Color, 1975, 90m.
Directed by Joe Tornatore
Starring Mike Lane, Richard X. Slattery, Rockne Tarkington, Glenn Wilder, Anthony Caruso, Timmy Brown
Code Red (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Zebra Force

"Politically incorrect" is the immediate phrase that springs to mind while watching this trashy drive-in action offering, Zebra Forceanother urban thriller about a bunch of mercenaries working above the law. However, this time out we have the dubious gag of our antiheroes -- a bunch of "white as ivory snow" Vietnam vets -- disguising themselves as black men when they pull of nocturnal heists against the local mob. That mainly entails slipping on unconvincing disguises under the direction of their lieutenant (stunt man Wilder), who spent 18 months in the hospital after a bloody land mine mishap and now has a scarred face and a monotone voice box to communicate.

Concocted in their warehouse headquarters, their plan is seemingly clever since it "does the cops a favor" by directing attention against the community's black drug dealers, who are also pitted against the mob (headed by Caruso) in a violent cycle of retribution. Zebra ForceEdging up to a million dollars in their total haul, they naturally decide to embark on one big final heist to net a million and a half for each man -- which of course turns out to be the catalyst to an all-out city war.

Graced with the slightest wisp of a plot and a pretty great twist in the tale near the end, this is basically an excuse for a string of action scenes right from the opening moments. Gunshots, fist fights, and a memorable firearm-propelled back flip out a window into a swimming pool are just a few of the thrills on display here, with Lane and Slattery getting some fun tough guy dialogue as a couple of mobsters and Zebra ForceTarkington getting some juicy lines as dealing honcho Lovington. Former football pro Timmy Brown even turns up in a small role, too. Perhaps the most surprising name attached to this film is composer Charles Bernstein (using his occasional '70s pseudonym of "Charles Alden"), in between his work on White Lightning and Gator. Of course, he would later go on to horror immortality with A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Entity, Cujo, and April Fool's Day. His work is arguably the strongest thing about the film, a funktastic batch of crime cues that should be out as an official soundtrack.

A VHS regular from Media in the '80s and hard to see ever since (occasionally popping up on budget international DVDs under the title of its sequel!), this was the directorial debut for actor Joe Tornatore, who had graced such films as The Sting and went on to direct a sort of sequel/remake, Code Name: Zebra, in 1987. Zebra ForceHe's on hand here for an interesting 10-minute interview, talking about creating dark hair for the Italian mobsters with carbon paper, how the film was meant to alleviate some of the racist "crap" that was so prevalent at the time, and how the insane stunts were pulled off (with one sprained ankle purportedly being the only injury on any of his films). He also talks about going to India to scope out a sequel to Ben-Hur, believe it or not. Also on the disc are the original trailer (which features tons of gunfire and a handful of fun alternate takes), an abbreviated and nonsensical version of the film's ending from the first "test theatrical release," and bonus trailers for Equalizer 2000, Wheels of Fire, the '76 Maniac, Inn of the Damned, and of course, Family Honor. The transfer is a drastic improvement over the brutally pan-and-scanned '80s master we've had to suffer through for years, finally restoring the original scope dimensions and featuring a much brighter, cleaner appearance throughout. The gaudy color scheme also looks great with plenty of punchy colors and horrifying interior design. A must for '70s trash film action junkies.

Reviewed on January 29, 2015.