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Hipster Holy Grail: Warrior of Justice, aka "Invitation to Die" (1995)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

Warrior of Justice is a pretty terrible movie that easily falls to hilarious depths.  Unfortunately, it comes up short when put against classic good-bad movies. Despite some hilariously overdone moments early on and a breezy pace throughout, there's just not enough to recommend this one without caveats to anybody looking to fill the void who's been Birdemiced out. Add this one to your watch list when you've made it through the canon of better-known cult favorites.

My Rating: 3.5 / 5 (Novice Bad Movie)

The Plot Summary

The movie opens in one of those fancy-pants death arenas where rich people get together to egg on poors to fight each other to death.  The boss man of this one is an in-no-possible-way-suspicious dude dressed all in black with a scarred face and an eyepatch.  His name is Verdugo (Jorge Rivero) and he's just, y'know... friendly.  Trustworthy.

So, there's some young white kid doing alright with the death matches, and that seems to be upsetting the upper crust.  Verdugo does one of them ol' fashioned Roman thumbs-downs, and one of the many big, burly fighters snaps the kid's neck and kills him instantly.

Smash cut to our lead, George (Jorgo Ognenovsky), lying naked in bed.  He sits upright in a cold sweat, apparently waking up due to a psychic link in his brain picking up on that kid's death.  His fiancee, Sara (Shari Blum), wakes up and tries to comfort him.  George has some melodramatic hysterics, then decides on some sex - or rather, the strange jabbing motions that George approximates as sex.  He gives up after like four or five of them and rolls over, which reads somewhere between "Oof, I finished early" and "Not right now, thanks."

The next morning, George and Sara start to learn about that kid's death in more detail.  Sara is informed about it because she's a law enforcement officer and she's working a case.  George, on the other hand, decides to do some amateur sleuthing because that kid was a former student of his karate class and George is just that committed.

This leads to probably my favorite scene, in which George is on the phone with the kid's mother and is trying to get a lead on the men who convinced him to fight in the death arena.  The kid's mom says that he had an envelope full of thousands of dollars in cash in his room, so George asks if the envelope has any marks on it.  She says there's a weird shape on it, "like an upside-down heart, sort of like one of those shapes on playing cards."  George explains to her that it's called a "spade," then thanks her and opens up a phone book.  After leafing through like three pages, he finds an ad that's made up of a solitary spade - Spade Company - and gets the address.

Leaving aside that George has to explain to a grown woman what a "spade" is, this scene implies that a) there's only one company in the area that incorporates a spade into their logo and aesthetic, and b) George is 100% certain the bad guys are local based on absolutely nothing.

But anyway.  George goes to the Spade Company headquarters, which seems to be a shipping business of some sort, and beats the shit out of everybody there.  I'm not sure if he even learns anything of value from so doing, but it's a halfway decent fight scene.

In retaliation for the Spade bust - turns out they are a crucial part of the death arena setup process, even if George didn't come away with concrete evidence - Verdugo sends some goons to George's karate class to intimidate him.  George's students, ever loyal, stand up to the goons - which leads to a short fight sequence in which a couple of 6'4", 250 pound stunt men square off with a couple of grade schoolers.  At least one of the kids is immediately knocked out, and after George beats up a couple of the other guys, we cut to a hospital where his pupil is in a coma.  Dang.

Then there's a bit of a weird lull for the next half hour or so.  It seems like everybody's pretty well aware that the death arena exists, but nobody knows where to find it and Sara doesn't have enough evidence to tie anybody to it.  So Sara and George go back to investigating independently again, one legally and the other one less so.

Sara works with some IT / hacker type whom she bribes with snacks and sandwiches.  He's able to use his computer skills to find out that the most suspicious person who might be running the death arena is Verdugo, with him George has a history.  To be honest, I'm not totally sure of the details.  I was kinda not paying attention since Sara's story is a bit dull.  The point is, George hates Verdugo and wants to bring him to justice for some past misdeeds.

To that end... George finds another one of his former students who's coincidentally also been invited to the death arena and asks him to accept the invitation.  The student is reluctant, what with it being a death arena and all, but George pushes him since it's the only good lead anybody has to finding out where the arena is and busting it up.  The student agrees, so cue a training montage wherein George can prep himself for a final confrontation with Verdugo.

Somewhere in the middle of all this are two more amazingly awful sex scenes.  One involves Verdugo and his sidekick / lead henchwoman, Dr. Kramer (Ashley Graham), who start humping each other through their clothes.  There's implied penetration, but since Verdugo's pants are never unzipped, it's really just histrionic foreplay.  Anyway, it gets interrupted when Kramer giggles suddenly and puts a palm up to Verdugo's eye-patch.  He jumps off the couch and snaps, "I told you not to touch my eye!", then storms away crankily while Kramer laughs.  ~~Fin~~

The other scene comes right at the end of the training montage.  Sara walks into the gym where George is working out and demands answers - apparently she's aware that he's been tracking down Verdugo and that he's browbeaten one of his students into being bait for him, but she's not 100% on his motives.  George reassures her that his objectives are pure, which leads to them making out, which leads to him slipping off his pants so they can have sex right there on the gym floor.  Which is just... I mean, really, a bathroom floor might actually be sexier.

Anyway, enough sex; let us commence the finale.

