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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: South American armsdealer sets up base of operations in Hawaii.

With the matter-of-factly titled Guns Hawaiian action director Andy Sidaris entered the nineties, a decade notoriously unkind to many a genre. The fourth LETHAL Ladies episode introduces a new partner for The Agency operative Donna Hamilton as they continue to battle drug runners and arms dealers. Guns is, as the title would have it, about big guns, both literal and figurative, and the first LETHAL Ladies without Hope Marie Carlton. It fares as well as one would expect. Sidaris returns to all the familiar locations, with many familiar faces, and all the familar gadgets. Bronzed blonde babes in skimpy candy-colored bikinis engage vicious narcotic distribution rings, enemy agents and crimelords in combat by dropping their tops, or forgoing clothes altogether. Everything is bigger in Guns: the guns, the explosions, and the breasts – all except the plot, which remains as paper-thin and flimsy as ever. Not that anybody’s complaining…

Having ridded Moloka’i from drug runners and a giant python, safeguarding a reputeable artpiece while liberating the island of a vicious narcotics distributing ring, and taking down a paramilitary unit on a remote island, Donna Hamilton (Dona Speir) and Nicole Justin (Roberta Vasquez), a never-before-mentioned third partner of Molokai Cargo, become targets in an ambitious plan from armsdealer Juan Degas (Erik Estrada), who has something of a history with both LETHAL Ladies. When an assassination attempt claims the life of Rocky (Lisa London) in collateral damage and Dona’s hardnosed DA mother Kathryn Hamilton (Phyllis Davis) is kidnapped by Degas’ goons, things get personal. With help from CIA field agent Bruce Christian (Bruce Penhall), The Agency man Abe (Chuck McCann), and series mainstay Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane, as Michael Shane) the LETHAL Ladies break out the heavy artillery to put Jack Of Diamonds, his assassins, and goons where they belong: behind bars.

Helping Degas carry out his elaborate plan of dominating the armsdealing profession is Cash, played by Playboy Playmate Devin DeVasquez (June 1985), and Tong (Danny Trejo) and his girlfriend (Kelly Menighan). DeVasquez had appeared in House II: the Second Story (1987) and Society (1989), while Trejo’s first role of note was in Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987) and the Steven Seagal actioner Marked For Death (1990). It wouldn’t be until the second half of the nineties that Trejo established himself with Desperado (1995) and From Dusk till Dawn (1996). Despite fulfilling every requirement Guns is Devin DeVasquez' sole appearance in the Andy-verse. In 2009 DeVasquez married Ron Moss, or Rowdy Abilene from Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987).

Guns is the only Sidaris production to have both CHIPs (1977) heartthrobs Erik Estrada and Bruce Penhall present at the same time. Penhall had a history with Sidaris making his first appearance as a different character in Picasso Trigger (1988) before returning four more times as Bruce Christian and staying with the series until its original end. In the interim Penhall played Chris Cannon in the two Drew Christian Sidaris entries Enemy Gold (1993) and The Dallas Connection (1994). Penhall, along with Speir and Vasquez, did not return for Day Of the Warrior (1996) and Return to Savage Beach (1996), at which point Penthouse Pets Julie Strain, Julie K. Smith and Shae Marks took over The Agency mantle. Guns signaled the exit of London and Lindeland from the series, and introduced Nicole Justin as a substitute for Taryn. Phyllis Davis and James Lew later turned up in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995) as a hostage and goon, respectively.

With Hope Marie Carlton, arguably one of the better actresses of the cast, choosing not to return for Guns, Sidaris brought back Roberta Vasquez as a replacement. Vasquez’ Nicole Justin - who acts, dresses, and talks just like Taryn – is an interesting choice. Nicole Justin, a brunette of South American descent, is, for all intents and purposes, Taryn. It would be the first (and only) instance of Andy Sidaris putting a minority character in the lead. Sidaris spents a good 20 minutes setting up Justin’s character, but there’s nothing that drastically changes the familiar Donna Hamilton-Taryn dynamic. Neither will it ever be brought up in the series again. Like Taryn in her final appearance Nicole Justin dates Bruce Christian, and she has all of Taryn’s post-Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) habits. The Justin part was one you’d halfway expect Liv Lindeland or Kym Malin to usurp given their Nordic looks and bulging chests, or Cynthia Brimhall for her sheer longevity with the series. It does help that Roberta Vasquez at least can halfway act and handle a gun. She also happens to look good in and out of a skimpy bikini. What does remain a constant is that most of the bit players still are awful at line reading, and that it usually doesn’t take long before they lose their tops. Carlton went on to star in Bloodmatch (1991) from Albert Pyun a year later.

