River of Death may have been based on the novel by famed writer Alister McLean but, it is actually Cannon Film’s version of Apocalypse Now. Instead of traveling up river to find a crazed U.S. Captain gone AWOL, this movie features a group traveling up a different river to locate and execute a former NAZI war criminal. It is all very Joseph Conrad mixed with The Boys from Brazil.
Underrated action-star Michael Dudikoff turns in another solid lead performance as John Hamilton, a guide for hire that treks through the jungle with a hidden agenda. Adding to the atmospheric preceding is the always watchable Donald Pleasence.
Hamilton is a man of action and a professional adventurer, who is recruited to aid a group interested in finding the mythic lost city deep inside the Amazon jungle. Joined in his quest by a rag-tag crew each with their own agenda, Hamilton begins to realize he is a pawn in a far more dangerous game. His journey is fraught with attacks from savage natives, harsh jungle conditions and a treacherous former Nazi war criminal in his midst.
River of Death sports the Cannon logo but this isn’t your typical pairing of that studio and star Dudikoff. Unlike their other more successful collaborations, River of Death is mundane and visually unappealing in terms of cinematography, editing and nearly non-existent direction from Steve Carver. As per usual Pleasence chews all the scenery in sight, while Dudikoff does his Eastwood steely eyed thing.
Fans of Alister McClean’s source novel will be disappointed in the liberties taken from the original story by the screenwriters. All the elements are present for a howling good guilty pleasure but, River of Death fails to meet even those modest expectations. It’s a real snoozer.
Director: Steve Carver
Stars: Michael Dudikoff, Robert Vaughn, Donald Pleasence