than I realise, but given the fact that I surround myself with that whole Good Bad Movie genre, I guess I’m only ever going to expect the worst of things.
This…is…not (and I had to give that some thought there) the worst of anything. It’s cheap. It’s hammy. It’s baffling. And it’s…crap. But it certainly is still, at least occasionally, entertaining. Plus it stars Antonio Sabato, which automatically makes it better than it would’ve been otherwise.
It also has a hand-drawn cover of soldier nonsense that includes, on the reverse of the case, the stark warning:
‘The image on the sleeve may not necessarily correspond with the film.’
Whist I am grateful for them letting me down gently, the text itself is tiny and I didn’t notice it until the film was over, by which point the damage was done and my expectations of Sean Penn and Vega from Street Fighter 2 teaming up to kill people were long forgotten.
How dare you play with my emotions in such a neglectful way, 23rd Century Distributions!
OH MY GOD?!?!
How did this happen? How is it possible for a distribution company to be so confused as to what century it is? Well, according to my research, they initially began as 22nd Century but changed over to 23rd Century, presumably following a bitter and bloody civil war. They are also known for being about as dodgy a company as it’s possible to be, taking old VHS crap, sticking a fake BBFC cert on the front and shipping it out the back door. The 23rd Century logo is an indication of…well, shite, to be frank. Have they broken the mold with this particular release? Let’s find out…
This is how things go down in Thunder Squad.
The film begins in the lowest, blurriest definition possible as (possibly stock) carnival footage grabs your attention. The title of the film immediately comes on to screen with no time wasted. Funky Latin music gets the hips swaying, and by God, we have an opening. A good start.
It becomes evident as soon as someone speaks that some hideously dubbed dialogue is the order of the day, and I am on your side, Thunder Squad.
The story begins proper when a small boy is kidnapped. Oh no!
Cut to a boardroom meeting.
This, incidentally, was the beginning of this movie’s insistence at making everything as quiet as possible. Using music sparingly is usually a good thing for a movie to do but when you can hear your own DVD drive spinning, and so keep turning up the volume, you know something is amiss.
So a boy was kidnapped, who was the son of a president, who, in turn, kind of still likes having a son, and so wants someone to get him back. Gotcha. Some guy, who has something to do with a mining corporation (don’t gotcha) suggests they send some heroes to rescue him. Good idea!
The movie temporarily goes mental at this point and confuses itself with X-Men by introducing psychic, clairvoyant remote viewers (?!?) who, at the behest of the good guys, sit and stare at a red light and describe the kidnapped boys location.
As an example of a MacGuffin moment, it’s breathtakingly lazy, and therefore amazing, but now that that plot inconvenience is out of the way we can meet the main characters of the movie. And after a shitty training sequence, three very creepy looking European stereotypes are introduced as heroes.
We have…zee German guy…
…A moustached “Its’a me! Maaario!” Italian…
…and a guy that is identical to the main hero, making the movie even more confusing than it already is. They all take their assignment and go looking for their last essential team member. The four heroes drive to…
Wait, why are they going there? This isn’t explained. Urgh, whatever.
…a field full of rusted cars. Which is when we are introduced to ‘Woman’.
The first we see of Woman is a (no shit) extreme close up shot of her bent-over ass in jean shorts that absolutely do not suit this young actress.
But should we objectify her, you ask? Probably not, but the film does, and it is my job to see if this film succeeds at the things it attempts. Yes, she is a woman with an ass, and presumably boobies, but her introduction in this manner only serves to highlight the awkwardness and offensiveness of the scene that follows.
Our heroes arrive on scene to find Woman in a field of rusting cars, who is (no shit) applying make-up to herself. The four men all immediately lose control of themselves and, like pack animals discovering a deer with tits, creep forward. One guy, Franz or Fritz or whatever, the fucking German guy, says…
”Vat are you dooeeng here? Buying car?”
But the hero of the film, THE MAIN HERO, says…
”I saw her first, and don”t forget it.”
Please be clear when interpreting that particular line of dialogue, he does NOT say it in any kind of playful, elbow-nudging ‘am I right guys, high-five!’ kind of way. No, he spits it out with serious venom, which swings the entire scene away from bro-tastic and into rapey. Also, bare in mind that these men do not know who this woman is yet, and this is just their natural reaction to a woman in jean shorts applying make-up while standing in a field full of used cars.
