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.