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Plot: vigilante cop purges town of criminals and other undesirables.

In the eight years separating War Machine (2010) and Death Kiss (2018) there has been exponential evolution in the work of California writer-director Rene Perez. Not only did he helm the lucrative The Dead and the Damned (2011-2015) and Playing with Dolls (2015-2017) franchises, he also has started paying homage to classic titles that were influential on his own work. A benefit of sort is that Little Red Riding Hood (2016) appears to be the last of his European fairytale adaptations. It genuinely makes you wish Perez would branch out of horror a little and try out different genres. With an average of two-to-four productions per year Perez dedicated the first half of 2018 to paying tribute to his favorite movies, namely The Punisher (1989, 2004) and Death Wish (1974, 2018) with The Punished (2018) and Death Kiss (2018), respectively. Death Kiss is, for all intents and purposes, the best Rene Perez production thus far.

Written, photographed, directed, and scored by Rene Perez Death Kiss oozes with that grime retro aesthetic of urban decay and sparse production design that defined the best, or most memorable, of 70s exploitation. Death Kiss’ most obvious forebear is the Michael Winner directed Charles Bronson actioner Death Wish (1974) and there’s a fair bit of the Clint Eastwood western High Plains Drifter (1973) to even things out. In other words, Death Kiss is an old-fashioned vigilante justice action-thriller. Death Kiss is minimalist in every respect. The premise is as basic as these things come, and the main cast is all but four people with only a handful of extras. The greatest asset to the production is Hungarian actor Robert Kovacs who has the Bronson style and mannerisms down to a T. It’s uncanny how close of an approximation Kovacs is to the late Bronson, and the resemblance is striking, even if he might not be half the actor Bronson was back in the day. It seems that Perez has found a muse in Kovacs (who subsequently took up the Robert Bronzi alias) as he returned in future Perez features.

In an act of penance rogue cop K (Robert Kovacs, as Robert Bronzi) has taken to the streets of an unspecified California town and vowed to rid it of its criminal element; be they drugdealers, human traffickers, and other assorted undesirables. Years ago a shootout with druglord Tyrell (Richard Tyson) resulted in a number of civilian casualties and property damage, something which he greatly regretted and he has been working to make amends for ever since. For the past several years K has been delivering money to the mailbox of Ana (Eva Hamilton) and her wheelchair using daughter Isabel (Leia Perez). With the help of Justice Radio host Dan Forthright (Daniel Baldwin) K has been able to track down Tyrell and his gang. He draws the ire of Tyrell by extracting helpless platinum blonde Tanya (Stormi Maya) from their heavily guarded compound. In the resulting gunfight K manages to dispose of Torch (Reese Austyn) and Tyrell’s bodyguard (J.D. Angstadt) sending the druglord into hiding with his girlfriend Malorie (Malorie Glavan). With the threat of bodily harm still looming over Ana and Isabel a confrontation between K and Tyrell seems all but inevitable…

Before anything else Death Kiss is a tribute to the 1970s grindhouse exploitation and more specifically a valentine to Michael Winner’s revenge fantasy Death Wish (1974) and its gradually underwhelming sequels. Shot to next for nothing in California Death Kiss is a near-plotless pastiche of every known convention and recreation over every recognizable scene from the Winner original with an added dose of gunfire and gore to drag it into the 21st century. To drive the point home Kovacs’ character has a similar build and wardrobe as the late Bronson and that he simply calls himself K (no doubt in reference to Paul Kersey). As with the original Death Kiss wants nothing more than to be a taboo-breaker and Daniel Baldwin’s Justice Radio host discusses everything from institutionalized disenfranchisement, violence and crime, racism, to the merits of vigilantism, law enforcement malfeasance, and widespread corruption in politics and the electorate. Baldwin delivers his monologues on these hot button issues with near-religious fervor and zeal giving credence to the idea that Perez cares about these topics. If anything, it gave a good hint of Perez’ likely political affiliations, something which his manifesto The Insurrection (2020) (especially egregious and strangely prophetical in light of the actual January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection) and Pro God - Pro Gun (2022) have served to strengthen. Perez is the polar opposite of Neil Breen and he’ll let you know at every turn.

