Saturday, 23 May 2009

Deadly Force (1983)

A friend found this gem on ex-rental VHS, which positions itself as a Dirty Harry knock-off but sillier, like it was in a tongue-in-cheek precursor to the Naked Gun series with a larger tally of grisly onscreen murders. I could only imagine what the filmmakers would say if they were given a retrospective documentary about Deadly Force: “You see, we wanted to give people a cop movie but we just wanted to tweak the clichés a little bit, poke a bit of fun at the super-cop formula. In a lot of ways, this movie was ahead of its time.”The film is a vehicle for Wings Hauser, a stock Hollywood action hero type, who likes a cross between William Katt from The Greatest American Hero and Ron Pearlman as the Beast in the television show Beauty and the Beast. Blonde curly hair, a tall imposing frame, a prominent overbite and a tendency to flex his arse muscles in tight pale grey slacks: basically your high school jock grown up to be a stupid movie star with a name that makes him sound like an Austrian Hand-Pistol. What strikes you as amazingly awesome in the first ten minutes is that Wings’ character – Stony Jackson Cooper (yes, that’s his name!) – is given not one but two introduction shots. We first see him placing money on some rat gambling game, throwing a soccer ball around like a Junior High coach, and walking through the streets like a man of the people. The next shot we find him in a black suit, open collar white shirt, as if he spends time reading Bukowski and listening to Sinatra, playing at a piano in a darkened bar while hitting back a glass of gin and receiving a phone call from a friend in an emergency (“I got a Puerto Rican revolutionary wrapped up in dynamite!” is the information that comes down the telephone). I kept expecting the next shot to be a third introduction to Wing’s character, him painting a landscape while jet-skiing down at the beach and protecting a young boy’s sandcastle from some Nazi surf punks. Anyway it’s the 1980s and Stony is a super-cop, which is established with the brilliant 1980s soundtrack of anthemic rock guitars and Casio keyboard orchestration, but you also receive the vibe that Deadly Force was a failed TV pilot with such Magnum P.I. touches like Stony being picked up by Estelle Getty of all people as a taxi driver who functions as his secretary and switchboard while engaging in snappy patter.

Like any cop movie, we see Wings/Stony work his magic at an unrelated crime scene that opens the movie with the Puerto Rican revolutionary wrapped up in dynamite bit. Yes, Stony’s shifty friend who operates a factory has a terrorist threatening to blow up his abandoned warehouse so Stony strides on in and jimmies up the iron cast frames to the moving platform where this friend of Castro’s is yelling threats. Wings aims his 45 at him and the revolutionary grips the plunger to his explosives tightly, resulting in this exchange that stands as an example of the film’s snappy dialogue:

WINGS: “Is this is what I call a Mexican stand-off?”
REVOLUTONARY: “I’m a Puerto Rican and this is real dynamite!”
WINGS: “I’m French, English and German and this is a real gun!”

The movie tries to show Wings as being all crazy and above the law as he threatens the Puerto Rican with the hand-gun, but all that happens is Wings negotiates the terrorist to leave the building for half of the $20, 000 he is being paid to stop this guy. “You’re crazy, man!” says the Puerto Rican. It’s all a bit nutty really. Y’see, Wings is a former cop now bounty hunter who flies over to L.A. to help out an old friend who is a safecracker and who’s daughter was killed by the mysterious X serial killer (“This freak kills anything,” we’re told), pushed out of a seven storey window in the opening scenes. No sooner than Wings is back in his former city does he have his old superiors on his ass, warning him to lay off the case, follow the rules or as the stern black chief warns him, “I’ll put you in for so long they’ll have to air-mail in light!” (this is one of the many ridiculous analogies used throughout the film). Then Wings is roughed up by goons of the city’s kingpin who put away for a number of years so he decides to pull a Jim Rockford, sneak into the crook’s mansion, surprise his elderly chatty mother (another zany touch by the filmmakers), interrupt the crook sleeping and ask for two week’s grace while he finds the X killer in exchange for a cut of the ransom money. The crook agrees but not before warning him if he doesn’t pay up then he’ll be “dick-deep in dog-shit.” Wings then sees that the crook’s mistress is watching a porno with two ladies kissing each other’s breasts and he asks innocuously, “They’re gay?”, which is either proof of how awesome he is as a detective or how lame the film’s attempts at humour are.

For most of the movie you have Wings hitting the streets to guitar-based montage music, roughing up teenagers in arcades playing games like THIEF, eating ice-cream cones with uniformed police, or throwing a perp against a wall and yelling out bizarrely, “HEY I’M NOT GOING TO BUST YOU!” Meanwhile we have the mysterious X killer who looks like Daniel Johnston running around and strangling people like the hooker with a heart of gold who is singing to her baby in a church when she is killed (the pathos is staggering). You also have Wings swanning into his ex-wife’s apartment, a third rate Daryl Hannah type who is also a reporter on the X case and is angry with him for walking back into her life in the first scene they have but in the next scene he’s hanging around her apartment and being all buddy buddy. This leads to a bullshit scene where Wings is lying nude in a bathtub when the X killer tries to assassinate him with a automatic machine gun (an Uzi with a silencer) from the other building across from the apartment and we have Wings flopping about, trying to find some cover in the apartment, all the while showing off his arse in three consecutive shots. He and his ex-wife then have a third scene where she finds the apartment shot up and him bleeding but before you know it they’re making love-sex in a hammock to a saxophone soundtrack. Who can resist broken glass and blood as compelling aphrodisiacs? However, halfway through the film Wing’s ex-wife also performs an interview with a Success-Training Psychiatrist who criticises people on the way they pose and dress and tells them to find the “power” within. And he’s played by the smooth actor Paul Shenar who played Sosa in Scarface so you know immediately that he is the villain behind this all (alongside his dialogue with gems like “Everybody lies. Women lie when they put on make-up” or when asked if he was ever in prison he replies, “We’re all in prison.”) Sure enough there’s some complicated backstory where Sosa was a Success-Training leader in prison who was killing all those connected to his mysterious past and murdering some random innocent people too to throw the police off the scent. About twenty car chases later, a few more scenes of the angry police chief calling Wings a “glory boy” and a protracted shoot-out where Wings breaks into Sosa’s mansion, rescues his ex-wife while being a shot in the leg a couple of times, but then fires one bullet into the back of Sosa’s getaway car as it drives off which then EXPLODES causing the X killer to die in a fiery wreck.

Deadly Force was vintage ex-rental early-1980s VHS bullshit gold with its blend of hoary old cop movie clichés and lame attempts to parody said clichés, introducing us all to the third-rate star power of Wings Hauser who joins the esteemed ranks of direct-to-video action heroes.


Adam said...

wow dude, you picked up more about the plot than i did - i was too busy laughing my ass off!

tristan said...

Haha. Thanks for the find, Adam! It was amazing stuff. How could I not forget Hauser's arse? Incidentally he is the father of Cole Hauser, the tough guy actor who played the neo-nazi leader in Higher Learning.