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Plot: Asian crimelord hunts LETHAL Ladies in Hawaii, Las Vegas, and Louisiana. 

The Sidaris formula starts to wear thin in Do Or Die, the fifth episode of the LETHAL Ladies franchise. It doesn’t have quite the same vivacity that earlier installments had and the entire production has a very routine feel. Dona Speir and Roberta Vasquez do the best with what they are given, which isn’t very much, and Do Or Die tends to come across as a glorified but tired looking greatest hits compilation. Do Or Die doesn’t alter the Sidaris formula, and everything you’d come to the LETHAL Ladies for is still present. In Do Or Die Andy Sidaris and his team were running on fumes, and no amount of jiggling breasts, oversized guns and big explosions can compensate for the lack of vitality and energy. Do Or Die reeks of fatigue and obligation. The breasts per capita might be higher than any past installment, but that isn’t able to redeem Do Or Die in any meaningful way.

There's no rest for the wicked and this time around as Donna Hamilton (Dona Speir) and Nicole Justin (Roberta Vasquez) are hunted, quite literally, by Asian crimelord Masakana 'Kane' Kaneshiro (Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita) across Hawaii, Las Vegas, and Louisiana. Deployed to hunt and kill Donna and Nicole are 6 assassin duos, including Ava (Ava Cadell), Lew (James Lew), and Chen (Eric Chen). Coming to the duo’s aide are The Agency top brass Lucas (William Bumiller), CIA field agent Bruce Christian (Bruce Penhall), Edy Stark (Cynthia Brimhall), Richard ‘Rico’ Esteban (Erik Estrada), new recruit Atlanta Lee (Pandora Peaks, as Stephanie Schick), and Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane, as Michael Jay Shane). It’s perfectly okay to get confused who everybody is, and why exactly you should care about any of them.

Ava Cadell – a long way from her cameo in Commando (1989) - gets an extended introductory montage that sees her squeezing into tight leather pants in nothing but a white thong-leotard. Sidaris, in his infinite wisdom and benevolence, shoots Cadell from any and every flattering angle and somehow manages to focus on more than just her big guns. Given her introduction you’d expect her to be the main villain, but nothing could be further from the truth. “I’m gonna blow their tits off,” exclaims Ava after being informed by her partner Skip (Skip Woods) that her targets have arrived on-scene, a brief chase scene later both Ava and Chip are blown to smithereens. Series regulars James Lew and Eric Chen, as head goons Lew and Chen, get blown to bits as well. Playboy Hong Kong Playmate Carolyn Liu (July 1990) follows in the footsteps Roberta Vasquez and Devin DeVazquez by playing the prerequisite hot love interest of the villain. Before Pat Morita returned as Kesuke Miyagi in The Next Karate Kid (1994), with a pre-Oscar and Golden Globe winner Hillary Swank, he was Masakana 'Kane' Kaneshiro in Andy Sidaris’ Hawaii spy action romp Do Or Die. Morita visibly enjoys playing the caricatural villain Kaneshiro, relishing in the cheesy dialogs and that he gets to give Liu an oily shiatsu massage. Kaneshiro is quite different from that good old Mr. Miyagi.

Do Or Die is significant for just how much of the usual Andy Sidaris characteristics it eschews. Instead of being set on the lush and verdant islands of Hawaii it takes place primarily in Las Vegas and the rather colorless Shreveport, L.A. For a good portion of its duration Donna and Nicole are typical damsels-in-distress instead of the pro-active, gun-toting, bikini-clad heroes they were in the prior episodes. Dona Speir is visibly tired of the role, and Roberta Vasquez, once the embodiment of South American sultriness, continues to grow more unappealing with every passing installment. Sidaris takes on the The Most Dangerous Game (1932) plot and makes the critical error of introducing far too many one-note characters that don’t add to the preceedings. Whereas Savage Beach (1989) slimmed down the cast to the barest essentials Do Or Die does the opposite and squares off 8 protagonists against 6 pairs of assassins. Of the 8 heroes only Donna and Nicole, plus Bruce Christian and Rico Esteban carry any narrative weight. Most of the assassins are played for cheap laughs, but nothing of it is particularly funny. As before Edy Stark lends more than just her voice to the movie. Making her a more active participant in the plot is one of the best decisions on Sidaris’ part, even though it initially looks like she’s going to be of no importance at all.

