Here we go, another entry in the 80’s buddy cop genre.  Except in this one, one of the cops isn’t a cop.  Still, 1989’s “Renegades” pretty much follows the basic buddy cop formula.  Two guys from different worlds joining forces to solve a big crime.  Could be a white guy and a black guy…maybe a neat freak and a slob…possibly a by-the-book guy and a rule breaker.  Here we have an undercover cop who plays by his own rules teaming up with a Lakota indian.

We begin with Hank Storm (Lou Diamond Phillips), a native American who is accompanying a sacred Lakota spear on a journey to an art exhibit in Philadelphia.  We also meet undercover cop Buster McHenry (Kiefer Sutherland).  Buster is working a complicated case designed to lead him to a dirty cop.  In his undercover role, he has brought a plan for a diamond robbery to a mobster called Marino (Rob Knepper).  As the plan moves forward, Buster will learn the identity of a bad cop working with Marino.  Unfortunately, the plan goes bad, Buster never learns the identity of the crooked cop, and Marino shoots a man during the course of the robbery.  But that’s not all…during the chase that follows, Marino ducks into the art gallery hosting the native American exhibit.  For no apparent reason, Marino becomes fascinated when he spots the sacred spear and decides to help himself to it…killing Hank’s brother in the process.

After a lengthy car chase, Marino attempts to tie up all the loose ends by shooting Buster.  Shortly afterward, Hank finds the wooded cop and takes him back to a cheap hotel to nurse him back to health.  Of course, Hank believes that Buster is a part of Marino’s gang and plans to use him to help get back the spear.  Even after Buster explains he’s a cop, Hank still doesn’t believe he’s on the level.  Quite frankly, neither does the audience.  There are plenty of moments which suggest to the audience that Buster may be working on this case without the knowledge of his superiors.  There were several times where I thought perhaps he was really the dirty cop.

Once he’s healed, Buster reluctantly teams up with Hank to find Marino.  This involves tracking down one of his girlfriends, a hair-dresser named Barbara (Jami Gertz), to help lead them to him.  Everywhere they turn, Marino’s men make things difficult for the trio.  Soon, Buster begins to learn who the dirty cop he was looking for is as he and Hank try to storm Marino’s country hideout to get back the spear.

It’s not the greatest storyline, I admit.  Though there are certainly aspects of the film I enjoyed, the impression left on the viewer is largely one of missed opportunities.  When it comes to buddy cop premises, the possibly dirty cop teamed with a mysterious native American concept is a pretty strong one.  However, not enough is done with it.  Very little of Hank’s background, history, or traditions comes into play.  Therefore there is no opportunity for Sutherland’s character to create a unique understanding with him.  Had Kiefer been given the chance to get his “Dances with Wolves” on, we may have had a much more interesting story.  Another missed opportunity has to do with the sacred spear itself.  When Marino steals it with no apparent reason, there are  hints that something mystical may be at work…drawing him to the spear.  But that’s as far as this idea goes.  Had the villain perceived that this relic possessed some sort of power, the film may have taken another more interesting turn.

The film is still pretty enjoyable, though, bolstered by some well done action sequences.  The film’s climax, involving escapes from burning barns and charges on horseback, is fun…if a bit outlandish.  Another strong aspect of the film is that there is definitely some vagueness through much of the film as to whether or not Buster is an honest cop or a crook. The two leads do make a pretty good team, as well, though Phillips does do a bit better job than the future Jack Bauer.  But poor Jami Gertz is wasted in a role where she’s given virtually nothing to do.

In the grand scheme of things, “Renegades” ends up being an entertaining film, but ultimately unsatisfying.

MGM Limited Edition New Releases – July 2012

It’s not July yet, but it looks like the MGM Limited Edition new releases for the month have hit the Warner Archive site a few days early! Either that or it’s a second helping for June. Here they are!

- Sixpack Annie (1975)
– Operation Bikini (1963)
– New Year’s Evil (1980)
– Mr. Wong in Chinatown (1939)
– Hangfire (1991)
– Caged Fury (1990)
– Boris and Natasha (1992)

Warner Archive New Releases – June 26, 2012

Well, there is only one new movie release from the Warner Archive today…but it is a set of 5 movies.

Maisie Collection Vol. 2
– Maisie Gets Her Man (1942)
– Swing Shift Maisie (1943)
– Maisie Goes to Reno (1944)
– Up Goes Maisie (1946)
– Undercover Maisie (1947)

Across 110th Street

I love movies that have great title sequences. Sometimes you just get a great mix of music and visuals that perfectly set the stage for what is to come. One of my favorites from recent years is the opening of Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown.” In that sequence I especially love the use of Bobby Womack’s title song from the 1972 film “Across 110th Street.” I’ll bet many cinephiles know the song from Tarantino’s film but have not sought out the movie it originated from.

The film opens with a nasty crime. Three African Americans, Jim Harris (Paul Benjamin), Joe Logart (Ed Bernard), and Henry Jackson (Antonio Fargas…yep Huggybear) rob $300,000 from some mob goons working with some black gangsters. When one of the mobsters tries to grab a gun, Harris opens fire. When all is said and done, seven people lay dead…three black gangsters, two wiseguys (including Burt Young), and two cops.

Captain Frank Matelli (Anthony Quinn) is quick to show up on the scene to take control. But he is surprised to find out that for political reasons, a young black detective, William Pope (Yaphet Kotto), has been put in charge of the investigation. Though Matelli definitely has some racist attitudes, he does what he can go aid Pope, but the two regularly clash over Matelli’s at times shady investigation methods.

Of course, the mob sets out to send a clear message to Harem that this will not stand. Nick D’Salvio (Anthony Franciosa), a son-in-law to a big mob boss, is sent out to exact revenge and get back the money. He enlists Harlem gangster Doc Johnson (Richard Ward) and his men to help him find the men who pulled the job. As it turns out, Matelli has occasionally taken hush money from Doc Johson.

D’Salvio gradually tracks down Jackson and then Logart and takes sadistic glee in making sure they are taught the ultimate lesson. Meanwhile, as the investigation progresses, Matelli begins to see that he is on the way out both in the eyes of his superiors on the force and in the eyes of the gangsters who have paid him in the past. It is thanks to a tip from Johson that Pope learns the location of Harris, leading to a bloody final confrontation.

“Across 110th Street” is often labeled a “Blaxploitation” film, but that’s not really fair. This is a gritty and complex film spearheaded by some great performances. Anthony Quinn is the standout as the aging cop seeing his usefulness fade away. Kotto is also great as the by-the-book young detective. He is man of few words, but in his eyes you can see not only his disgust for Matelli, but also the legitimate fear that he is doomed to become him.

The bad guys are pretty compelling as well. Anthony Franciosa’s performance is appropriately unhinged. Even his goons are repulsed by his extreme methods of revenge. Also great is the gravely-voiced Richard Ward who comes off as a sort of puppet master over the whole affair, working both the mob and the cops so he comes out on top.

This is a beautifully made film, yet there is absolutely nothing pretty about it. It is a violent film, certainly not a graphic as some films are today but still disturbing. It also doesn’t exactly present the big apple as the tourism office would like. It paints a picture of New York as a land of fear…completely devoid of hope. It may not be a pretty film, but it is powerful and original, even 40 years after its release.