As our heroes gather around their prey, she gives some serious back-talk. The German guy is quick to pick up on this and responds…
”Zoze ver fighting vurds!”
To his credit he refrains from swinging a clenched fist in broad circles and assaulting her.
Italian-man has had enough, and moves in…but a party popper goes off at his feet. He spouts some incomprehensible gibberish and we all learn that she is a demolition expert or something, and most certainly is not to…”be’a molestaro.”
But in a bizarre twist, she enters a shed pre-wired with explosives and, most likely because the world is occupied by men like this, blows herself up in it. However, because of her silly woman brain, she gets this wrong and survives, and the leader of Thunder Squad, impressed at her performance, and visibly erect, proclaims her to be ‘on the team’. High-fives!
Then the scene changes and an airplane screams in to my god-damn headphones, and fuck you movie and your audio mixing.
Things continue and everything ambles along slowly with extended pans and zooms and unnecessary establishing shots.
We then bare witness to a baffling scene outside an airport where some soldiers decide to beat the shit out of an extra, thereby allowing our heroes to be heroic. A scuffle occurs, eventually leading to the boss soldier demanding to know what is in the companions huge black trunk that they have just successfully brought through customs. Woman, sensing danger, explains that she and her husband (and three other men) are on their honeymoon.
This doesn’t dull the soldiers inquisitiveness, and he demands the trunk be opened. The lid is lifted and we see…Shock! Horror! Panties! Ooooh, she was right the whole time you silly willy! But to emphasise her apparent honesty, Woman utterly unnecessarily lifts the panties out of the trunk, and in full view of about fifty people starts stretching them seductively. This pleases soldier, who takes the rest of the soldiers away with him, presumably to stretch their own underwear.
One of the heroes, visibly relieved, moves to close the trunk and we see…Shock! Horror! A gun barrel sticking out of a sweater. Golly gosh, there were weapons in there the entire time! Someone slap my head and calm me down.
Our heroes teleport into the jungle and one of them utters this weirdness…
“Tomorrow at daybreak, we grow wings like angels!”
…and everyone absolutely loses their shit laughing. Why? You’re not supposed to laugh at the mentally unstable. Especially when they are carrying a loaded weapon.
Panpipes begin and people walk from shot to shot, and the film comes dangerously close to forgetting what it’s doing. But suddenly, we see soldiers shooting up a village. Hans or Fritzel or whatever his name is says they are “dooeeng ze mopping aap operazion” which basically means they are going around liberally shooting lots of children. Our heroes arrive just in time to prevent none of this from happening, but instead get to witness the same awesome scene the audience does. Namely, a woman carrying her baby, who throws the child at a soldier, but her BABY EXPLODES!! Awesome!
Yes, I know it probably wasn’t a baby and was just a bundle of explosives all along, but that isn’t confirmed either way, so guess what? Thunder Squad features an exploding baby!
We are shown the kidnapped child (remember, there is a plot) and his nanny being held in the enemy base. A soldier say the words “You filthy bitch, I want to shoot you,” and our heroes find some hang gliders. Excitement ensues as we have an entirely redundant hang gliding scene. However, Woman predictably gets hers stuck in a tree and requires the aid of the men to save her from her own stupidity. But before they do they make sure to laugh and mock her. Because why the fuck not? This films misogyny might be ham-fisted and clumsy but at least it’s genuine. She responds to Italian-man in particular by screeching the best line of the movie.
“Shove it jerkhole, go sit on one of your arrows.”
Which we can all agree is cogent and sassy.
So, long story short, they get to where they are going and do the thing they were supposed to do. They achieve this mostly through the medium of lackluster, appallingly choreographed action sequences.
Once I figure out YouTube, I will produce a video montage of soldiers in this film running forwards and being shot to death, because that is how EVERYONE dies in this movie.
Reused footage and poorly timed squibs are in abundance, and the whole thing resembles two eight-year-olds running around a playground with invisible machine guns going “Pow! Kaboom! You’re dead! I killed you!” It’s basically the final scene from Commando (minus the budget), except here there are FIVE invincible heroes instead of one. Take that, Schwarzenegger, you worthless hack!
They rescue the boy and blow everything up and the movie ends…wait…what the hell is going on here?! The film is only 52 minutes in? Oh for fuck sake.
