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“How many endings can this story have?” Over the course of 13 years, writer/director Andy Sidaris (plus his son Christian) launched a dozen 'L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies' movies into the world, and with 1998's Return to Savage Beach, an era of explosive RC toys and bared flesh came to a close. After so many movies over so many years, one might have expected the final entry to feel stale, even a little limp – but Sidaris bid adieu to the 20th Century with a bang, certainly a familiar one, but a bang nonetheless...
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“Look to the heavens for sexual gratification. There are others on the same wavelength who are driven by a desire to interfere with the forces of virtue.” Following on from the events of 1994's The Dallas Connection, which saw the delay of a satellite that could keep tabs on all of the world's bad guys, Return to Savage Beach kicks off with the successful launch – and installation and start up – of the Lacrosse Satellite in all of five minutes. How is that possible? What, the insanely fast launch pad to operational status duration, or just how the satellite actually works? Fuck knows and who cares anyway? What's important is that K-SXY Radio – and it's 'Sextrologist' host Ava (Ava Cadell, Do Or Die, returning for her 4th entry in the franchise) – are back, along with some familiar faces just like the good old days.
“Arrow. Explosive tip. What did you expect?” / “Hey, I had something to do with it too.” Lacrosse allows The Agency to observe their enemies wherever they are and it's soon put to the test as Texas-based agents Tiger (Shae Marks) and Tyler (Cristian Letelier) – both returning from Day of the Warrior – don their wet suits and scurry after a gang of terrorists who have been smuggling weapons into the heart of America (because, you know, it's really hard to scrounge up some guns in the US of A). Wet suits, eh? Yep, 'cos those dirty rotten terrorists have half-inched the Agency's speedboat Vindicator, but never fear, there's Agency jet skis ready and waiting at the shores of Lake Dallas. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am (and hey, that location looks awfully familiar!) and those terrorists are through, 'cos they had to answer to The Agency – fuck yeah!
“You should be in prison!” / “Willow, please don't headbutt me, we've got lots to talk about.” / “You look different. What did you do?” / “Cut my hair short – close to the wood.” But – aha – it was all just a ploy to distract the L.E.T.H.A.L. agents and allow Sofia (Carrie Westcott) to infiltrate the Agency office and steal a top secret computer disk that harks back to 1989's Savage Beach and shows the location of buried Philippine gold, as stolen by the Japanese during World War II. Surely the Agency, as frequently pestered as they have been for the past eleven movies by countless ne'er do wells, will have some solid security in-place? As if! One security guard is all their budget seems to cover … well, the Agents do get through an awful lot of explosives and swimsuits. Besides, Sofia's cover as a rollerblading pizza delivery girl dishing out free samples and spiked Ginger Ale (in a skin tight red leather outfit, of course) is, let's be fair, as legit as one can get, is it not? But why are these old files being dug up? Turns out that gold-obsessed baddie Rodrigo Martinez (Rodrigo Obregón, Hard Ticket To Hawaii) didn't die at the hands of Taryn in a rubber dinghy explosion, but is alive and well, his burned face hidden beneath a Phantom of the Opera style mask. Some bad guys just won't give up, will they? Well, hold your horses there, 'cos things are going to get complicated come the final act … really complicated. And rather expositiony. Nor make a huge amount of sense, either.
“Baby, don't forget, nobody could ever love me as much as I love myself.” The first eight movies were one phase of the 'L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies' saga, with Donna Hamilton (Dona Speir) leading seven of the flicks, but when she bowed out, so too did Andy Sidaris, who handed over the writing and directing reigns to his son for 1993's Enemy Gold and it's follow-up The Dallas Connection. However, you can't keep a good purveyor of sultry action down for long, and Andy returned for the final two entries. While Dona Speir had dominated much of the first phase, the admittedly patchy – and shorter – second phase was dominated by Julie Strain, who returns here as Agency commander Willow Black, albeit in a somewhat sidelined role after previous appearances which saw her kicking mucho derrière and taking innumerable names, mostly as villainous assassins.
