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Plot: diamond is stolen from high-profile target. LETHAL Ladies are on the case.

Andy Sidaris closed the book on the original LETHAL Ladies franchise with Fit to Kill, the conclusion of the three-part Kane storyline and the last of the 5-picture deal that Sidaris brokered after the home video success of Picasso Trigger (1988). Not all episodes were created equal, and some were just plain better than others. The LETHAL Ladies movies never aspired to anything more than fun-loving spy/action romps set in and around Hawaii with a rotating bevy of bosomy belles in candy-colored bikinis and where explosions, shootouts, and an abundance of oversized breasts stood in for trivial things such as inter-episode continuity, ongoing plot, and character development. For a while the series had been losing steam but good old Andy had found a new muse in the interim. The last original LETHAL Ladies chapter Fit to Kill is a glorious throwback to the halcyon days of Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) and Savage Beach (1989).

The franchise always largely served as an excuse to flaunt big guns (both literal and figurative), oversized explosions, and the thinnest veneer of a spy-action plot. Nobody loved beautiful women more than the late Andy Sidaris and what better way to get into their good graces than to promise them stardom? In their six years with the series Dona Speir, Roberta Vasquez, and Cynthia Brimhall all had become, to lesser or greater extent, superstars in their own little corner of cult cinema. After Hope Marie Carlton bade the series farewell after Savage Beach (1989) it effectively made Dona Speir the de facto series mascot. Years of headlining the LETHAL Ladies had taken their toll on Speir and she was ready to move on. Fit to Kill was the last featuring Speir, Vasquez, and Brimhall and (obviously) new blood and bodies were needed. Sidaris the elder was, for all intents and purposes, ready to retire the series and what was more fit to kill the franchise than the “Andy’s greatest hits” that was Fit to Kill? In the two years that followed Andy’s son Christian Drew took up the mantle and produced the two expanded universe episodes Enemy Gold (1993) and The Dallas Connection (1994) with his Skyhawks Films. Sidaris the younger may not have gloriously risen to the occassion, but he managed to extend the series’ lifespan beyond what was reasonably expected of it. Both Sidaris universes merged in Day of the Warrior (1996) and Return to Savage Beach (1998).

To keep its operatives sharp The Agency is organizing war games. After the obligatory swim in the resident pool Donna Hamilton (Dona Speir) and Nicole Justin (Roberta Vasquez) engage Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane, as Michael Shane) and Bruce Christian (Bruce Penhall) in a round of paintball and target practice. Meanwhile at Aladdin Resort & Casino, Martin Kane (Geoffrey Moore, as RJ Moore) is hatching a convoluted plan to bring down federal agent Hamilton, lure his former criminal associate Po (Craig Ng, as Craig Ryan Ng) into the open, and take possession of the vaunted Alexa diamond. At no point does Silk (Carolyn Liu), an Agency informant, find it necessary to relay any of this information. Having failed to produce the Klystron Relay nuclear trigger as ordered, Kane has now fallen out of Po’s and his client’s favor making him fair game for not respecting the criminal code. Po has dispatched statuesque leather-clad hitwoman Blu Steele (Julie Strain) to collect the outstanding debt and the prize on his head.

Back at the The Agency headquarters Lucas (Tony Peck) briefs the agents of their latest objective: the infiltration of a high-society black-tie event wherein philanthropist and entrepreneur Chang (Aki Aleong) will cordially donate the Russian imperial diamond stolen from the Leningrad museum during World War II to a Russian diplomat as an act of restoration. The Agency will monitor the diamond, handle security, and oversee the exchange. It sounds like a simple enough operation. Edy (Cynthia Brimhall) and Lucas commence the necessary preparations, while Donna and Bruce reconoiter the event perimeter for any possible breaches. Nicole busies herself with screening all of the invitees and personnel. Rookie agent Ava (Ava Cadell) will act as a delegate to meet Russian diplomat Mikael Petrov (Rodrigo Obregón, as Rodrigo Obregon) and his aide Gregor (Mark Barriere). Shane Abilene will stay behind at the offices of K SXY radio and familiarize new Agency trainee Sandy (Sandra Wild) with all the necessary procedures, in theory and in practice, before her first field operation. In the confusion at the black-tie party Kane’s tracking necklace is stolen (among other riches) leading Nicole and Bruce on a hurried retrieval mission while being chased by bumbling assassins Evil (Chu Chu Malave) and Kinevil (Richard Cansino). When the true culprit finally reveals himself Donna, Kane, and a few bystanders are abducted. An explosive, bullet-ridden clash between the various factions seems imminent. As the smoke clears and the chaos subsides Donna Hamilton solemny philosophizes that her “work here is done.” Prophetic words, indeed.

