Plot: journalist and mercenary take down corrupt South American dictator.
Of all the talentless hacks working the Italian exploitation circuit from the 60s to 80s shlockmeister Alfonso Brescia by far was the most seasoned and mercenary. Over a three-decade career Brescia built a reputation on doing it quicker and cheaper than everyone else. He made whatever was fashionable (or profitable) irrespective of whether he had any affinity or interest in the genre he was contributing to. As such old Alfonso made everything from peplum, superhero movies, and comedy (or some cross-pollination thereof) to commedia sexy all’italiana, World War II epics, a Shaw Bros co-produced martial arts slapstick romp and helmed a series of five of the cruddiest, sloppiest, and frequently most incoherent space operas ever to come out of Italy following the box office success of George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977). Strangely he never partook in either the cannibal craze of the seventies or the zombie fad of the eighties. While Brescia was a director of dubious merit he occassionally stumbled onto a good idea, either by design or by pure dumb luck. That serendipity struck again on Cross Mission (released domestically as Fuoco incrociato). In North America it was part of Cannon’s four-part Action Adventure Theater series, introduced by the king of low-budget action himself, Michael Dudikoff. All things being cyclical Cross Mission ended up inspiring the sixteenth James Bond episode Licence to Kill (1989).
While there’s no contesting that Brescia’s oeuvre mainly consists of some of the worst genre exercises ever conceived old Alfonso could actually make a decent feature if given the chance. He, after all, directed the very enjoyable duo of peplum The Revolt of the Pretorians (1964) (featuring Richard Harrison a full twenty years before he got lost in the wacky world of Godfrey Ho Chi-Keung (何誌強)), the The Giant Of Metropolis (1961) plagiate The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965), the early (and relatively tame) giallo Naked Girl Killed In the Park (1972), the The Amazons (1973) derivate Battle Of the Amazons (1973), the bootleg Ator sequel Iron Warrior (1987) (which Joe D’Amato, not exactly a paragon of integrity, famously denounced), and the Zalman King inspired erotic thriller Homicide In Blue Light (1991) (with French sexbomb Florence Guérin). In between those last two Brescia helmed a globe-trotting and explosive international action movie so hopelessly inept (and completely enjoyable for exactly that reason) that it makes the body of work of Cirio H. Santiago, Chalong Pakdeevijit, and Wilfredo dela Cruz look measured and sophisticated in comparison. What was he ripping off this time, you ask? Well, the thing every Italian director was back then… Rambo, or more specifically, Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and Rambo III (1988). The only reason to stay awake during the endless montages of jeeps driving, stilted firefights, and bamboo huts blowing up is Caribbean one-hit wonder Brigitte Porsche. Porsche not only gets to wear a Versace dress but also does karate… We love you, miss B – wherever you are!
General Romero (Maurice Poli) is the tyrannical dictator of some unspecified backwater banana republic somewhere in the Latin American jungles. With Nancy Reagan’s War On Drugs in full swing Romero shows UN inspectors that he’s dealing with his country’s narcotics manufacturing and - trafficking problem by very publicly burning some smaller marijuana plantations whilst secretly still controlling the bigger ones for his own personal enrichment. A press attachee releases a statement that there are no Contra-rebels in the region. Plucky photojournalist Helen (Brigitte Porsche, as Brigitte Porsh) doesn’t believe the official story and convinces the General’s former right-hand-man, and sometime Marine, William Corbett (Riccardo Acerbi, as Richard Randall) to help her in taking down his former employer, the self-proclaimed "El Predestinato". Along the way Helen and Corbett fall in with local guerrillas led by Myra (Anna Silvia Grullon, as Ana Silvia Grullon) and Ramirez (Riccardo Petrazzi). It’s all fairly standard jungle action fare until General Romero summons Astaroth (Nelson de la Rosa), a pint-sized warlock, and makes people do his bidding by putting them under macumba spells. Will the combined firepower of Helen, Corbett and the local Contra-rebel enclave be enough to overthrow an enemy of such awesome magnitude and influence?
The screenplay from brothers Donald and Gaetano Russo is about as terrible as their collective filmography. There’s no chemistry between Porsche and Acerbi, and their characters are so terribly underwritten that it makes you wonder why they even bothered differentiating them. Helen’s only character trait is that she’s a journalist. Corbett is a mercenary who sees the wrongs of his way, and tries to better himself. Corbett nor Helen have any signature lines or moves, and the only memorable scene is when Corbett gears up for vengeance in a montage clearly imitated from the Arnold Schwarzenegger body count movie Commando (1988). That said montage isn’t followed up upon is, of course, expected in a cheap, cruddy Alfonso Brescia production. That is to say, Corbett is the only character to even have an arc. General Romero is the fairly standard greedy, megalomaniac evil dictator until Brescia pulls the voodoo act towards the second half. It’s exactly the kind of stunt that made him famous some two decades prior with the sudden explosion into 1950s science fiction insanity on the otherwise perfectly enjoyable but otherwise unassuming peplum The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965). If Cross Mission is remembered for anything (if it’s remembered at all, that is) it’s solely for the duo of Nelson de la Rosa and Brigitte Porsche.
