No Turning Back isn’t just the subtitle to the third film in the Best of the Best series, it could also be taken to be the franchise’s attitude about continuing further into the action genre as it went on. The first movie had simply been a sports drama about a martial arts tournament. The second movie entered the world of underground tournaments, and in doing so also got the characters mixed up with gun-toting criminals. As it turns out, Best of the Best II was a transitional film of sorts, a bridge between the original’s world of sports and the action-oriented sequels.
The third film finds Korean American martial arts expert Tommy Lee (series star and producer Phillip Rhee, who also directed this time out), the only character to return from the previous two movies, arriving in the small Southern town of Liberty to visit his sister Karen and her family. Almost immediately upon entering the town, Tommy has a run-in with members of the white supremacist group that has taken hold of Liberty, harassing the non-white citizens, defacing property, even murdering an African American preacher who spoke out against their hateful ideology and burning down his church. After the preacher’s death, Karen and her husband take in his young son, Luther.
Tommy’s first encounter with the group is merely awkward and uncomfortable. As the white supremacists begin to target his family members, with no consideration given to the fact that Karen is married to the town sheriff, Tommy’s altercations with these homicidal racists quickly escalate into violence and action sequences. Between showing the bad guys the error of their ways, Tommy finds time for some romance with his nephew Justin’s schoolteacher Margo, played by Gina Gershon, who also catches grief for repeatedly standing up against the group in public.
Although the white supremacists are actually the congregation of a church led by televangelist Preacher Brian (an uncredited R. Lee Ermey, best known for Full Metal Jacket and Texas Chainsaw Massacre ’03), who preaches that the races should be separate and unequal, his right hand man, a very despicable guy named Donnie (The Shawshank Redemption’s Mark Rolston) has different plans for the group’s future, turning their base of operations, a guarded compound, into a training ground. Brian is trying to run a church, but Donnie is building a heavily-armed militia… And is so determined to make it happen that he’s even willing to kill Brian when he tries to put an end to his schemes.
All of the violence and aggression culminates in Donnie’s men kidnapping Justin and Luther. To rescue the children, Tommy, Margo, and Karen’s husband Jack (Christopher McDonald) must raid the group’s compound, three people taking on a small army.
The screenplay for Best of the Best 3 actually started off as an original spec script by Barry Gray entitled No Turning Back, in which the main character was an African American man returning home from the military to find his town overrun by white supremacists. Rhee purchased it with the idea of making it a Best of the Best sequel and gave Deborah Scott, who had been an associate producer on the first film and a co-producer on the second, the job of retrofitting Tommy Lee into the lead.
While writing Tommy into the script, Scott did include the element that the character is haunted by the fact that he actually killed the villain of part 2, a shocking and very out-of-character moment, even if he was defending himself. This bit of mental torment doesn’t get much importance assigned to it, though, and certainly doesn’t keep Tommy from delivering a beating to the deserving.
In one absolutely absurd moment, Tommy manages to jump kick three men off of three different dirt bikes during one bit of air time. By the end of the movie, he’s throwing knives into people, firing guns at them, and igniting explosions.
Phillip Rhee is always a likeable screen presence in the role of Tommy, and the supporting cast Rhee got for himself do fine work in their roles. Horror regular Dee Wallace especially has some strong moments as the mother of a new recruit into the white supremacist group, a mother that deeply disagrees with the choice her son has made, but as with Tommy’s troubled conscience, her character drama is given the bare minimum of screen time.
As he did in the first movie, where he played a redneck bar patron, and the second movie, where he was working security at a Las Vegas club, stuntman/Jason Voorhees performer Kane Hodder makes an appearance in the third Best of the Best, this time as one of the compound guards.
No Turning Back hasn’t gone down as a direct-to-video action classic and isn’t going to, but its story, action and fight sequences are decent and entertaining enough to make it worth watching from time to time.