“Haven't you met a woman that can make you happy?” / “Sure, three or four times a week.” The focus this time around switches more to returning characters Tiger and Tyler as well as Beverly Hills agents Cobra (Julie K. Smith) and Doc Austin (Paul Logan, taking over from Kevin Light). Other returning faces include Gerald Okamura's Fu (Fit To Kill), Carolyn Liu's fifth appearance as Silk (Hard Hunted), and Marcus Bagwell as Warrior, the big bad from 1996's Day of the Warrior. But wait, didn't he get captured by Willow and Fu and sent down for Murder One and a whole host of smuggling charges? Yes … but … it turns out the man he killed was, in fact, a serial killer (because why not?) and international smuggling seems to only net you three months in a cushty white collar prison. It's all in the name of one of Sidaris' less obvious tropes – the slap dash redemption. We've seen it before with the recurring bad guy Kane from the first phase of the 'Sidaris-verse' (originally played by Pat Morita in 1991's Do Or Die and then by the decidedly not Japanese American Geoffrey Moore in 1992's Hard Hunted and 1993's Fit To Kill). Right, so wrestler/smuggler/killer-of-killers Warrior has now hopped onto the Agency team to fight the good fight against 'good guy turned bad' Rodrigo Martinez … but even his nefarious return plays into Sidaris' fondness for not-so-bad-afterall bad guys. However, the way in which that whole sub-plot unfolds in the final act is hilariously over-the-top, and yet it shows off exactly why these movies are so much fun. Considering what transpires shortly afterwards, Sofia's horrified reaction to peeling back Martinez's mask makes absolutely no sense whatsoever … you'll understand when you see it all play out.
“I was born for water sports. I'll help you through it all, pal.” Speaking of fun, there's a boatload to be had in this final entry in the franchise. Acting as something of a lap of honour for Sidaris, Return To Savage Beach aims to please its fans and leave the formula unchanged while hitting various familiar notes for keen-eyed viewers. Take, for instance, glamour: kicking off with Willow swimming about in a skimpy swimsuit in sun-kissed Hawaii (as a low rent James Bond-esque themetune plays) before she hops into a Ford Mustang (albeit one of those kinda naff Mustangs from the '90s), the movie indulges in a fantasy lifestyle of the rich and deadly. Fast cars, limousines, Rodeo Drive, fur coats, yacht clubs, as well as beautiful women with huge boobs and hunky dudes with torsos chiselled from gleaming marble, boast the dream ideal of sleek living, fast times, and insatiable lust plus, seemingly, a complete lack of knowledge of how shirt buttons work. And just imagine members of the public trying to decipher Ava's coded Agency messages transmitted through K-SXY Radio and how they might help fan the flames in their pursuit of love.
“What's up? I've got my hands full.” / “I'll vouch for that.” Then, of course, there's the unbridled sense of pure entertainment. While Sidaris was never able to top 1987's Hard Ticket To Hawaii, he had a jolly good stab at it with the final two chapters in his series. Random kung fu fight in a garden that is decorated with, for some reason, a giant antique chair? Why not? Ninjas on a submarine? Who would have guessed that would be something to see upon pressing play? Remote Control toys loaded with dynamite? You can't not include that well worn schtick. Putting rumpy pumpy before the job? That's just how The Agency rolls, baby – is one of your own is in great peril, and a precious item has been stolen? Better jump into the pool and have a bunk-up beneath a waterfall! Have you just found the location of the buried gold everyone's after? Better strip off those figure-hugging co-ordinated outfits and run to the nearest beach for a dose of skinny dipping!
“A female James Bond who loved money more than honour.” While the third act may be a bit sloppy, lurching from a literal ticking clock on a bomb to a crammed-in sex fantasy with 'Officer Naughty' to a wobbly Jenga game of rapid fire double-crosses, reveals, betrayals, logic-defying twists, and more reveals, Return To Savage Beach mostly hits the right notes along the way. It's easy to become inured to the bizzarro writing and scenery chewing performances, so that the sheer craziness becomes an expectation instead of a grin-inducing surprise, but over the course of twelve movies according to Sidaris' warped sense of humour there's no denying that it has been a fun ride. Although this final movie repeats a few lines and gags along the way (as if Sidaris had just discovered CTRL+C / CTRL+V on his computer and couldn't get enough of it), it boasts a solid amount of action – even though the 'hide behind a tree' scenarios are a bit 'rinse/repeat'.
The movie also further encapsulates the oddly innocent nature of the franchise: there's bums and boobs all over the shop, but barely a swear word is ever uttered and the violence is almost entirely bloodless. Return To Savage Beach also flags up another aspect of Sidaris' film-making sensibility: loyalty. It is quite evident that, in front and behind the camera, Sidaris liked to utilise the same people again and again, those with a sense of fun and adventure who weren't averse to stripping off or locking and loading. It's even nice to see Donna and Taryn get a thankful mention or two along the way, a nostalgic nod to the franchise's roots in the 1980s just as the New Millennium was approaching. It's a shame in a way that there weren't another one or two L.E.T.H.A.L. movies that followed, especially as a new core cast of characters had presented itself at this point, but perhaps it's for the best that, with the advent of the World Wide Web's influence and the Year 2000, the Sidaris-verse called it a day on a strong note.