Retro Review: PLATOON LEADER (1988)

The 1980s were awash with films about the Vietnam War. It seemed like there was an endless torrent of ‘Nam movies. At one end were the high-minded attempts to “say something” about the war. At the other end were the exploitation action films and just the trash. Platoon Leader falls into the exploitation/trash end of the scale.

Directed by Chuck’s brother Aaron Norris, the movie stars Cannon films golden boy Michael Dudikoff. That’s right. The American Ninja himself.

Platoon Leader

The story is trope-filled and by the numbers for ‘Nam films of its time. Dudikoff plays West Point Grad and newly minted LT. Jeffrey Knight.  Sent out to the world’s most idiotically set up outpost, he is taking command of the stereotypical group of Vietnam-era grunts.  Which is to say, screw-ups, dope smokers, and insubordinate fuck ups with one or two no-nonsense professional soldiers and Sergeants.

Upon arrival, he takes command and asserts his authority. They hate this, and we get the time-honored trope of him learning the ropes and proving himself to them over the rest of the film.

Now, all that said, there are some pretty cool moments in the movie otherwise I wouldn’t be talking to you about it. So let me hit the highlights.

One scene has a squad out on patrol that runs across a dead village girl killed by the local VC cadre. The men track them down and catch them at the bottom of a waterfall taking baths. The group toss about 20 frags down on them from above and wastes the entire Commie squad.

Another has the lead-malingering shit-bag heroin addict of the movie go off to shoot up heroin. In this version of a Vietnam story, he ends up OD’ing.


The best parts of the movie involve Sgt. Roach. One of those guys who is more at home in Vietnam than in the US. Your typical heroic psycho who collects ears and takes pleasure in shotgunning the hell out of Nguyens as they run into his ambush.

The movie climaxes in a big battle that doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Platoon in the title is part of a battalion pincer movement that ends up destroying the village they are assigned to protect. Sad trombone noise. Some guys die, most of the main cast lives and Lt. Knight has proven to have the right stuff as a leader of combat infantrymen.


A lot of the movie really irks me and my attention to detail here. The use of thirty-round magazines in M16s is incorrect and dumb. The gear used by the men is often wrong.  The outpost is set up with no real clear fields of fire, and the treeline is only thirty yards from their perimeter. You don’t even have to be R.E. Lee to see the stupidity of that.

The most annoying thing about the movie is the soundtrack. It is the laziest I have ever experienced for a film not called The Van.


I expect better from Cannon Films. I remember I liked it a lot when it came out. Now It wouldn’t even make a list of my top 25 war films.

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