The student bait goes to a parking lot, per instructions he received earlier, and hops into a bad guy's car. It drives off, and George follows.  And then, unbeknownst to him, Sara follows George.  Then there's like a billion cutaway shots of each car on the highway showing us their incremental progress until eventually we get to Verdugo's hillside manor, where armed guards are stationed everywhere and rich people are arriving for another night of blood and mayhem.

George parks offsite and travels to the manor on foot, carrying with him only a crossbow and some bolts.  He uses the crossbow exactly once, to kill a guard at the front gate.  Then he ditches the crossbow and kills everyone else he meets with his fists - as God intended.

He eventually sneak-fights his way into the arena itself, but not until after his student is killed in the ring by one of the miscellaneous baddies.  George hops into the ring and kills the baddie, then another one, and then points at Verdugo and demands a fight to the death in front of all his followers.  There's a tiny bit of back and forth here where Verdugo's rich folks start to cheer him on like a bunch of bloodthirsty sixth-graders.  So, he accepts the fight.

...and they fight.

Considering that some of the other fight scenes in this movie were halfway decent, this climax is something of a dud.  It's not terrible, just not particularly exciting or inventive.  Maybe it's because they had an actual actor to play the villain, so he can't move and flip the way a stuntman could.  Maybe it's because there's like a hundred cuts to close-ups of George scowling that interrupt the pacing.  Or maybe I'm just not that invested in the emotional drama.  Anyway, they fight.

George gets the upper hand and is pressured by the crowd to finish Verdugo off.  He decides to show mercy instead - and just then, Sara and all of her cop friends show up to arrest everybody.  In the ensuing chaos, Verdugo runs away, and George chases him.

Then they have another fight.  And just like Part 1, it's not terribly exciting, but it sure is long.  Eventually some swords get involved and they duel for awhile.  Finally it ends when George slashes Verdugo's throat and he falls backward into a pool.

Sara and George embrace and leave the manor together while their love song, which has lyrics like, "Show me how to make love," plays over the credits.  Oh, and did I mention that Dr. Kramer was harvesting people's organs and that was part of Verdugo's evil scheme?  Because that's in this movie, too.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

Here's some of the best news in only two words: no rape.  Woo-hoo!

There's always like a 30% chance one of my HHG movies is going to turn out to have some gross rapesploitation scene, but in 2017 the average has shot way up for some reason.  Like 70%.  The fact that Warrior of Justice is just a dumb action movie already puts it on good footing.

Even better: for the first half hour or so, I thought I had discovered a true gem buried in the rough.  Warrior of Justice has all the great qualities of a Secret Comedy.  The acting is bad, but not obnoxious.  The dialogue is tinged with awkward tics without being indecipherable.  The plot is nonsensical, but it's still clear enough that you know what's going on.

Heck, I was practically sold right after the awkward cut from the opening fight scene to the first of several hilarious sex scenes.  I was struggling to keep my laughter in right up until and through George's half-assed, but somehow successful, investigation of the Spade company.  If I had just turned it off right then, I'd be lavishing this movie with praise right now.

But that's about where the movie starts to slide.  It never gets boring, but it's missing that special something that sets a Secret Comedy apart from any other enjoyably bad movie.  There's nothing that makes you drop your jaw and go, "What the hell am I watching?"  No insane subplots involving surprise cancer or weird tertiary characters who get shot and crawl half a mile to the final fight scene to arbitrarily interrupt it.  Just a lot of bad sound mixing, silly dialogue, and a couple of bad wigs.

I think there's enough here that I'm comfortable calling it a Novice Bad Movie, but there's a few catches.  The thing about NBMs is that they're supposed to be also-rans - your B choices for a Bad Movie Night.  And while WoJ can be that, I think you'd have to use discretion.

For one thing, a lot of the movie's dumbest parts will only work if you have a set of friends that are good - or at least passable - at riffing.  That's the kind of thing that could make for an awkward conversation.  ("Sorry, John, you're just not funny enough to watch this one with us.")  But let's face it - some people are better as an audience, myself included.  Warrior of Justice doesn't necessarily need you to watch with improv masters to make it work, but it's full of moments that, when paired with somebody who thinks they're funnier than they are, could easily be irritating.

More importantly: many of the movie's funniest parts happen during the frequent, terrible sex scenes.  I'd like to think that people who watch bad movies are detached enough that they'd be able to get over the grade school tittering and middle school awkwardness that can come with seeing breasts while other people are in the room... but I know better.  There are still folks out there who skip the sex scenes in The Room.

So, there's your challenge, bad movie fans.  Find some sex-positive pals who are either funny or self-aware enough to shut up while the movie's on, break out some rum, and have at it.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

It gets the full obscurity bonus of 50 points for having under 100 IMDb ratings.  I'll give it another 5 points apiece for Jorge Rivero, Richard Lynch, and having "Justice" in the title. Then I'll give it the Misguided Auteur bonus of 10 points for being written, produced, directed, and lead-acted by Jorgo Ognenovsky. And why not, I'll give it a light recommendation bonus of 15 points.

Finally, I'm going to give it a bonus of 5 points for having an alternate title that's almost perfect for bad movie fans: "Invitation to Die."  Not "Invitation to Death" or "An Invitation to Die For" - just plain ol' invitation to DIE.  That's stellar.

That all adds up to a total of 90 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

Where You Can Watch

Warrior of Justice was released on DVD and copies are readily available.  They're not too expensive to buy, but I rented my copy from Netflix.