Another film from the 1980s that I didn’t get to see back when I was constantly being drawn to the VHS box art (an alien figure replicating the Uncle Sam “we want you” iconography), Zone Troopers is a title I have always had a lot of affection for. But now I have actually seen the film, which means my level of affection for it isn’t what it used to be.
It is WWII and a number of American soldiers in Italy get themselves involved in a skirmish that involves both the Nazis and some alien visitors. The Nazis want to make use of alien technology to help them win the war, but the Americans just want to get out of the area alive.
The first film directed by Danny Bilson, co-written by himself and Paul De Meo (and the duo also wrote the scripts for Trancers and The Eliminators at about this time), Zone Troopers is a fun idea that is hampered by the low budget, and a lack of creativity to compensate for that low budget.
One or two moments stand out. There’s a nice bit of production design showcasing a crashed spaceship that at least adds a bit of vibrant colour to the film, the third act has a set-piece that makes up for the dodgy special effects with a child-like glee and enthusiasm, and the very end of the film features a “punchline” that feels quite sweet. That is about all I can praise though. The script is pretty weak, there is never a proper feeling of the time and place, and you would get more authenticity if you stumbled across a group of LARPers conducting a war-based campaign on their designated special Sunday.
The cast help a bit. Tim Thomerson has a lead role, playing Sarge, so it has that going for it, and Timothy Van Patten is fine as someone sharing a lot of the screentime with him, playing a soldier imaginatively named Joey. Art LaFleur and Biff Manard make up the rest of the core group, both doing well enough in roles that don’t exactly ask for complexity and nuance.
Overall, I was really hoping to like this more. Part of that is to do with me having yearned to see it for over three decades. Part of that is to do with the premise having the potential to be so much more fun. I didn’t hate it, and I will definitely rewatch it at some point (when I may end up enjoying it more without the weight of my own expectation working against it), but it’s not one I highly recommend, even to fans of sci-fi b-movies.
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