Sometimes a bad movie merits an ironic viewing simply because the premise is so absurd that one can happily marvel at the hubris—or insanity—of the filmmakers. Fighting Mad easily meets that criterion. The violent flick was originally released as Death Force, but then it was reissued under the moniker Fighting Mad once two of its costars achieved greater fame—gorgeous starlet Jayne Kennedy became a popular sportscaster, while her husband, DJ-turned-actor Leon Isaac Kennedy, starred in the hit exploitation flick Penitentiary (1979). In other words, never mind the above poster suggesting that Fighting Mad is a straight-up action movie featuring the Kennedys as a couple. Quite to the contrary, Leon plays the main villain, and Jayne plays the long-suffering wife of the actual star, James Iglehart.
Here’s the humdinger of a plot. In the Vietnam War era, soldiers McGee (Leon Isaac Kennedy), Morelli (Carmen Argenziano), and Russell (Iglehart) smuggle gold out of Indochina, and then sell it to criminals in the Philippines. Yet Russell’s partners get greedy, so they stab him and toss him off a boat in the middle of the Pacific. Russell survives, washing ashore on an island inhabited only by two Japanese soldiers who were never told that World War II ended. The Japanese soldiers train Russell to be a samurai, even giving him his own sword. Meanwhile, McGee and Morelli return to the U.S. and become crime lords. Furthermore, McGee puts the moves on Russell’s wife, Maria (Jayne Kennedy), who believes her husband dead. (This is especially odious because Maria has a young son with Russell.) Next, Filipino soldiers find the island and rescue Russell, who travels back to the States with his samurai sword and a thirst for vengeance.
Fighting Mad is exactly as silly as this description suggests, but it’s got a certain pulpy energy—exciting things happen, the pace is brisk, and the story never gets mired in troublesome things like characterization or nuance. This is sheer escapist nonsense, combining the genres of blaxploitation, crime, and martial arts into a schlocky smorgasbord. Excepting Argenziano, who’s an acceptable low-rent substitute for swarthy ’70s stalwart Don Gordon, the actors in Fighting Mad are uniformly weak. Nonetheless, each player fits his or her role. Iglehart’s built like a boxer, so he’s quite a sight when flailing his katana, and Leon Isaac Kennedy manages to look like a skeevy pimp even though he’s not actually playing a skeevy pimp—watch the way his Afro always seems slightly unkempt. Plus, since Jayne Kennedy was one of the great beauties of the ’70s, it doesn’t much matter that she lacks dramatic skill; cast as eye candy, she more than justifies her presence in the picture. She also gets the best line in the movie. When McGee offers to help raise Maria’s young son, Maria spits back, “He don’t need a mother like you for a father!” And if that line doesn’t immediately seem awesome, note that in this circumstance, “mother” is an abbreviation. Shut yo’ mouth!
Fighting Mad: FUNKY