A changing of the guards was on the horizon and with the late great Julie Strain the series was given a second lease on life. Strain was a Penthouse Pet (June, 1991), Pet of the Year (1993), muse of Spanish fantasy illustrator Luis Royo, and she who should have been Vampirella. Strain was no stranger to action with roles in Hollywood actioners as Out For Justice (1991) (with Steven Seagal) and Double Impact (1991) (with Jean-Claude Van Damme) next to bit parts in Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994) and Beverly Hills Cop III (1994). As Speir retired from the series Strain became the new mascot easily eclipsing her equally well-endowed co-stars Shae Marks and Julie K. Smith. The new cast never really gelled and there was no real chemistry between Strain and Marks the way there was between either Speir-Carlton or Speir-Vasquez. It was never for a lack of trying on Julie’s part. She took these roles perhaps far more serious than they deserved.

The only real new face (or body, rather) is Sandra Wild. Wild appeared in Playboy several times over the years, most notably in August 1991 as part of the “California Dreamin’” article. In a rare exception to Sidaris casting traditions Sandra apparently never made it to Playmate but appeared in multiple of their home videos. She also starred in the 1990 Michael Bay directed music video for ‘Up All Night’ from Slaughter. Wild amassed a respectable amount of (mostly uncredited) decorative roles in popular television series as Married with Children (1989), Full House (1989), Columbo (1990), Star Trek: The Next Generation (1990), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1994), and Walker, Texas Ranger (1995). Not that that translated into something resembling a real acting career. For better or worse, the casting choices here would be an omen for things to come.

Sidaris, senior and junior alike, were about to learn an important lesson: with great boobs comes great responsibility. While there never was any particular shortage of willing and able Playmates to choose from they would never quite find suitable replacements for both Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton or Roberta Vasquez. Christian Drew tried his darndest to find the right duo (you may interpret that any way you want) but none were really able to recreate the chemistry between the original two platinum blondes. Roberta Vasquez really made the role of Nicole Justin (who always was a thinly-veiled proxy-Taryn) her own and Strain was only second to her in becoming a pillar of the series in her own right. All of which speaks to just how iconic Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton were to the series and how dangerously their shadow loomed over whoever was chosen to follow in their collective footprints. For the most part the rule of thumb was that a Playmate’s bust-size was inversely proportional to her line-reading skills (Julie Strain being the exception). The original LETHAL Ladies would be resurrected for two episodes with Day of the Warrior (1996) and Return to Savage Beach (1998). No more sequels were produced by either Andy or Christian Drew after 1998. Sidaris the elder himself would pass away in 2007. In the decade-plus since nobody has risen to the task of filling that particular niche. Secretly we’re hoping either Rene Perez or Benjamin Combes will do so, but only time will tell.

Plot: a nuclear trigger is stolen. LETHAL Ladies are on the case.

After the strange detours and diversions that were the more adventure-oriented Savage Beach (1989) and the incredibly cynical Do Or Die (1991) Hawaiian low-budget action king Andy Sidaris restored the franchise to its former glory with Hard Hunted. Franchise mascot Dona Speir and Roberta Vasquez and Do Or Die (1991) co-stars Carolyn Liu and Mika Quintard all make their return in the second episode of the Kane trilogy. Hard Hunted is in many ways vintage Sidaris with gorgeous Hawaii locations and a multitude of bodacious top-heavy women in candy-colored bikinis and swimwear. In a first for the series there’s actual inter-episode continuity with Hard Hunted building on the plot that Do Or Die (1991) took some pains to establish. Andy Sidaris never aimed for high art with the LETHAL Ladies franchise, and Hard Hunted puts the fun back in funbags, and does so with a vengeance. Stuff blows up real good, there are probably more naked breasts per capita than in any installment before or since, and Cynthia Brimhall - the multi-talented wonder, until now a special guest of sorts - is elevated to a regular cast member. Boobs, babes, and bombs is the name of the game; some bigger than others. In other words, Hard Hunted goes the distance…

That deviled Masakana 'Kane' Kaneshiro - the Asian crimelord that had an earlier run-in with the LETHAL Ladies and eluded capture - has smuggled the Klystron Relay, a nuclear trigger, with intention of selling it to a terrorist in the Middle East. Kaneshiro has adopted the identity of Caucasian British Kane Martin (Geoffrey Moore, as R.J. Moore). Working deep undercover, both literal and figurative, and posing as his lover, is Agency informant Silk (Carolyn Liu). Meanwhile in Sedona, Arizona Donna Hamilton (Dona Speir) and Nicole Justin (Roberta Vasquez) are enjoying a well-deserved vacation after their latest brush with death. That vacation is abruptly cut short when Silk is brutally murdered and the two, unwittingly or otherwise, come in possession of a mysterious jade Buddha figurine. Before they very well know it the agents have become hunted, you could say Hard Hunted, by helicopter-flying madman Raven (Al Leong) and his assassin squad.

