As any regular reader of our site knows, we have an ongoing obsession with the output of the straight-to-video company known as Full Moon Video. Full Moon is particularly noteworthy for inflicting both the Trancers series and the Puppet Master series on mankind.
Zone Troopers is not a Full Moon video.
However, it was made by the same people who would later become standards over at Full Moon. Zone Troopers features such stellar talent as Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth in the Trancers films), Art LaFleur (Jack Deth's boss in the Trancers films), Biff Maynard (Hap in the Trancers films), and Ted Nicolaou (editor of Zone Troopers, director of such Full Moon videos like Subspecies 2 and The Vampire Journals). Not only that, but the music in Zone Troopers is composed (ahem, more on that later) by Richard Band, the brother of Full Moon founder Charles Band.
Zone Troopers starts out with a platoon of American soldiers somewhere in Italy during WWII. The platoon is led by the legendary Iron Sarge (Tim Thomerson) who is renowned for his many escapes from certain death. ("Sarge doesn't try to make friends 'cause he doesn't like losin' em.") We are also introduced to Joey (Tim Van Patten, fondly rembered from such TV series as White Shadow and The Master), a private who loves to read sci-fi pulps, and Mittens (Art LaFleur), the crusty but benign character mandated by Hollywood law to be in all WWII films. They are joined by Dolan, a journalist. Then, faster than you can say "extras are too expensive for this film," a convenient German attack kills off all of the members of the platoon we didn't meet by name.
"So help me, Hap..."
Lost behind enemy lines, our four heroes wander about until they find Nazis camped out around a crashed space ship. Sarge and Joey sneak aboard the wreck, while Mittens and Dolan manage to get captured by SS soldiers. As Joey and Sarge try to figure out how a leftover set from Saturn 3 ended up in an alien spaceship, Dolan and Mittens find out that they're not the only prisoners the Nazis have. The SS has also captured the only survivor of the spaceship crash, a bug-eyed alien in a white jumpsuit who spins a cocoon around itself when it sleeps. To be honest, the early footage of soldiers wandering around the forest made us think that a Predator rip-off was in the works, but we were surprised to find that this film was made 3 years prior to Predator's release.
It's no surprise, however, that Sarge and Joey rescue Mittens, Dolan, and the alien from the Nazis and that the mis-matched fivesome makes tracks for friendly lines. One interesting wrinkle does occur when more aliens show up, the Zone Troopers of the title, to rescue the bug-eyed guy. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't show us the tense moral discussions that the blue-faced Zone Troopers have while trying to figure out if it was worth risking four soldiers to rescue just one man... er, alien. Heck, a movie about such a thing could be a big hit! Just call it Saving Private Greedo. And in an amazing coincidence, it turns out that a twelve year-old Matt Damon is indeed playing the bug-eyed alien under that mask.*
There is no denying that Zone Troopers is a fairly low budget film, but everyone involved here has done a lot with the available moolah. The crashed spaceship, in particular, looks really good, and the World War II uniforms are nicely done, even if they do look too new to be on soldiers in the middle of a war. A fair amount of cash seems to have been thrown at the props, with the exception of the Zone Troopers' spaceship, which looks a bit too small to carry all 5 of our extraterrestrial buddies. Perhaps they skimped a bit on the acting talent: we haven't noticed Tim Thomerson's salary climbing into the millions of dollars, so it's probable that the stars of this film were making close to scale on this particular flick. Still, veterans like Thomerson and La Fleur really added a lot to the delivery of their lines, subtly camping it up and (we suspect) ad-libbing most of the funny lines.
"Hey guys, I think Chewbacca had
too much to drink last night."
Those lines are the real reason to watch Zone Troopers. Every time we felt like the movie was treading from the mediocre into the truly bad, one of the characters popped up with a zinger. The little squabbles between the soldiers are easily the most entertaining moments of the movie. Spicing it up between those scenes are some over-the-top Nazi actors, action scenes set to hoppin boppin Big Band tunes, and a blurry guest appearance by an Adolf Hitler impersonator. Now that's entertainment.
One of our few complaints about this movie is the music by Richard Band. Band actually rips off John Williams' Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back. Just listen carefully when Mittens and Dolan discover the Nazi camp. We expected Darth Vader to come walking around a corner at any moment. The big band tunes we mentioned during the action scenes are a bit incongruous, but nowhere near as irritating as hearing one of our favorite bits of movie music so flagrantly plagiarized.
Dare we call Zone Troopers a masterpiece? Well, no. But it is a harbinger of the better things to come from Full Moon, namely low budget movies with reasonably high entertainment value and a nice break from Hollywood's normal output.