Monday, February 29, 2016

Retro Review: CODE OF SILENCE (1985)

(US - 1985)

After achieving crossover success with Cannon's surprise smash MISSING IN ACTION (1984), martial-arts star Chuck Norris came as close as he ever got to the A-list with 1985's tough, gritty Chicago cop movie CODE OF SILENCE. Originally a DIRTY HARRY script pitched to Clint Eastwood in 1979, CODE was reworked for Norris and was also the first success of director Andrew Davis, who would helm Steven Seagal's hits ABOVE THE LAW (1988) and UNDER SIEGE (1992) before hitting the big time with THE FUGITIVE (1993). Norris is Eddie Cusack, a dedicated Chicago cop who plays by his own rules, much to the irritation of his perpetually grumpy captain (Bert Remsen). An intricately-coordinated drug bust goes south after low-level mobster Tony Luna (Mike Genovese) massacres everyone at the buy, including a cop and some members from the Camacho crime family, which doesn't rest well with the ruthless Luis Camacho (Henry Silva). This starts a gang war that results in Luna's daughter (Molly Hagan) being abducted by Camacho's goons, but Cusack's got other issues, like becoming a department pariah after he refuses to go along with the incompetence of boozing, burned-out detective Cragie (Ralph Foody), who impulsively shot an innocent kid and planted a gun on him to cover his ass. When it's revealed that Cusack broke the unspoken "code of silence" when he recommended the aging Cragie be busted down to desk duty, he's forced to take on the Luna and Camacho families alone when none of the other cops will respond to his calls for backup.

Davis has always excelled as a Chicago director, and his love of the city comes through in CODE OF SILENCE. Scenes are set in iconic Windy City locations and there's supporting roles for ubiquitous Chicago-based character actors like Ron Dean and a then-unknown Dennis Farina, who was still a full-time cop moonlighting as an actor when he made this. Norris was never more convincing as an actor than he was here, but even though CODE OF SILENCE was a hit for Orion Pictures, the star went straight back to Cannon for the same year's entertaining but significantly less plausible INVASION U.S.A. and stayed with Golan & Globus for the rest of his big-screen heyday. CODE OF SILENCE is filled with tough action and terrific old-school action sequences, with Norris doing his own stunts in a great foot chase atop a train, where he moves with careful hesitation, not like an indestructible badass but like someone would if they were really in that situation. CODE's only stumble comes when Cusack breaks out the Prowler, the department's remote-controlled, tank-like robotic cop prototype to use in his ambush of Camacho's shipyard HQ, but other than that concession to being a product of 1985 (hey, at least the Prowler doesn't talk), CODE OF SILENCE is Norris' best film and one of the very best cop movies of the 1980s. Davis, who would call upon the legendary Silva's expertise as a bad guy for ABOVE THE LAW three years later, failed to capitalize on the huge success he had with THE FUGITIVE, moving on to two flops--1995's STEAL BIG STEAL LITTLE and 1996's CHAIN REACTION and only getting one more hit thus far with 2003's HOLES, based on the popular YA novel. Now 69, he hasn't directed a film since the 2006 Kevin Costner/Ashton Kutcher nautical actioner THE GUARDIAN. (R, 101 mins)

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