To his everlasting credit Rene Perez always knew how to stage and lens an action scene, even as far as back as his laughably inept Little Red Riding Hood (2016) (thankfully Alanna Forte and Irina Levadneva provided the proverbial fireworks there). This being a Rene Perez feature there are a few headscratching moments. In the first act it is established that Ana feels unsafe and during the second act K instructs her how to handle a rifle. The lack of thematic follow-through in the closing act makes you wonder why the entire subplot was introduced in the first place. Had there been a third act scene where Ana saves K from certain death thanks to her newly-acquired marksman skills then at least there would have been some kind of narrative payoff. In another scene K has Stormi Maya’s Tanya bloodily kill her captor, but the scene seems to exist solely to have Maya wield a gun, as K never again (either before or after) will be seen exacting such punishment. Daniel Baldwin’s Dan Fortright acts as both as a Greek chorus and a replacement internal monologue for Robert Kovacs’ K, very much in the same way as Richard Tyson has done, and continues to do, for the Playing with Dolls (2015-2017) franchise. Except that Fortright has no arc of his own and mostly exists to humanize the cipher-like K. The special effects from Marcus Koch and Oliver Müller are put to good use once again. For an action-thriller the gore is either excessive or absent.

As these things go any Rene Perez feature is measured by the quality of the babes and here Eva Hamilton and Stormi Maya raise the temperatures. Stormi has been with Perez since Playing with Dolls: Havoc (2017) and Perez debutant Eva Hamilton (apparently the new brunette Perez muse with Nicole Stark notably absent) would be seen again in The Dragon Unleashed (2018) and his other exploitation tribute Cabal (2020). It wouldn’t be a Rene Perez film without at least one topless scene and Death Kiss has both Hamilton and Maya flaunting their bust. Death Kiss is the sort of stylistic exercise that makes you wish Rene Perez would finally helm that long awaited LETHAL Ladies imitation we know he has been pining to make. Imagine what a director like Perez could do with a stretch of beach, palm trees, a warm color palette and a female ensemble cast in pastel-colored bikinis. If Andy Sidaris could do it in the 80s and 90s with the LETHAL Ladies and Jim Wynorski made a career out of boobs, so can he. All it takes is some perfunctory story to line up Alanna Forte, Elonda Seawood, Eva Hamilton, Spring Inés Peña, Jenny Allford, Omnia Bixler, Irina Levadneva, and Stormi Maya; Breen babes Jennifer Autry, Victoria Viveiros, and Danielle Andrade or low budget genre queens as Samantha Robinson, Fulvia Santoni, Madeline Brumby, Ellie Church or Alyss Winkler against his usual team of stuntmen. Hell, he could call it B.U.S.T. (or Branch of Unity, Strategy & Tactics). Just make it happen, Rene. Eventually someone’s gotta do it.

If Death Kiss is proof of anything it’s that Perez has finally come to the point was he has assembled the necessary skills to convincingly imitate the very films he was inspired by. Death Kiss effectively captures the misanthropy, the nihilism, the gratuitous violence, and rampant urban decay that made Death Wish (1974) the cinematic classic that it is. The ambiguous open ending leaves the door wide open for potential sequels, but if Perez is smart he’s not going to dilude Death Kiss by any unnecessary sequels. After all it were four sequels that directly sent Death Wish to its death throes. Death Kiss is a fine piece of low budget filmmaking exactly because it is a stand-alone feature. If Rene Perez does want to do capitalize on a trend he’d better put a gun in Eva Hamilton’s hand and make his female-centric action flicks as Furie (2019) or Maria (2019). Given his penchant for helming derivates or imitations of classic action cinema, it makes you wish how Perez would fare in doing a Die Hard (1988), The Terminator (1984), Above the Law (1988), Under Siege (1992), Commando (1985), or Hard Target (1993) imitation. That, a much overdue Nemesis (1992) sequel, or that Ginger (1971) or Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) derivate he was destined to direct. In little less than a decade Perez has become a suprisingly effective and brutally efficient low budget filmmaker. Bravo, Rene.

Plot: federal agents and mercenaries wage war over Civil War gold treasure.

In 1993 Malibu Bay Films mascot Dona Speir uttered the prophetic words, “my work here is done” at the conclusion of Fit to Kill, the closing chapter to Andy Sidaris’ multi-decade spanning LETHAL Ladies franchise, a series he had been dedicated much of his life to at that point, or at least since 1985 (although it was conceived as far back as 1973.) Picking up where his father left off Christian Drew Sidaris produced and directed the two expanded universe episodes Enemy Gold (1993) and The Dallas Connection (1994) with his Skyhawks Films in the two years that followed. What Christian Drew would come to learn was that with great boobs comes great responsibility and that you can’t go replacing beloved platinum blonde duo Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton with just about any random pair of boobs and expect the same results. History would record the two Christian Drew Sidaris directed parallel sequels as retroactively serving to link the 1980s and 1990s periods of Sidaris the elder. Holding it all together and illuminating this rather confusing period in LETHAL Ladies history was the Sybil Danning of the 1990s and newly-minted series icon, the late great Julie Strain.

