“I Ain’t Your Watermelon Man!!!”

After spending the last 3 months reviewing mostly forgotten horror movies, I had the urge to do something a little different. You can all relax. I’m still writing another mostly unintelligible review of yet another movie that most of you won’t watch. Business as usual.

Our next movie up for review is 1976’s Zebra Force, directed by Joe Tornatore. Joe would later go on to direct Grotesque (1988) and Demon Keeper (1994) for Roger Corman. While not well-known films, Joe did have an acting career that saw him playing roles in such successful films as Cleopatra Jones, F.I.S.T., and the Jon Voight tear-jerker, The Champ. Some would argue that maybe he should have stayed with acting. His agent was probably arguing the loudest.

The movie starts in an underground (i.e. “illegal”) casino. Mobster Gus Moreno chides a henchman for not guarding the doors. As the thug takes his place back at the entrance, the doors are blown in. A group of black men with machine guns barge in and start shooting up the place. Gus is shot and killed, as are most of the other gangsters in the joint. A funky bass riff kicks in and the opening credits roll. After those are done (and I’ve returned  my, my, my, my, my….. my boogie shoes to the closet), we cut back to the casino. One of the raiders escorts the non-Mafioso gamblers out of the establishment, while the others hit the vault.  They grab the loot and make their escape in a cargo van that is revved up and waiting outside. As this is the 70’s, you can only imaging my disappointment as there was no wizard riding a tiger over a sea of stars painted on the side. Not even those little fuzzy balls hanging from the ceiling. I call shenanigans.

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 Driver gets a 1d4 bonus to “Awesome”, but a 1d20 penalty to ever obtaining consensual sex.

The casino’s bartender goes back inside after the robbery and makes a phone call to “made man” Charlie DeSantes. Charlie himself then calls the “Don”, Salvatore Moreno. For those slow on the uptake, this would be the father of Gus. Sal wants payback and sends his No. 2, Carmine Longo, to get to the bottom of things. “Carmine” is played by former wrestler turned actor, Mike Lane. Lane may be best remembered as Frank N. Stein on the 70’s Monster Squad TV series.

Back at their hideout after the heist, the white leader of the Zebra Force (our robbers) orders the team to remove their disguises. In the first of a couple of scenes ripped straight from the ending of any episode of Scooby-Doo, the team remove their blackface masks and are revealed to be a group of white men. Once again, Uncle Salty is trying to keep a brother down.

 

The leader of Zebra Force is a white man only referred to as “the Lieutenant”. As we soon learn via flashback sequence, the Lieutenant was the platoon leader for this same group of men during the Vietnam War. After stepping on a landmine, the Lieutenant is horribly disfigured. Now, minus one arm, face looking like a Silly Putty accident, and forced to speak through an electrolarynx, he guides his men using such motivational speeches as, “They’re gonna be looking for black guys, and here we are, white as Ivory snow.”. Someone obviously did not attend Multicultural Day at their middle school.

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For their next job, Zebra Force disguise themselves as an all-black road crew in order to raid a warehouse used in the smuggling of heroin. It’s at this time that we discover that the members of Zebra Force don’t have many qualms when it comes to murder, as they brutal stab to death every person working in the warehouse. One employee is even impaled on the arm of a forklift. I guess he got the point. Ouch. That was bad. Even by my low standards.

Carmine arranges a meeting with Earl Lovington, the only black man on the mob’s payroll. As expected, he denies any knowledge of who is committing these robberies. He goes far enough to even tell Carmine that he does not fear DeSantes and that he wishes that he knew who these men were so that he could hire them himself. Probably not the best way to get people off of your back, but that’s his call. And it was a bad call, as he and his men soon become Carmine’s targets after another raid by Zebra Force on a liquor store used as an illegal betting parlor. Just a guess here, but I do think that the “real” black men would have had something to say about the shoeshine boxes that the robbers used to store their guns in.

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The raids and racial misdirection continue on, eventually culminating in a final shoot out between our race relations anti-heroes and the boys in Armani. The film is smart enough to throw one final curveball at the end, but even then, it amounts to a quick “I’ll be damned” and not much more.

Zebra Force is fun if only for its 70’s hair and clothing, as well as it’s laughable moments of racism. However, as far as action flicks go, this one comes up short. Not a bad movie by any means, but just not entertaining enough for me to recommend for anything other than some 70’s nostalgia and a few laughs at racial stereotypes. Someone somewhere obviously disagreed with me as a sequel would pop up in 1987.

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 Aww, shit!!! I’mma drive that bitch straight to Wyoming.

 

No US DVD currently available on Amazon