As I wrestled with the almost overwhelming temptation to call it quits and put something else on, what’s left of the plot knocks on the window to be let back inside. The film cuts back to the boardroom and the business/government types, and for Christ sake this thing hasn’t ended yet. Instead, some shenanigans and double-crossing take place and the movie decides to pour a liberal measure of confusion all over itself.
A creepy looking assassin, more used to lurking behind bushes…
…murders the kidnapped boy’s father, because of reasons, and this somehow puts our heroes, who are still in the jungle, in grave danger, and also somehow, people now want the boy dead.
Meanwhile, the leader of the heroes mistakes a helicopter for a mosquito, because retarded heroes are people too, and action happens.
One of the heroes dies and Italian-man, hunched over his dead friend, shouts “Nothing doing!” at his corpse. Leader hero tries not to cry as I check how much of this is left.
“Its’a at least’a de twenty minutes!”
Then this guy…
…makes an appearance for the first and only time, as the twitching carcass of a plot tries to explain itself. But I no longer care.
However, I still can’t get the question out of my head as to why, if they wanted the boy dead, did they send an elite team of Good Guys to rescue him and secure his safety at all costs. Seems counterproductive to me. Whatever, I swear to God, I do not care.
They take a rest in the jungle and Hans snaps at the boy for “mezzing alownd viz da rahdio” and they all take turns being the worst child psychologists possible, with none of them properly nailing down why the boy might be slightly upset in the middle of a war zone. Oh wait! It’s because he heard about his father’s death on the radio! They all decide they are in trouble and Hans abandons the group and everything lumbers on. Bad guys turn up and more things occur.
By this stage, I have lost all faith in the film. I don’t care what happens and I want every character to be killed. Fatigue has set in and with each passing minute an hour goes by.
Stuff happens and the film eventually ends with the heroes blowing up a waterfall. I think there was a happy ending, but drool had formed at the edges of my mouth by that point, so it’s possible there wasn’t. Don’t care.
Thunder Squad was not the worst thing ever created by any measure, as it still had the bare bones of an entertaining bad movie under its stringy flesh. However, due to the movies lack of truly dynamic action scenes, the dullness of it all takes center stage, and flies that paltry flag until the credits rolled. That lack of a pulse was certainly due to the director. If you have a shit story, as did Umberto Lenzi, you should compensate with decent action. But nope, the movie fails here just as badly as it did with portraying women (sorry, ‘Woman’).
For example, any explosions that result in someone’s death occur at least 30 feet away from the person they are intended to kill. Despite this, the underpaid extras throw their arms up and fling themselves skywards on springboards, which is nothing new in movies of course, but lacking competent cinematography, or at least some slo-mo, each of these displays comes across as rushed, cheap, and therefore, forgettable. Like so much else in this movie, the action sequences seem like an empty chore. And for an action film this is a problem.
Action movies do not require complex layered plots or interesting character development. They simply require a good vs bad premise, colourful heroes and villains, and action scenes we can all lose ourselves in. Incredible explosions and frenetic gun battles will never be enough to hold the weight of a movie alone (we still need why’s, who’s, where’s etc) but an action movie that fails to deliver on its promise of action is a movie without heart and soul. I’m certainly not saying Thunder Squad is entirely devoid of action, but its amateurish approach denies its audience anything to get behind.
Thunder Squad is dull when it’s not supposed to be, and only entertaining when it’s being unintentionally daft. The dialogue, the dubbing, the one-take-only failures, ‘Woman’ – these are the only elements that make the movie just about watchable. It’s certainly unusual enough to prove a spectacle, much like many other foreign films with that same bizarre charm, but its nonsense is all it has.
Case in point, Thunder Squad, an Italian production, manages to be racist towards itself, with lines being uttered by Italian-man such as “Its’a not’a velly niiiice!” Weird, but fun to experience, to be fair.
And yeah, I sort of enjoyed the movie. Or really that should be, to a point – an actual point in the film where it felt like the beginning, middle, and end had happened, but things still kept going. At that point, it began to lose me. I wanted it to end, and even though some of the funniest lines of dialogue occurred after this point, I had had enough. Bad movie! Try again with structure!
But up until the movie pissed itself and died, it was awful in a perfectly respectable way.
So would I recommend it? I suppose. But if there exists a 20 minute ‘best of’ edit, do your sanity a favour and watch that instead.
2 out of 5