REVIEW: Stickfighter (1994)

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An ex-DEA agent seeks to avenge his partner’s murder in this throwback to the Cannon Films genre filled with exciting martial arts action courtesy of its lead star.

During a major bust, DEA agents John Lambert and Alex Cartegenas have nearly taken down everyone. However, in the midst of the takedown, John is forced dealer Arvo Riley and in retaliation, Arvo’s brother Dirk guns down Alex, who was protecting John. When John is berated by his superior Lt. Davis about what had transpired, Lambert decides to quit working for the DEA and even reminds Davis that he will not need a gun.

John is determined to avenge Alex’s death and take on the cartel once and for all. With help from Alex’s sister Luella, Lambert begins to investigate and finds himself and Luella targeted by the cartel. While Lambert consistently fights the cartel with the use of his martial arts skills as he is a former stickfighting champion, the two get help from a local bar owner while two local police officers seem to think Lambert may in fact be part of the cartel as well. Now on the run from both local police and the cartel, Lambert must do what it takes to stop the cartel and clear his name once and for all.

This action thriller is meant as a stepping stone for martial artist Kely McClung, who pulls off double duty in the film as both the lead star and martial arts choreographer. McClung got his start playing two roles including the eyepatch-wearing Super Ninja in American Ninja 4: The Annihilation and it was clear that Menahem Golan was impressed with McClung. Under Golan as producer, his lead role debut has the quality of an 80’s Cannon action film and is actually quite fun.

McClung here may have novice acting skills but actually pulls it off well in a lead role, especially when it comes to action. A truly experienced martial artist, McClung gets to bring his skills in kung fu and well, as the title indicates, stickfighting in his arsenal. The lead heavy in the film is played by the hulking Karl Johnson, who plays Dirk, who seeks revenge as he looks to go after John for the death of his brother, much like John wants to go after Dirk for the death of his partner and best friend. Johnson makes for a good villain, nearly matching McClung hit for hit even when they are using weapons against each other.

Alex Meneses, using the alias Paula Vargas, does quite well with the eye candy factor as Luella, Alex’s sister and love interest. She doesn’t worry about being the damsel in distress but proves to be a reliable ally to John when needed. Robert Pralgo and Darcy DeMoss are okay as LAPD officers Reves and Madsen, who have doubts about Lambert. Reves is more of an annoyance than an asset with Madsen kind of working both sides to see if Lambert is as reliable as it seems.

Stickfighter is an underrated American B-action film that is a stepping stone for Kely McClung, who would go on to have a prolific career as an actor, fight choreographer, and filmmaker in the indie film circuit. In this film, he proves himself as both a lead actor and fight choreographer with his proficient use of martial arts.

WFG RATING: B

Pan Am Pictures presents an International Dynamic Pictures production. Director: B.J. Davis. Producer: Menahem Golan. Writers: Kely McClung (story and screenplay) and Rob Neighbors (screenplay). Cinematography: Mike Shea. Editing: Michael de Avila and Shannong Goldman.

Cast: Kely McClung, Alex Meneses, Karl Johnson, Jeff Weston, Scott Sullivan, Robert Pralgo, Darcy DeMoss, Roger Callard, Tony Davlerno.

This film is currently out of print but was available on home video.

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