Friday, July 21, 2017

190. Hustler Squad

190. Hustler Squad aka The Dirty Half Dozen (1976)
Director: Cesar Gallardo
From: Cult Cinema
A WWII major who plays by his own rules is tasked with assassinating key members of the Japanese military’s leadership while they’re visiting a pleasure island. His plan: train four female assassins to pose as prostitutes and infiltrate the island. Will the women be able to accomplish their mission and escape with their lives?
We open with a Filipino resistance force trying to storm the island, but everyone is killed except Paco, the leader. The US find out about the raid and pair Paco with the major to come up with a plan to infiltrate the island in sixty days when the military elite will be there. They drink, putter, hem and haw, and are about to give up when they get into a bar fight over a woman. That gives them the idea to try to send in assassins posing as prostitutes. Only they don’t have any assassins.

So they’re off to gather the team. The major is assisted by a female lieutenant that he’s constantly sexually harassing flirting with and she takes him to a women’s prison where they meet the first team member: a woman doing life for having murdered her husband. She’s willing to sign on because she’s horny and desperate to fuck.

The second member is a Swedish nurse with a terminal disease. She’s willing to go because it’ll save lives, even though the thought of sex scares her.

The third member is found by Paco. Her family was attacked and killed by the Japanese for sheltering an American soldier and the woman was raped. The movie emphasizes this point with the major referring to her twice within a minute as “a rape victim.” That’s the whole of her identity. Thanks movie. We were having fun up till this point.

The final member is a prostitute who’s on the run for having ripped off some people in the black market. The major has Paco pose as a gunman and convinces her that he can give her shelter and a new life once the mission’s over.

All this, by the way, is being played up as sort of campy fun and, except for the woman who was raped, the movie carries off that tone. It’s knowingly going through the tropes—sexpot, virgin, moll—and seems to be winking at its own use of them. And at this point, the movie still has my endorsement—gathering the team is getting us closer to the plot we were promised.

And then it goes off the rails with an extended training montage with a goofy jazz score underneath it. But there’s no jokes happening during the training and the training doesn’t look like what they’re being asked to do, so the reason for the sequence and the sense that it’s funny isn’t there at all. Then they throw in the twist of a weaselly assistant to the admiral doubting the mission because “women couldn’t possibly take down a group of men” and gets it called off. So the women, with the help of the lieutenant, infiltrate and subdue an entire barracks of men to prove their ability, which gets the mission back on track.

Only the movie’s so far off track at this point, who could care? They all end up at the island and get paired off with their targets—which is what we were promised: women seducing and killing men, sex and violence, A+. Unfortunately, because of all the baggage leading up to this point, there’s not much time for either.

The signal goes out, each of the women—except the Swede—kill their targets, and, one-by-one, each woman, except the Swede get killed. The Swede’s target is an admiral who takes her to his quarters because she’s clearly nervous about being in a brothel and lets her have the bed while he sleeps on the floor. He tells her about his family and how he’s reluctantly involved in the war, I guess so we feel a little bad when he ends up getting killed anyway, which he does.

As for the women, the movie falls into the Old Testament morality that I mentioned with The Sadist: those who have sinned—the murderer and the moll—get killed, as does “the other,” the Filipino rape victim. It’s your choice if the movie thinks she needs to die because she’s no longer a virgin or because she’s not white. I’m not going to lie, I was kind of bummed that any of them died. I wanted a freeze-frame final shot of them all on a beach, jumping in the air and high-fiving as the sun rises.

So the Swede, the virgin who kills no one, escapes with the help of Paco, who’s been falling in love with her. He gives her the charm he’s been wearing that he says has kept him alive during all these raids. He then gets shot and killed. She ends up at the rendezvous point with the major, weeping at being the only survivor and Paco’s death saying he was wrong to give her the charm since she still has a terminal disease. The major says maybe Paco was right about the charm, and they sail off. THE END.

It’s a bad movie, not because of any content or politics, but because it never gets around to what it’s actually about. The movie’s about women infiltrating a sex island to assassinate military leaders. If that’s what your movie is about, don’t limit that to fifteen minutes at the end of your movie. Give us fifteen-twenty minutes of setup then get us onto that island where we can have some tension, suspense, and action.

When the assistant got the mission called off I nearly shouted, “What are you doing?” at my screen. “Will they prove that women are as capable in war as men?” is not the question the movie’s posing. It’s all about the action on that island—that’s what the characters are invested in, that’s what the audience has shows up for, and, let’s be fair, it’s what whoever wrote this movie (there’s no credited writer) was writing it for.

The movie’s a disappointment because, until the training montage, it’s kind of cheeky and fun with a dash of violence. If it had kept that up, but kept its eye on the actual plot, it’d be a fun cheesy piece of exploitation. As it is, it’s watchable, but a touch interminable, and I wouldn’t recommend it without some very sarcastic friends.

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