Only the Strong
Directed by Sheldon Lettich. Starring Mark Dacascos, Geoffrey Lewis, Stacey Travis, Paco Christian Prieto, Todd Susman. (1993)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 3, 1993
The hook driving this latest entry in the martial arts film sweepstakes is capoeira, the Brazilian athletic technique that combines dance and martial arts moves. Long ago, the tradition was developed by Brazilian slaves as a covert activity that hid their defensive strategies behind a veil of rhythmic dance steps and ritual movements. In Only the Strong, Green Beret Louis Stevens (Dacascos) returns home to Miami from his station in Brazil only to find his old high school overrun by drugs and violence. Having become a capoeira master while in Brazil, Louis convinces the school to set up an experimental program in which twelve of the school's most incorrigible students would be entrusted to him for capoeira training. With time, their newly acquired skill teaches them discipline, fraternity and selflessness and enables them to rid the school of the drug scourge and, eventually, graduate. But mostly they get to kick and flip and jump and sway... frequently in slow motion. By and large, that's not such a bad thing because capeoira is pretty neat to watch and Dacascos's skills make him eminently watchable. Granted, there's not terribly much more going on in this movie than the physical movement itself, but it's well-performed and well-choreographed. And what acting there is, is decent and unintrusive. As an action director, Lettich is a pure pro who has helmed a couple Van Damme movies (Lionheart and Double Impact) and done some writing on Rambo III and Delta Force 2. (He's currently scheduled to direct an upcoming G.I. Joe project.) Only the Strong stumbles through a kind of half-hearted love-interest plotline and all the characters are rarely more than stock “types.” Yet that lends it something of a “Dirty Dozen of the Drug Wars” flavor. Either that or it's another lambada movie in disguise.