In fact for the first time Andy Sidaris seems genuinely concerned with plotting and character development. In the interim Edy Stark (Cynthia Brimhall) has become a lounge/nightclub singer at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, which is just an excuse to have her prance around in tiny glittery bikinis and sing, among others, the theme song. In all honesty, Brimhall isn’t too shabby a singer. Edy has left her restaurant Edy’s to redhead Rocky who turned it into Rocky’s. Kym (Kym Malin), last seen as in Picasso Trigger (1988) as part of the multi-talented linedancing duo Kym & Patticakes, has picked up oilwrestling and is seen hitting the canvas with Hugs Huggins (Donna Spangler), a 90s callback to Malibu Express (1982) peroxide blonde June Khnockers (Lynda Wiesmeier). It’s only at a record 27 minutes in that Sidaris flashes the first pair of breasts, but he compensates by showing three consecutive topless scenes from as many actresses in close succession. Substituting for the Professor (Patrick LaPore), who made his final appearance in Picasso Trigger (1988), is red bikini-clad stunner Ace (Liv Lindeland), more or less the same character as Picasso Trigger’s resident computer wiz Inga. Perhaps Sidaris genuinely didn't remember that Lindeland's character was named Inga originally?

Sidaris’ humour remains as unsophisticated and lowbrow as ever and plot-convenient excuses to get the girls naked are filmsy as always. When Degas explains to a hired duo of cross-dressing assassins that his target requires a “cerebral approach” he gets nothing but blank stares. Instructing them to “shoot her in the head” on the other hand is explanatory enough. During the final shootout Nicole Justin engages in an exchange of gunfire with Degas’ goon until Bruce Christian, brandishing an oversized gun, barges in saying “so this is what goes on in the ladies room!” In Sidaris tradition both Rocky and Cash die by gunshots between the breasts, and only Ace (the Inga substitute) is cowardly shot in the back. Cash fails to shoot Edy even though she’s mere meters away, apparently distracted by mirrors. Shane, being an Abilene, can’t shoot straight no matter what he does. Abe, a stand-in for The Professor, is killed while fishing by a remote controlled model boat and Juan Degas, the Jack Of Diamonds, is quite literally blown up at close range by Donna with a rocket launcher. For the first time in quite a while Edy Stark is given a more action-heavy part, which doesn’t mean that Sidaris doesn’t relish in her voluptuousness. Kym Malin’s Kym still only exists to raise the skin factor. Malin’s oil wrestling gig mostly serves a pretext to show a naked Donna Spangler, the Beverly Hills Barbie, who appeared in Playboy in December 1989, as the alliterative named Hugs Huggins.

As a disciple of the Russ Meyer school of filmmaking the material’s light tone and 80s fashion sense remain its strong points, even though the formula is starting to wear thin. Guns, if anything, is superior to Savage Beach (1989) in every way and as the first episode of the 90s it could’ve fared far worse. As enjoyable as Sidaris’ shtick tends to be in Guns things start to feel rusty and tiresome. The following year’s Do Or Die (1991) would adopt an overall darker and more cynical tone before returning to the series’ signature lighthearted tone with 1993’s Hard Hunted and Fit to Kill. At the halfway point of the LETHAL Ladies franchise the Sidaris formula starts to show its limitations, but that doesn’t change that they are almost universally fun. Guns has no shortage of big guns, both literal and figurative, and with a cast comprised almost exclusively of Playboy Playmates and Penthouse Pets was there really any reason to bother with trivialities such as plot? Andy Sidaris was hardly an auteur, but that never stopped his Bullets, Babes and Bombs or Girls, Guns and G-Strings series from being entertaining romps. Things could be worse…