When we first see Edy she’s still a lounge/nightclub singer at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. She has moved from soulful r&b to cajun country and is introduced doing a cover of Jimmy C. Newman’s ‘Down on the Bayou’. The arrangement itself might not be very special, but nobody works white heels, stockings, garters, and a cowboy hat quite like miss Brimhall. The routine is somewhat pithless compared to her earlier performance in the preceding Guns (1990), but Brimhall is one of the few bright spots in what otherwise is one of the Sidaris’ least colorful entries. Edy now dates Lucas since The Agency strongman Jade (Harold Diamond) disappeared after Picasso Trigger (1988). In other words, Edy has gone from glorified extra to regular cast member in just two episodes. Estrada and Penhall play off each other well, as is to be expected from small-screen veterans that worked together for many years on CHIPs (1977), plus both seem to be having the time of their life. Ava Cadell and Carolyn Liu acquit themselves admirably under the circumstances. Cadell is of Hungarian descent and appeared in the July 1975 issue of Mayfair. All through the 1980s and early nineties Ava partook in B-movies of various stripe before obtaining a PhDs in human behavior and - sexuality. In her capacity as a sex therapist she has written seven books and appeared on major broadcast networks and cable programming outlets. Cadell currently is employed in her private practice in Los Angeles. None of which is of interest to Sidaris because Cadell is just another in a long line of cartoonishly big-bosomed women handling oversized guns in the Andy-verse.

The humour is as puerile and broad as expected. Slipping into the nearest hot tub Nicole inquisitively remarks, “don’t you do your best thinking there?” to Donna in an obvious callback to Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987). A pair of bumbling assassins, a staple in the Andy-verse, have taken deep cover working as chefs in a restaurant that the gang frequent. Harold (Richard Cansino) and Boudreaux (Che Che Malave) practice their Southern accents, and try to kill the gang by poisoning. Nicole (who is really Taryn) comes across a cat and feeds her some of the fish they ordered. When the cat dies it serves as a precursor to a conclusion to the scene just as ridiculous as its setup. Towards the end one of the main goons runs into Nicole inquiring who she is. Justin answers by quoting 1960s/1980s Batman, “I’m Batman!” before blasting the baddie to kingdom come. Do Or Die was the first of the LETHAL Ladies wherein the villain isn’t killed in some ridiculously big explosion. As such Kane would serve as the antagonist in the following years’ Hard Hunted (1992) and Fit to Kill (1993). It sort of implies that the LETHAL franchise was running on autopilot at this point.

It’s obvious that the LETHAL Ladies never recovered from the loss of Hope Marie Carlton. Vasquez as Nicole Justin is Taryn in everything but name, and she doesn’t have near the same chemistry with Speir as Carlton had. Do Or Die seems to be all about substitutes and compromise. Stephanie Schick (who, like Teri Weigel before her, would descent into hardcore pornography after her excursion into the Andy-verse) is a stand-in for series regular Kym Malin and even Donna Spangler. Schick might be even top-heavier than both, but she possesses not even a fraction of ability, acting or otherwise. Not that Malyn or Spangler were gifted on the acting front, but they at least were tolerable. Schick has the look of a skid row Jaime Pressly and Sidaris casted her for nothing but her gravity-defying globes. It makes a person long for the earlier, more innocuous times of Malibu Express (1985) when Lynda Weismeier (who can actually act) and her June Khnockers was the most ridiculous of outliers. Unfortunately both Ava Cadell and the preposterously proportioned Stephanie Schick foreshadow the direction into which Sidaris would push the franchise once Speir and Vasquez bade their farewell.

Plot: kickboxer avenges the death of his brother.

At one point in the mid-nineties Albert Pyun was the go-to guy for cheapo kickboxing movies. Sure, he was no Cirio H. Santiago, but who is? Santiago was the master of topless kickboxing with TNT Jackson (1974), the self-proclaimed “first erotic kung fu classicNaked Fist (1981) (with Jillian Kessner), and the relative unknown Angelfist (1993) (with Cat Sassoon and Melissa Moore). Pyun was the man behind the first sequel to the Jean-Claude Van Damme action classic Kickboxer (1989) and if there’s one thing that can be counted upon, it’s that Pyun never will let an opportunity go to waste. Before he made the cyberpunk slogfest Heatseeker (1995) (with Keith Cooke and Tina Cote) there was Bloodmatch. An expert in stretching budgets and resources (as his Nemesis series attests to) Bloodmatch was filmed back-to-back with Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991) and shared much of the same production crew and cast. It answers that question that has haunted Sidaris fans for years: what exactly did Hope Marie Carlton do after Savage Beach (1989) and her exit from the Andy-verse?