Whereas his father had spent over a decade experimenting with and honing the formula for his LETHAL Ladies when Christian Drew Sidaris stepped into the breach he didn’t have innovation on his mind. Instead he simply branched out out within the existing universe while largely adhering to the same principles as his father. The original LETHAL Ladies were a series of fun-loving spy/action romps set in and around the lush and verdant islands of Hawaii with the thinnest veneer of story as a pretext for an abundance of explosions, shootouts, and funny one-liners. What little story there was largely existed as a preamble to have a rotating bevy of bosomy belles in candy-colored bikinis bounce around and break out the big guns, both literal and figurative, as soon and as often as humanly possible. Sidaris the younger mostly eschews odious comic relief assassins, gadgets and rigged model miniatures and the Hawaii locales have been replaced by Shreveport and Bossier City, Louisiana masquerading as Texas. During his two year tenure stewarding the series Christian Drew tried his darndest to find the right pair (interpret that any way you want) but he never quite was able to recreate the chemistry between Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton. In two years and as many episodes he would try several but only Julie Strain would remain.

Suzi Simpson, Tanquil Lisa Collins and Julie Strain are the main attractions here. Simpson and Collins are the typical Sidaris platinum blonde beach bunnies whereas Strain was not only vertically superior with her towering 6'1½" but she also was entirely stacked with her mouth-watering 40D (90D) bust. Suzi Simpson was Miss District of Columbia Teen USA 1984 and landed a part in a 1984 Pepsi commercial starring Michael Jackson. From there she scored small roles in St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), appeared in the Aerosmith music video ‘Love in an Elevator’ from 1989 as well as Men at Work (1990). She was Playboy's Playmate of the Month for January 1992 and was a regular warm body in many of their home videos. Tanquil "Tai" Lisa Collins was Miss Virginia 1983, was on the cover of Playboy (October 1991) and her alleged affair with senator Charles “Chuck” Robb was subject on an Arny Freytag article "The Governor and the Beauty". As an actress she could be seen in Thunder in Paradise (1994), Baywatch (1995-2000) (for which she wrote several episodes) in 1996 and 1997 and Baywatch Nights (1995-1997) in 1996. Naturally, she figured into the June 1998 "The Babes Of Baywatch" in Playboy. In more recent years Collins has completely reinvented herself and these days is mostly known as a humanitarian and philanthropist.

Kym Malin was a regular in the Andy-verse by this point. She rose to fame with small roles in Die Hard (1988) and Road House (1989) and appeared in Picasso Trigger (1988) and Guns (1990). Stacy Lynn Brown and Angela Wright had no association with Playboy, Penthouse, or Hustler and were purely meant as eyecandy. As beautiful as these women were the series never quite recovered from the loss of Hope Marie Carlton, Liv Lindeland and Cynthia Brimhall. It wouldn’t be until The Dallas Connection (1994) the following year that Julie K. Smith woud join the cast and establish the next generation of LETHAL Ladies. Julie Strain was the kind of woman born to be in an Sidaris flick, dominated every scene she was in and set the new proportional standard.

In 1864, the Battle of Pleasant Hill. General Quantrell (Don Primrose Jr.) orders twelve of his men to break off behind enemy lines and disrupt the Union supply chain and seize a buillion of gold deep in the woods of Bossier, Texas. The men are attacked and slain by Union soldiers but two men manage to flee with the gold in tow. While one of them is mortally wounded a Confederate Lieutenant (Carl Weatherly) buries the treasure on the root of a big tree, marking it with his knife and writing everything down in his journal. Busy committing his story to paper the soldier is killed by an unseen assailant (Marcus Bagwell). More than a century later, in 1993), federal agents Chris Cannon (Bruce Penhall) and Mark Austin (Mark Barriere) are preparing a raid on a farm used in the drug-running business of Bolivian narcos Carlos Santiago (Rodrigo Obregón, as Rodrigo Obregon). They are interrupted by the arrival of fellow agent Becky Midnite (Suzi Simpson). The three quickly lay out a strategy where Midnite will provide a much-needed distraction whereas Cannon and Austin will gather evidence and apprehend and arrest whoever they can find. In the ensuing fracas the three cause massive collateral damage and when Cannon and Austin are making their arrests The Agency division chief Dickson (Alan Abelew) shows up out of nowhere. He summarily suspends the men for not following agency procedure, failing to produce the correct paperwork and using excessive force during their clandestine operation.

