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  Ruckus Nam Was Never Like This
Year: 1980
Director: Max Kleven
Stars: Dirk Benedict, Linda Blair, Richard Farnsworth, Ben Johnson, Matt Clark, Jon Van Ness, Taylor Lacher, Clifford A. Pellow, Ben Bates, Jerry Gatlin, Bennie E. Dobbins, Bobby Hughes, A.J. Blake, Melanie Weeks, Patrick Connolly, Bob Peeler, Ken DeGusta
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Kyle Hanson (Dirk Benedict) is a drifter who has found himself in this Southern smalltown, and he has not washed nor eaten in a while. He has a small amount of cash on him so goes to the first diner he sees and orders a raw hamburger, much to the waitress's surprise, and as he sits on the porch eating it he draws disparaging comments from the other patrons, including the deputy, Dave (Jon Van Ness), but the Sheriff (Ben Johnson) is more intrigued since Hanson is dressed in an Army jacket and he lost his son in the Vietnam War, missing in action. Could this man be here because he has something to say about the Sheriff's boy, or is there another reason for his presence?

The first thing most who have actually seen Ruckus say is that it must have been the inspiration for the Sylvester Stallone hit First Blood, the movie that introduced John Rambo to the world, and there were similarities, most notably in their siding with an individual who has become an outsider for trying to do his best for his country, only to be rejected. There were other similarities as well, not just the Vietnam War veteran connection, which both Hanson and Rambo were, as they don't kill anyone, they cause mayhem when the local lawmen try to bring them down nevertheless, and their military training has made them something akin to supermen of survivalist ingenuity.

However, it was important to note that First Blood was not based on this storyline, as it had been drawn from, and toned down from, the David Morrell novel from the start of the previous decade, so you began to wonder if writer and director Max Kleven had noted how difficult it had been to get First Blood off the starting blocks and decided to pre-empt it. Certainly there was more humour in Ruckus, not that any of it was particularly hilarious, they were simply sending up the hicks in the manner of many a drive-in movie of the nineteen-seventies under the guise of courting them for their ticket buying potential. At times this came across as a showcase for Kleven's extensive stunt work.

That was down to the director being a stuntman and co-ordinator in his other job, not exactly Hal Needham when it came to translating his vision for how an unpretentious flick could lead to box office success, but he managed to get a few productions financed and out into the world, though the stunt work was what consumed most of his time. Here they were obviously not lavishly expensive to stage, but were effective nonetheless and appeared sufficiently dangerous to participate in, with trucks flying over cliffs or dynamite explosions set off alarmingly close to the cast members, which must have rattled their eardrums at the very least. But Kleven was keen to keep his efforts family friendly, so when there was no bad language, no gore and no sexual content, this veered closer to a jolly romp for the most part.

Assuming you thought seeing a posse of morons getting their just desserts from the one man capable enough to outsmart them was amusing, though even then this laid it on a bit thick, with character actor Matt Craven especially going over the top in his panicking good old boy performance. In fact, a good deal of this was not comedy related at all, as a dramatic element was very visible thanks to Linda Blair's involvement, she playing the daughter-in-law of the Sheriff and mother of his young son, who is not marrying again until there is official confirmation her spouse has died. She makes a connection with Hanson that sees her feeding, clothing and generally shaking him up to something more like a human being again, and those scenes are played with great sincerity, all very well except the tones jarred between the serious business and the more action-packed, thriller and comedy angles. It depicted the one-man army against the world fantasy of many an eighties action endeavour to come, however: there was evidently something very appealing to this decade's audiences about such self-sufficiency. Country songs and Tommy Vig's bluegrass were the soundtrack.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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