Well, for a while at least it looked as if hottie Hope was going to carve out a decent career for herself as a supporting actress. Before her last outing with Sidaris she already had a bit part (where she showed quite a bit) in Renny Harlin’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988). She could be seen in the Huey Lewis and the News music video for ‘Give Me the Keys (And I'll Drive You Crazy)’ in 1989 as well as Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College (1990) and the Roger Corman produced Slumber Party Massacre III (1990), more often than not in roles wherein some nudity was required.

To top things off Carlton also made an appearance as Stiletto in the 1994 Electronic Arts point-and-click adventure game Noctropolis. And the other big name (although that is, admittedly, very relative) is Thom Mathews. Mathews had starred in The Return of the Living Dead (1985), and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) but by the following decade would become an Albert Pyun regular with roles in, among others, Nemesis (1992), Heatseeker (1995), Blast (1997), and Mean Guns (1997). Michel Qissi played a small role in Bloodsport (1988) and perhaps is best known as the villain Tong Po in Kickboxer (1989). Sadly, Qissi has done little of interest since. He’d feel right at home in Ben Combes’ long-awaited Commando Ninja (2018) sequel.

Brick Bardo (Thom Mathews) plans to exact revenge on everyone involved in the disappearance (and apparent death) of his brother Wood Wilson. After chasing and subsequently torturing Davey O’Brien (Michel Qissi) on a stretch of concrete in the baking sun he learns a few things. First, Wilson was involved in illegal price fighting and this transgression led to his exile from the sport and was key to his apparent suicide.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, O’Brien (whether Davey is related to Chance or China is, unfortunately, never revealed) spills the names of the parties involved in the scheme: current middleweight champion Brent Caldwell (Dale Jacoby), kickboxer turned janitor Billy Muñoz (Benny Urquidez), fighter Mike Johnson (Thunderwolf, as Thunder Wolf), and promoter Connie Angel (Hope Marie Carlton). Bardo and his assistant Max Manduke (Marianne Taylor) travel crosscountry to pick up their targets, and if they don’t cooperate the duo simply drug, coerce (either by having Max bed them, or kidnap their families), or knock them about into doing their bidding. For the occasion the duo have rented the Las Vegas Arena to enact their own Bloodmatch.

The American martial arts movie is a strange beast. On the one hand there are the early Jean-Claude Van Damme classics who do the genre justice, and then there’s everything else. Bloodmatch, obviously, falls into the latter category but acquits itself at least partly with the presence of Benny Urquidez (who also was responsible for all the action choreography) and Dale Jacoby. The arena fights are heavily edited and artificially intensified by making ample use of fast cuts and constant repeats of the same punches and kicks. It’s the oldest trick in the book, and an effective one when used sparingly. Not so here since none (except maybe Urquidez and Jacoby) were actual fighters and preparation for the fights was probably minimal. Of the vintage Sidaris bikini babes Hope Marie Carlton was always the only who could reasonably act. She does so here too, and for once the role doesn’t require of her to get naked. Who does get naked is Marianne Taylor. Taylor bears some resemblance to Nemesis (1992) star Deborah Shelton, and Pyun doesn’t shy away from shooting her from a few very flattering angles. Like Tinto Brass, Pyun too seems to like junk in the trunk. The remainder of the cast are complete nonentities, and not worth discussing as such.

As always director of photography George Mooradian at least makes whatever Pyun shoots look good. The same goes for long-time composer Anthony Riparetti who provides a suitable score for what, for all intents and purposes, is a boring slogfest. Heatseeker (1995) and Mean Guns (1997) (both not Pyun’s finest hour either) were not only marginally more interesting visually, but they actually had a pulse. Bloodmatch was apparently shot on autopilot and none of that keen visual flair and deft action direction that made Nemesis (1992) a minor action hit is accounted for here. The screenplay is functional in its minimalism and was written by Pyun under the nom de plume of K. Hannah (an apparent portmanteau of Kitty Chalmers and Hannah Blue, two pen names old Al frequently used around this time). It’s not often that it happens but Bloodmatch makes Angelfist (1993) and Heatseeker (1995) looks like works of art in comparison. That Bloodmatch would fail as a thriller was all but a given and it makes the critical error of having stilted and slow kickboxing routines. Nobody expects the American martial arts movie to match, let alone surpass, its agile Far East counterparts – but even by lowly American standards Bloodmatch is terminally rote in every sense of the word.