January 2, 2015

Wanted Dead Or Alive

Wanted Dead Or Alive (104 minutes) 1987/Rated R – starring Rutger Hauer, Gene Simmons, Robert Guillaume, Mel Harris, William Russ, Susan MacDonald, Jerry Hardin, Hugh Gillin, Robert Harper, Suzanne Wouk, and Eli Danker. Directed by Gary Sherman. Originally released through New World Home Video.

It’s fair to say there are so many by-the-numbers maverick-cop-versus-malicious-foreign-terrorist-organization films in the archives of global cinema today, that it takes skillful writing, clever direction, and solid performers to breathe life into this overly-tired formula. Most of the recent endeavors are produced with lightning-quick scenes (usually under two minutes), are littered with canted camera angles and swish pans, and have an assortment of B-grade actors spewing anger and irritation without the slightest care to lending their personas an ounce of emotional resonance. So, it’s a rather unique viewing experience to get nostalgic and watch one of these formulaic movies from a decade and a half ago.

“Wanted Dead Or Alive” is certainly no masterpiece. At best, it’s just average B-grade action fare. But its characters do stop to talk a moment. The execution of scenes aren’t one big truncated MTV montage. When maverick, ex-detective, bounty hunter Rutger Hauer enters his voluminous loft in an abandoned warehouse in downtown LA, we get to see him simply take a moment to check the mail, amble into different rooms, in essence, Breathe. As stilted as Hauer’s line delivery tends to be, the camera lingers on him, allowing us to examine his features longer than two seconds, read the worry and concerns in his brow. These are shadings of characterization, however minute, that are all but lost in today’s B-grade action pictures. Hauer’s Nick Randall becomes likeable not because the camera poses him a certain way, not because he blows away innumerable bad guys, and not because the script gives him clever witticisms honed by writers hired to punch up the material. No, he’s just interesting because we’re given time to study him.

The story concerns a former fed agent (Hauer), once linked to anti-terrorist efforts in the Middle East, being caught up in attempts to thwart the violent plottings of a renegade faction led by Malak Al Rahim (the superbly-malevolent KISS maestro Gene Simmons). Of course, there’s someone corrupt within the feds who have persuaded Nick, now a bounty hunter, to work along with the organization again. Yes, the plot is propelled by Rutger shaking down the low men on Rahim’s totem pole until he finally catches up with the madman. But both hero and antagonist act in such an understated manner, that it’s a guilty pleasure to see the story unfold in an unhurried, yet predictable, manner.

Hauer’s full Flock-of-Seagulls mane of blond hair and the Members Only jackets worn by several extras date this as a the mid-eighties adventure it is. The relationship between Hauer and his girlfriend Terry (Mel Harris), and his friendship with his cop friend (William Russ), are quite realistic and given some screen time to develop, and therefore, both are given tragic weight when the terrorists dispatch these two people that Hauer cares for. As far as worthy opponents go, Gene Simmons agreeably chews the scenery with his menacing sneer and bone-dry utterances. He embraces his villainy with relish, as he coldly shoots one of his cohorts in both the foot and in the kneecap to extract information. After splattering the brains of a female operative against the inside of the window of a truck he’s driving, Simmons nonchalantly wipes away a clean spot from the bloodied pane as if it were just a smidgen of dirt clouding his vision. In other words, he’s baaaad, but not in an overstated way.

You may find the majority of “Wanted Dead Or Alive” forgettable, but low-key charm can be found in its leisurely pacing and concerned characters. The climax of the film, when Hauer finally finishes off the ruthless Simmons in a unique, show-stopping manner, however, is quite memorable, I can assure you.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

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