The sudden suspension of the three agents raises the flags of team leader Ava Noble (Tanquil Lisa Collins, as Tai Collins) who cross-examines Dickson over his motivations. Now suddenly overwhelmed by unscheduled leisure time the three decide to make the best of the situation. They agree on a camping trip while they’re in the woods of Bossier, Texas. By sheer luck and happenstance the three unearth the hidden treasure. To the outside world Santiago poses as a debonair entrepreneur with his high-end Cowboy’s club & restaurant in Bossier City, Los Angeles, California. Unknown to but a select few, including hostess Kym (Kym Malin) and Santiago’s concubines (Stacy Lynn Brown, as as Stacey Lyn Brown and Angela Wright) it also functions as the heart of his criminal empire. First the Bolivian crimelord orders his incompetent henchmen Rip (Tom Abbott) and Slash (Ron Browning) to take out the agents but when that fails he’s forced to take more drastic measures. For interfering with his operations and causing him to lose $20 million in street value cocaine Santiago calls upon his good friend Jewell Panther, known professionally as The Amazon (Julie Strain) and described as “as deadly as she is beautiful”, picks her up at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport with orders to neutralize the federal threat. As Noble digs deeper into Dickson’s case she discovers far too late that he has ulterior motives and that he was corrupt and a compromised asset all this time. As Santiago grows more desperate and The Agency digs deeper into the case a clash between the two factions becomes an inevitability.

If Enemy Gold feels familiar despite not being set in and around Hawaii and featuring none of the classic cast – that’s because Christian Drew recombines several plotpoints and iconic scenes from his father’s original series. Enemy Gold opens with a drug bust gone belly up just like in Savage Beach (1989). An agent of good is in cahoots with the enemy just like Pantera in Picasso Trigger (1988) and the violent tug of war over an ancient gold treasure was used earlier in Savage Beach (1989). The villain is blown up by rocket launcher just like in Picasso Trigger (1988) and Guns (1990). Becky Midnite is prone to wearing tank tops and bootyshorts just as Donna and Taryn in Savage Beach (1989), Picasso Trigger (1988) and Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987). Midnite and Ava Noble are peroxide blondes in the good old Sidaris tradition. Angela Wright, one of the unnamed dancers in the Cowboy’s club, wears the same suspender-hose combo as Cynthia Brimhall in Do or Die (1991). The vacation cabin doubled as a restaurant earlier in Do or Die (1991) and the helicopter killshot was recreated almost verbatim from Do or Die (1991) and Hard Hunted (1992). The prerequisite shower -, hot tub – and dressing scenes are all here and account for much of the nudity. For all intents and purposes Enemy Gold is the lightest redressing of Savage Beach (1989). Christian Drew stays close to his father’s established model but Sidaris the elder’s exercises in spy-action pulp were generally, but not always, funnier and wittier than this.

With Suzi Simpson and Tanquil Lisa Collins manifesting no visible acting talent and Julie K. Smith set to arrive in the next episode all eyes fall on the late great Julie Strain who, quite literally, towers above everybody else. Enemy Gold was Julie’s second go-round as a villain in the Andy-verse – and, unlike the tradition of Sidaris the elder, she would persevere as a villain in The Dallas Connection (1994), the second and last Christian Drew Sidaris production. Likewise would Strain, who played a villain in Fit to Kill, return as an The Agency operative in Day Of the Warrior (1996) and Return to Savage Beach (1998) from Sidaris the elder. Something which, lest we be remiss to mention, only Roberta Vasquez preceded her in. Strain is up, front and center in Enemy Gold, eclipsing every other female in the cast and her character is given a seductive campfire dance for absolutely no other reason than capturing Strain’s ample curvature on camera. Nobody watches these things for the story or characters anyway. Everybody in the Andy-verse has a penchant for wearing impractical battle-gear and Jewell Panther – seemingly a recombination of Roberta Vasquez’ Pantera from Picasso Trigger (1988) and Ava Cadell’s assassin Ava from Do or Die (1991) – can be seen strutting around in either lingerie or leather-and-studs worthy of a 1980s metal music video. Most of the time she’s wearing not much at all because why hire somebody like Julie and burden her with trivial things such as clothes? Not that there’s any shortage of boobs.

Sidaris the younger may not have gloriously risen to the occassion by stepping into the limelight and out of his father’s shadow. While Christian Drew kept the bumbling cartoonish henchmen to an absolute minimum he also excised the running gag of remote controlled model planes/helicopters with it. Thankfully the gun-toting, wisecracking, top-dropping action babes were never tampered with and they keep on baring breasts and arms, usually in that order. Rejuvenation was wanted, nay, perhaps needed as old Andy’s formula was started to wear thin and fatigue crept into later episodes. No other series canonized and celebrated the naked female form the way old Andy did (his only closest contemporary probably being Tinto Brass in Italy). Nobody watches an Andy Sidaris flick for the story or the characters and the only depth was, is, and continues to be found, in the cleavage of the various ladies. Even in this younger incarnation the Andy-verse remains staunchly Caucasian in every respect. Enemy Gold makes a person nostalgic for the more innocuous times of Malibu Express (1985) when Lynda Weismeier was the most ridiculous of outliers and who had an ass to match. The fixation on proportion wouldn’t become truly problematic until Sidaris the younger dragged his father out of retirement and he duly made his return several years later.