What I thought was going to be a silly direct-to-video action movie turned out to be a silly direct-to-video action movie with weird black magic/fantasy elements that made this into something much more memorable than it deserves to be. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to see Donald Pleasence mutate into a warthog corpse or watch a character get killed and then inexplicably have a snake come out of their eye for no particular reason, this is the movie for you. Making things even stranger is the fact that this is a movie set in Miami starring an Olympic gymnast attempting to become an action hero and it is directed by Sergio Martino, an Italian director known for being one of the masters of the giallo, When you stir all of these elements together, you get a very strange flick that is totally misrepresented on the box cover and is a wonderful mess that ends up being pretty fun despite its shortcomings.
Mitch Gaylord stars as Scott, a rickshaw driver who gives a hot woman in a tight red dress a ride to her yacht. Upon arrival, she seduces him but Scott is shocked to discover that the pervert son of a TV evangelist is secretly videotaping the make-out session from the closet. Scott beats the guy up and takes the tape because he doesn't want the pervert jerking off to him. He gets home to discover he took the wrong tape and after his roommate burns the tape by throwing it in the oven (?), Scott returns to the boat to retrieve the correct cassette only to discover the pervert's dead body lying on the floor. Scott is now the prime suspect and he is on the lam with a hired thug (Daniel Greene) and the police in hot pursuit. Eventually, he hooks up with red dress woman who turns out to be a stripper/prostitute named Joanna (Victoria Prouty) and they work together to unravel the mystery that involves a Chinese witch who is trying to regain her power, an evangelist (Pleasence) who is actually the devil in disguise, and a statue that seems to be the key to everything.
This is one of those hidden gems that gets crazier as the running time goes on. As Martino is at the helm, there are things that make the film play like a giallo or an Italian splatter flick as well as some traditional fight and chase scenes that are typical of low budget action movies of the time. This mish-mash is at times frustrating as it doesn't make much sense but at the same time is never boring as you never knew what the next scene will bring. Although for the most part, the action is played pretty straight, the sorcery angle adds a bizarre touch with a Siamese cat and a cobra making regular appearances as the witch assists Scott with his journey to unravel the mystery. The movie also features Prouty frequently nude, the usual stock police detectives that don't believe Scott, and Pleasence wearing a mask that would ironically make Michael Myers jealous. This flick gets a recommend more for the bizarre aspects of it than for technical prowess (even though Martino is a proven master of genre cinema).
Gaylord first achieved fame as a gymnast in the 1984 Olympics where he won gold. He tried to parlay this into a film career starring with Janet Jones (Mrs. Wayne Gretzky) in the drama American Anthem but his acting career quickly turned to erotic thrillers and came to and end after a handful of movies. He was slightly more successful than fellow gymnast Kurt Thomas (Gymkata) and he had a better haircut. Co-star Greene was also in Martino's Hands of Steel and a number of other action flicks. Prouty does a good job as the femme fatale and I would have liked to see more from her but unfortunately this appears to be her one and only movie. Also look for b-movie regular Sherrie Rose (Black Scorpion 2) as Joanna's roommate. (Josh Pasnak, 7/12/16)
Directed By: Martin Dolman (Sergio Martino).
Written By: Maria Perrone Capano, Sauro Scavolini.
Starring: Mitch Gaylord, Daniel Greene, Victoria Prouty, Donald Pleasence.
aka: American Rickshaw.