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 Ward) 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 dialogues 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 (1993) 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.