Brigitte Porsche is as much of an enigma as the girls from the Oasis Of the Zombies (1982) opening. Porsche seems to have no ties to the Austrian industrialist dynasty of luxury car manufacturers, or at least none of which there’s any historical documentation. As these things go, Cross Mission was her sole acting credit and her identity is shrouded in mystery – something not uncommon around this time with late Italian exploitation. Whether she was of Filipino or Dominican Republic descent is difficult to ascertain as in all likelihood Porsche used an Anglicized alias as many were prone to when working with Brescia. Writer Gaetano Russo famously was in The Red Monks (1988), a gothic horror throwback so tedious and directionless that not even the gratuitously exposed body of Lara Wendel could possibly redeem.
Also hiding under an alias is Riccardo Acerbi who, while not as prolific in exploitation as co-star Maurice Poli, starred in some of the worst latter-day Lucio Fulci and Joe D’Amato productions including Aenigma (1987) and Frankenstein 2000 – Return From Death (1991). Poli - who debuted in an uncredited role in the acclaimed World War II epic The Longest Day (1962) and became a spaghetti western and war movie regular afterwards - had been in Giuseppe Vari’s Urban Warriors (1987) just the year before. Maurice Poli and Peter Hintz were in Apocalypse Mercenaries (1987), while Anna Silvia Grullon and Nelson de la Rosa were both in Ratman (1988). Grullon would do nothing of particular interest afterwards, and de la Rosa would go to co-star alongside Marlon Brando in The Island Of Dr. Moreau (1996). Even by late 1980s Italian exploitation standards Cross Mission had a cast of complete and utter nobodies. Hell, Cross Mission is so much of a curio that not even The Italian Movie Database, nor the Caribbean Film Database for that matter, seem in any hurry to acknowledge its existence.
By the time Cross Mission went into production the Italian film industry was in shambles as television provided entertainment across all age brackets. In the late 1980s the famous Cinecittà studio compound was on the verge of bankruptcy, and budgets all but dried up. Italians went en masse to the multiplexes, while older movie theaters simply disappeared altogether, but primarily for big-budget Hollywood productions while domestic movies hardly attracted an audience. Much in the same way was the illustrious career of Alfonso Brescia, probably one of Italy’s most journeyed but least competent exploitation directors, coming to a crawl. Brescia would shoot only four more movies after Cross Mission before passing away in June 2001. Cross Mission was a Filipino co-production afforded location shooting in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
However there isn’t anything that Brescia and Ferrando can’t make look absolutely god-awful despite a wealth of natural beauty and scenic vistas. This could have been shot on decaying leftover sets from Zombi Holocaust (1980) or Devil Hunter (1980) and nobody would be any the wiser. Ferrando worked on All Colours Of the Dark (1972), La Liceale (1975), Mountain Of the Cannibal God (1978), and Hands Of Steel (1986) but apparently phoned it in here. The cinematography is as flat, hideous and ugly as Fausto Rossi’s work on Battle Of the Amazons (1973) more than a decade prior. Brescia could produce a decent movie if his heart was in it, as The Adolescent (1976), Frittata all'italiana (1976), Big Mamma (1979), and his many sceneggiatta with Mario Merola attest to. Clearly Alfonso didn’t care much, or at all, about the international action movie. We are a long way from Naked Girl Killed In the Park (1972) and an even a longer way from The Conqueror Of Atlantis (1965), indeed.
There’s probably a reason why Cross Mission is the only full-on action movie in the Alfonso Brescia repertoire. It’s emblematic for Brescia’s late eighties output as it generally moves too slow, has an inpenetrable plot, and the action is far more lethargic than it ought to be. Brescia would helm two more action-themed yarns with the buddy cop movie Miami Cops (1989) and Deadly Chase (1990) in the following years. The defining characteristic of Brescia’s career has always been that of underarchievement and Cross Mission is no different. Iron Warrior (1987) had Hong Kong written all over it – and you’d halfway expect Brescia to finally get a clue. That wasn’t exactly the case as with Homicide In Blue Light (1991) old Alfonso managed to fumble his way through an erotic thriller. Il faut le faire… Like any good obscurity Cross Mission deserves the proper high-definition digital remaster/restoration treatment, and hopefully some courageous company will rise to the task. It makes you wonder what Antonio Margheriti and Bruno Mattei could have done with a premise like this and what could have become of miss Porsche had she been employed by Cirio H. Santiago, Chalong Pakdeevijit, or Wilfredo dela Cruz. Alas, the world will never know…