Movies We Like
After his great little run of action films from 1975 - 1982 that included The Driver, The Warriors, Southern Comfort and 48 Hrs, gritty director Walter Hill wandered in the wrong direction with the action musical Streets of Fire and the unfunny Richard Pryor comedy Brewster’s Millions. Even though he would go on to have a big hit with the Schwarzenegger muscle bore Red Heat, most of his flicks had potential but oddly fell short (Johnny Handsome, Wild Bill). He did do an underrated urban thriller, Trespass, but otherwise nothing reached that earlier high.
Hill started out as a writer and one of his first credited screenplays was for Sam Peckinpah’s mean spirited thriller, The Getaway. So Hill’s 1987 Tex-Mex action flick Extreme Prejudice, though completely ignored by audiences in its day, now plays as a perfect homage to his one-time boss, Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs), the master of masculine violence who had burned out and died a few years earlier. With about as good a cast of tough guy character actors you could find in 1987 (including Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Michael Ironside, Rip Torn, Clancy Brown and William Forsythe), time has been kind to Extreme Prejudice. Though it’s set in modern day, it’s now starting to look like one of the better “Westerns” made in 1980s.
The plot is nothing new, but there are some good twists and it goes something like this... Nolte plays super intense Texas Ranger Jack Benteen. His childhood pal, Cash Bailey (Boothe), is now a big time drug trafficker living in Mexico. Jack ignores the bribes Cash tries to win him over with and is obsessed with busting him. Also to complicate Jack’s psyche, his main squeeze Sarita (Maria Conchita Alonso of Colors) used to be Cash’s lady. In the meantime Major Paul Hackett (Ironside) rolls into town with an elite squad of military black ops who are all classified as dead (including Brown, Forsythe and Larry B. Scott, best remembered as Lamar in Revenge of the Nerds and its too horrible sequels). They try to pull off a high tech bank robbery to steal Cash’s money, but things go wrong. When Jack captures a couple of them, Hackett is forced to let Jack in on the mission. The two sides team up to go to Mexico and take out Cash; besides some tough guy law enforcement it also gives Jack a chance to retrieve his girlfriend who split on him and headed South. With Hackett turning up the ugly, his men have to question their sides (they’ve come to appreciate Jack’s renegade style) and this all leads to a very Wild Bunch ending complete with a saloon covered in Mexican gunmen with poor aim and a lively gunfight (though too quick by Peckinpah standards).
Though not great, Extreme Prejudice is a good showcase for the stylized violence Hill had perfected. He has always been underrated as an actor's director; though it’s not Shakespeare, the cast handles the material perfectly, capturing the coolness Hill is going for. A noticeably slimmed down Nolte completes his transition from pretty boy (Rich Man, Poor Man) to full on grizzled man. Boothe does his evil Jim Jones thing to perfection. Tough guy Ironside, who seems to average almost ten movies a year since the late '70s, is always watchable even in mostly forgettable flicks. And the great William Forsythe (Raising Arizona) manages to give his, at first one-note creep, a couple extra shades of color. The one notable weak spot in the otherwise slick flick is the score by the usually reliable Jerry Goldsmith (whose classic work includes Planet of the Apes and TV’s The Twilight Zone). While the film has a mostly timeless, retro, pseudo Western feel, the music reeks of lazy ’87 electronics. A little Ennio Morricone would have put this movie right over the top, in the right direction.
The '80s may be the worst decade in film history for Westerns; though Pale Rider and Silverado were popular, neither holds up very well and, frankly, the pseudo-Westerns of the era have proven to be much more interesting. Besides Extreme Prejudice, you had Chuck Norris and David Carradine butting heads in the spaghetti ass-kicker Lone Wolf McQuade; Alex Cox’s bizzarro Straight to Hell; Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire oater Near Dark; and the brilliant action flick The Road Warrior is basically a “protect the fort from the Indians” Western set in a post apocalypse future. Hill made a couple of straight Westerns (his best was The Long Riders) and he worked on HBO’s Deadwood. But all of his films have noticeable Western characteristics, even his lame Sci-fi film Supernova could have replaced outer space with the open range and been just as boring. Extreme Prejudice does what it does and does it well - it’s tough, it’s manly and even Rip Torn shows up to shoot someone with a shotgun.