Starring Tim Thomerson, Timothy Van Patten, Art LaFleur, Biff Manard, William Paulson
Directed by Danny Bilson
Expectations: Pretty high. This is cheesy 80s Sci-Fi. I’m gonna like it.
Going into Zone Troopers I knew three things. I knew it was set during World War II, that there were crash-landed aliens, and that I was gonna love it. My information was correct and the film did not disappoint. Over the opening credits we are treated to Glenn Miller’s In the Mood, one of the most iconic and well-known swing songs of the era. It seems like an easy and somewhat lazy choice here, but as we’re going for instant time recognition, there’s nothing like In the Mood to sell the 40s. As the song ends the screen irises out, revealing a full-color science fiction magazine called Fantastic Fiction in the hands of Joey (Timothy Van Patten), a young Army private with wonder in his eyes. Another soldier, Mittens (Art LaFleur), wants to read Joey’s other book, “the one with the blonde dames from space,” but Joey traded it for a pack of Luckies. Yep, this is World War II alright.
The Sarge is introduced next, played by Tim Thomerson of Trancers fame, and it is in him that the film finds its macho hero. The Sarge has a reputation among the G.I.’s that he’s immortal. Some say he’s been killed eleven times but always sprung right back up. They call him Iron Sarge behind his back, but he doesn’t much like the name, stating that what saved him was luck and a steel helmet.
So the company of men are trying to use their radio but all they get is a load of static. All their compasses are spinning around as well. They’re lost, and holding out behind enemy lines as long as they can. All of a sudden a squad of Nazis comes over the ridge and launches a surprise assault on their encampment. What follows is a fairly standard, but fun, war gunfight sequence that instantly reminds me of Italian WWII exploitation movies such as the original Inglorious Bastards. The film was shot on location in Italy which adds to this and gives a very authentic look to the exteriors.
Eventually the Americans find a huge crash-landed spaceship, the source of their radio and compass interference. When I say huge, I mean HUGE! It’s much bigger than you expect it to be, made all the more amazing by the fact that it’s a physical set piece built into the torn-up earth. Seeing the soldiers walk up to it and be completely dwarfed adds more than any camera trick or CGI could, and I can only sit back with a huge grin on my face. Seeing how awesome the ship was, I expected the rest of the film to center around it, as it obviously cost a lot to put it together. Surprisingly, this isn’t the case and it is only in the film until its purpose is served.
Tonally the film is a mixed bag. It’s mostly played as an action picture, but it’s never very serious, so there’s also heavy doses of comedy, science fiction and the camp you’ve come to expect from Empire International. The sci-fi in the film is very close to 1950s era films or pulp magazine style “Men from Mars” stories. I prefer a more cerebral science fiction story these days, but I grew up loving this kind of stuff so I had no problem jumping back and reveling in it. For what it is, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than this. For fans of the Trancers series, Zone Troopers features a bunch of the same talent. Three of the main cast members carry over (Thomerson, LaFleur, & Manard), as does the writing team of Danny Bilson & Paul De Meo. Bilson gets his first stab at directing with this one and does a fine job. It ain’t gonna win awards, but Bilson’s sure camera tells a good story and never annoys.
As a kid this was one of those VHS covers I would ogle and want to take home so bad, but I never got the chance to. I can safely say now that if I had seen it then, this easily would have been one of my favorite movies growing up. It still holds up today for genre fans, but don’t expect this to win over any non-believers. If nothing else the film offers you one thing you won’t get in most, if not all, other World War II pictures.
Art LaFleur, AKA Corporal Mittens, punches Hitler in the face. You can’t argue with the greatness of that.
Next week for Full Moon Tuesday, I jump forward in time to reconnect with Jack Deth and bring you a review of Trancers 4: Jack of Swords! Be there or be a squid!