Color, 1991, 91 mins 3 secs.
Directed by Fabrizio De Angelis
Starring Oliver Tobias, Ernest Borgnine, Charles Napier, Henry Silva, Martin Balsam, Jim Kelly, Melissa Palmisano, Robert Floyd
Cauldron Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
If you thought the height of Italian cinema's peculiar take on American football was a family scarfing down bowls of spaghetti while watching the Super Bowl in Joe D'Amato's splatter classic Absurd... well, you might be right, but it has some very close competition from The Last Match. This insane, all-star action film was one of a handful of films directed by Fabrizio De Angelis, a name familiar to horror fans as the producer and presenter of some of Lucio Fulci's most beloved films. By this point De Angelis had struck gold with his directorial debut, 1983's Thunder, which inspired him to crank out two sequels with star Mark Gregory. In the interim he also made two Killer Crocodile films and the bizarre Karate Kid knock-off Karate Warrior with a young Kim Rossi Stuart, which in turn produced multiple sequels and a short-lived TV series. Smack in the middle of his Karate Warrior spree, De Angelis made The Final Match with as many big-ish American stars as he could find in Italy at the time, with the result being a sort of Italian hybrid of The Dirty Dozen, Rambo, and North Dallas Forty. By this point the theatrical market for these films was almost entirely dried up, and it ended up going straight to VHS with a number of tape editions throughout Europe and Asia.
Our adventure begins with a big football game for quarterback Cliff Gaylor (The Stud's Tobias) and his hard-line coach (Borgnine, still barking orders years after riding a giant chewing gum bubble in Super Fuzz). However, their professional harmony is disrupted when Cliff's daughter, Susan (Palmisano), is arrested for planted drugs in her possession while visiting a tropical island with boyfriend George (Floyd). Cliff flies down immediately and, aided by George, gets tangled up in a bureaucratic nightmare with the local U.S. consulate (Napier) and a sleepy-voiced lawyer (Balsam). When it's clear his daughter is going to be left to rot in jail at the hands of a sadistic warden (Silva), it's time to call in the whole team for some quick combat training and an all-out rescue mission with guns blazing.
From its baffling depiction of football to the brain-melting final half hour (in which we get to enjoy a punted football with a grenade inside), this is the kind of film that defies any kind of logical assessment. The exteriors were shot in Florida, a very common practice at the time including lots of Bud Spencer / Terence Hill movies, but in this case they rounded up some local non-actor football pros to take part and follow random orders from Borgnine while they're staging their assault. Of course, the real kicker here is that the football players (who manage to become ace commandos in a couple of hours, apparently) actually wear their uniforms during the big mission, the kind of bonkers visual you have to see to believe. Then there's the "music score" by one-shot composer Guglielmo Arcieri, which leaves absolutely no doubt why he was never hired to do another film. Top it off with that woozy, hungover feeling common to Italian genre films around the turn of the '90s, and you have a cracked concoction perfect for putting on as counter-programming during football season.
In a benevolent gesture to fans of baffling Italian films everywhere, Cauldron Films unveiled The Last Match on Blu-ray in 2023 as a deluxe slipcase edition limited to 1500 copies including a double-sided poster (perfect for hanging over your TV for lots of confused house guests) and an insert booklet with essays by Jacob Knight and David Zuzelo about the director, cast, and state of waning Italian exploitation around this time. The film itself looks great thanks to a 4K restoration from the negative (what a world we live in!), certainly better than the cruddy VHS copies floating around or the bland German DVD. The film was shot with live sound in English, so the DTS-HD MA 2.0 English mono track here is perfectly fine and comes with optional English SDH subtitles. An audio commentary by Michael A. Martinez doesn't have much flattering to say about the film itself, but he does a solid job of covering the decade or so of Italian action and horror films leading up to this point as well as the necessary details about everyone involved. There is one glaring audio glitch at the very beginning, but otherwise it's smooth sailing. In the featurette "Blown Away" (16m14s), special effects artist Roberto Ricci reminisces about De Angelis (nicknamed the "Cobra" for his dogged, snake-like methods of getting money from investors and taking as few risks as possible), the "second rate" nature of productions like this, and his cautious approach when it came to getting hired and paid. "American Actors in a Declining Italian Cinema" (29m3s) is a humorous video essay by Eurocrime!'s Mike Malloy about the trajectories of major U.S. thespians in Italy who stuck it out to the bitter end, specifically Napier, Balsam, Silva, Bo Svenson, Ernest Borgnine, Fred Williamson, and Lee Van Cleef. It's a rollicking piece and lots of fun. Finally in "Understanding the Cobra" (17m38s), Eugenio Ercolani presents a video essay about De Angelis' career as a director and producer rubbing shoulders with beloved genre directors and using mercenary tactics through his Fulvia Film to keep going in a cinematic landscape rapidly dying off due to the escalating popularity of private TV in Italy. Also included are the trailer and a 1m7s gallery of promotional material including alternate titles like Son Mac and The Mastiffs.
Reviewed on December 13, 2023.