Thursday, January 31, 2019

Retro Review: DEADLY FORCE (1983)

(US - 1983)

Directed by Paul Aaron. Written by Ken Barnett, Barry Schneider and Robert Vincent O'Neil. Cast: Wings Hauser, Joyce Ingalls, Paul Shenar, Al Ruscio, Arlen Dean Snyder, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Bud Ekins, J. Victor Lopez, Hector Elias, Ramon Franco, Gina Gallego, Paul Benjamin, Big Yank, Estelle Getty, Victoria Vanderkloot, Richard Beauchamp, Ned Eisenberg, Frank Ronzio. (R, 96 mins)

Wings Hauser made such a memorable impression as psycho pimp Ramrod in the grimy 1982 sleeper hit and cable cult favorite VICE SQUAD (he even sang the theme song) that producer Sandy Howard rewarded him with the hero lead in the next year's DEADLY FORCE. Born in 1947, Hauser began his career in the late 1960s with small roles in movies, TV, and on daytime soaps, first gaining notoriety on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS in 1977. He even tried to start a music career, releasing an album on RCA in 1975 titled Your Love Keeps Me Off the Streets, recorded under the name "Wings Livinryte." Though he would occasionally land supporting roles in prestigious projects both award-winning (1984's A SOLDIER'S STORY, 1999's THE INSIDER) and woefully misbegotten (1987's TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE), Hauser is best known for his many B-movies in the '80s and '90s, including 1984's MUTANT, 1989's THE SIEGE OF FIREBASE GLORIA, and 1990's STREET ASYLUM, which paired him with the unlikely G. Gordon Liddy. The now-71-year-old Hauser's output has slowed in recent years (he had guest spots on episodes of CASTLE and RIZZOLI & ISLES in 2016), but his actor son Cole Hauser seems poised to follow in his dad's footsteps in B-movies and on TV, most recently as Kevin Costner's right-hand man in the Paramount Network series YELLOWSTONE). But Wings Hauser was definitely having a moment in the early '80s thanks to his unforgettable performance in VICE SQUAD, and it was enough to make him a reliable presence as plays-by-his-own-rules cops and vicious killers for years to come.

Wings Hauser IS Stoney Cooper!
DEADLY FORCE failed to capitalize on Hauser's VICE SQUAD momentum and was quickly in and out of theaters in the summer of 1983. Like VICE SQUAD, it ended up in constant cable rotation for a few years after but where VICE SQUAD's cult following has endured, DEADLY FORCE more or less fell into relative obscurity, never even getting a DVD release. That's changed now that Shout! Factory has granted it a Blu-ray resurrection, despite the fact that we've all been told time and again that physical media is dead. Hauser is disgraced, alcoholic, ex-L.A. cop Stoney Cooper, who's now scraping by as a NYC street hustler and freelance  strong-arm problem-solver. He's summoned back to L.A. by his fatherly old partner Sam Goodwin (Al Ruscio), whose granddaughter Beverly (Victoria Vanderkloot) was just thrown off the balcony of her high-rise apartment, the latest victim in a wave of killings with no apparent motive or connection. Nobody's happy to see Stoney back in the City of Angels, starting with his old boss Capt. Hoxley (Lincoln Kilpatrick), who warns him "You get involved in this investigation, I'll put you so far away they'll have to air-mail in light!" Also furious about his return is crime boss Ashley Maynard (Arlen Dean Snyder), who just served two years after being busted by Stoney, presumably for passing himself off as a feared criminal despite being named "Ashley Maynard." Most annoyed of all is Stoney's estranged wife Eddie (Joyce Ingalls, who left the business after this aside from a bit part as a nurse in 1998's LETHAL WEAPON 4, with her only other significant role being in 1978's PARADISE ALLEY, during which she and director/star Sylvester Stallone briefly became an item), a TV news reporter who's working the case and doesn't want Stoney meddling.

Of course, since he's a no-rules cop-turned-no-rules ex-cop, Stoney meddles and ruffles feathers everywhere he goes, even forming an unholy alliance with the nefarious Ashley Maynard, who agrees to leave Stoney alone and call his dogs off for two weeks in exchange for half of the reward money when Stoney nabs the killer, a mystery man played by Bud Ekins, who spent a lot of time in the '60s and '70s as Steve McQueen's regular stunt double. The body count rises and both Stoney and Eddie find their lives in danger while rekindling their romance (cue gratuitous Wings man-ass in a sequence where he's shot at while in a bathtub and then with Eddie in a ridiculous sex-in-a-living-room-hammock scene), and the key to the cracking the case may be wealthy and powerful self-help magnate Joshua Adams (Paul Shenar), a mysterious figure whose villainy is obvious the moment one sees he's played by Paul Shenar.

Also featuring a bit part by a pre-GOLDEN GIRLS Estelle Getty as a lead-footed NYC cabbie named "Gussie," DEADLY FORCE was directed by Paul Aaron, perhaps best known for the early Chuck Norris vehicle A FORCE OF ONE and the TV-movie remake of THE MIRACLE WORKER, both from 1979. Among the screenwriters was VICE SQUAD co-writer Robert Vincent O'Neil (THE BALTIMORE BULLET), who really carved a niche for himself during this period with time-capsule snapshots of early '80s L.A. sleaze, following DEADLY FORCE by writing and directing 1984's surprise "high school honor student by day, Hollywood hooker by night" hit ANGEL and its 1985 sequel AVENGING ANGEL. Despite adhering to every genre trope imaginable, DEADLY FORCE failed to establish Wings Hauser as a mainstream, multiplex action star, though he was never out of work thanks to the forthcoming straight-to-video explosion that would keep him busy through the 1990s. Looking at it now, DEADLY FORCE prefigures LETHAL WEAPON in a number of ways, starting with both films opening with a beautiful young woman taking an unwilling dive off of a high balcony. But with his disdain for department policy, his goofy, smart-ass eccentricities (he breaks into Maynard's house, makes small-talk with his senile mother, and eats popcorn and watches porn with Maynard's girlfriend before sarcastically tucking an irate Maynard into bed), his penchant for taking insane risks (there's some impressive stunt work here, with one wild car chase where Hauser and Snyder are, in most shots, right there in the vehicles), and the manic, hair-trigger intensity brought to the table by Hauser, Stoney Cooper is an obvious precursor to Mel Gibson's Martin Riggs. I somehow missed DEADLY FORCE back in the day, but I thoroughly enjoyed discovering it now, so even though the Blu-ray has no extras, props to Shout! Factory for making this forgotten, Cannon-esque gem available once again. It's just a shame that we were deprived of further Stoney Cooper adventures, a gift that would've never stopped giving.

DEADLY FORCE belatedly opening in Toledo, OH on 1/27/1984,
over six months after it began its theatrical rollout.

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