In a daring escape Donna crashlands on the nearby Lason island (complete with plot-convenient amnesia) and promptly The Agency mounts two rescues parties. Edy Stark (Cynthia Brimhall) has traded in her lounge act at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and has returned to her Edy’s restaurant in Moloka’i. There she provides both food and entertainment as a cover. Accompanying Edy is Agency head Lucas (Tony Peck). Following closely behind are Nicole and Bruce Christian (Bruce Penhall) baring breasts and arms, respectively. Along the way both groups are beset by Wiley (Chu Chu Malave) and Coyote (Richard Cansino), another odiously comic duo of bumbling assassins, while Dona, unbeknowst, has fallen in with mercenaries Pico (Rodrigo Obregón) and Skip (Skip Ward). Back at the Agency safehouse Shane Abilene (Michael J. Shane) has taken to showing new Agency trainee Becky (Beckie Mullen, as Becky Mullen) the ropes. From the offices of K SXY radio DJ Ava (Ava Cadell) broadcasts encrypted messages to field agents via her talkshow. Since this is the Andy-verse both DJs and staff wear skimpy bikinis at all times and spent inordinate amount of their free time in the nearest hot tub.

On the one hand Hard Hunted reinstates many of the signature scenes and locations that Savage Beach (1989) and Guns (1990) eschewed, but on the other it’s sort of undeniable that fatigue has crept into the series. It’s not nearly as exciting as it ought to be and Sidaris’ workmanlike, routine direction doesn’t help much either. Roberta Vasquez has regained her composure and is back to being her old sizzling self just the way she was when she was first introduced. The additional Asian cast members add greatly to the ethnic diversity although the Andy-verse remains staunchly Caucasian in every other respect. Back again is Al Leong, the lead henchman of big budget 80s action, who could also be seen in Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Lethal Weapon (1987), Die Hard (1988), and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989). He, of course, was there on Savage Beach (1989).

As per LETHAL Ladies tradition Hard Hunted opens with a musical number from resident sexbomb and perennial LWO favorite Edy, after prior excursions into cajun country and soulful r&b this time Cynthia Brimhall can be heard doing cachi cachi. Notable is that Edy’s has been restored to its former glory (after having been converted to Rocky’s ever so briefly for a single episode) and in between installments Edy has been upgraded to full field agent status. In probably the only bit of retroactive continuity the scene where Silk gives Kane the locator necklace from Do Or Die (1991) is re-shot with Moore in place of Morita. For the second time in a row Kane doesn’t get blown up in a ridiculously big explosion.

Carried over from Do Or Die is the increased profanity and especially “bitch” gets thrown around a lot more than in past episodes. For the majority of the feature Donna is incapitated and a non-participant in any of the plot, in her stead Edy is allowed to step up along with de facto lead Nicole Justin. Sidaris continues with his usual shtick including bumbling cartoonish henchman with Wiley and Coyote, the usage of remote controlled model planes/helicopters, and the usual way for an agent to get out of a bind is to drop one or more articles of clothing, preferably their tops. There’s, of course, an Abilene, and there are enough soft sex scenes to still anybody’s craving. Every lead has at least one topless scene (but usually more too) and nobody films a beautiful lady the way old Andy used to do.

At least Hard Hunted has the decency to introduce a some much-needed new faces. The new Kane is played by Geoffrey Moore, son of the late Roger Moore. Mika Quintard was in Candyman (1992) and her part amounts to little more than cavorting around sexily and getting killed. Replacing the ill-fitting Stephanie Schick of the prior installment is Beckie Mullen. Mullen was part of the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling and first appeared in Playboy in December 1990, then again in August 1991, and finally in January 1994 as part of "The Great 40th Anniversary Playmate Search" spread. She can also been seen in the music videos for ‘Poundcake’ by Van Halen and ‘Up All Night’ from Slaughter. Ava Cadell, who once uttered the legendary words “I’m gonna blow their tits off”, appears in a glorified cameo and is of little importance otherwise. That doesn’t mean that Sidaris won’t have her drop top when and where it matters.

Hard Hunted might not be the cream of the crop of the LETHAL Ladies franchise but it reinstates some of the more fun aspects that were somehow lost in Savage Beach (1989) and Do Or Die (1991). The series never recovered from the loss of Hope Marie Carlton and Roberta Vasquez’ substitute character for Taryn does little to help matters in that regard. While the energy level has been higher Hard Hunted overcompensates by an absolute abundance preposterously proportioned Playmates and cartoonishly big-bosomed women with oversized guns. Moreso than any other does Hard Hunted goes out of its way to show its many ladies in various stages of advanced undress. The spy angle still is a mere preamble to have the ladies in as many locations as possible, and the action direction still makes Albert Pyun look like Hong Kong. There are certainties in the Andy-verse and that is no matter how asinine or moronic the script or how convoluted the plot developments; there will be big guns, both literal and figurative. The only depth one is likely to find is in the cleavage of the various ladies, and that’s about it. Hard Hunted, while hardly exemplary, is at least better than its predecessor – which isn’t saying a lot. It does make one long for the simpler times of more enthusiast, fun-loving Sidaris spy-action romps as Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) and Picasso Trigger (1988).