Friday, May 02, 2008

It’s A War

I don't care what anyone says. DEAD BANG is a good movie. It bombed when released theatrically in the spring of 1989, and Warner Brothers thinks so little of it that it released a pan-and-scan version of it on DVD. But I've always liked it. Its script confirms screenwriter Robert Foster's background as a TV writer (KNIGHT RIDER), and some scenes appear shortened or randomly inserted to the point of incomprehensibility (like all of Penelope Ann Miller's scenes), but DEAD BANG moves quickly and professionally through its provocative plot and offers star Don Johnson a nice opportunity to flash his musky charisma upon a larger canvas than MIAMI VICE.

Granted, Johnson's character, a Los Angeles detective named Jerry Beck, isn't exactly a Hollywood original. He dresses shabbily, drinks too much, is estranged from his family, and is so hungover on Christmas morning that he pukes on a suspect after an exhausting foot chase.

Beck, investigating the murder of a policeman by a liquor store holdup man, discovers his chief suspect is part of a dangerous gang of white supremacists and chases his prey all the way to Colorado. Teaming up with a black police chief (Tim Reid from WKRP IN CINCINNATI) and a so-straight-he-squeaks FBI agent (an atypically cast William Forsythe, who usually played violent psychopaths at that time), Beck pursues the suspect through a series of shootouts and wisecracks (funny ones too) before the mad right-wingers can mount a violent defense.

DEAD BANG, while not breaking any new ground in the crime drama genre, is an above-average thriller by action vet John Frankenheimer, who was as talented a director of thrillers as anyone who ever worked in Hollywood. The 1980s were not a good time, however, for the man who made THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and BLACK SUNDAY. His previous films of that decade, including Cannon's 52 PICK-UP, were also box office flops, and it wasn't until Frankenheimer began directing movies for cable TV in the '90s that his career received a well-deserved resurgence. Johnson's career as a movie star never did take off, but his television career remained hot, as his post-VICE cop series, NASH BRIDGES, enjoyed an even more successful run.


Adam Ross said...

Love this movie! I jumped at the opportunity to see a rare showing on Universal HD last year, definitely needs a better DVD release. It really delivers in everything you want from an 80s crime thriller -- my favorite is the huge machine gun in the back of the White Supremacists' wagon.

Len said...

I can barely remember Dead Bang, but I saw 52 Pick-up a couple of months ago. What a great flick! Roy Scheider and Wings Hauser. It totally captures the sleazy side of the '80s. Great blog BTW.