EXCESSIVE FORCE is a pretty generic cop-who-can-kick action movie from Jon Hess, the director of ALLIGATOR II: THE MUTATION. That would be funny if it was the same guy that did NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, but I guess that was Jared Hess. It’s written by and stars Thomas Ian Griffith.
Griffith reminds me a little bit of Jeff Wincott. He’s a slim guy, not muscled out like Van Damme or somebody, with long hair and a dangly earring. He tends to wear long coats and scarfs, looks more like somebody who would play a troubled musician than an angry cop. But he’s a real martial artist who’s apparently good at kicking, so (much like Van Damme and his splits) he’s always looking for openings to kick guys in the face, just so you remember he can do it. I’m surprised he doesn’t use his feet to open doors, turn lights on and off or scratch his nose.
He doesn’t do that, but he does use his feet all throughout the movie. Kick kick kick kick kick. Yeah, he punches too, and he shoots, but high kicks and spin kicks (almost always to the head) are his bread and butter. He does the same kick three or more times in a row. That’s just what he does. He’s a kicker.
The story kicks off with one of these drug bust scenes. Griffith’s character McCain and his partners are trying to take down a mobster called DiMarco (Burt Young, Paulie from ROCKY). They hospitalize one of his associates and McCain gets a confession out of him by bullying him in the hospital bed. During the trial the evidence is thrown out because it was obtained by… well, you know, the title of the movie. And to be fair, the fact that he used a gun in the drug bust should count as excessive force considering his kicking skills. There is no situation he couldn’t handle with his kicks, so any time he resorts to shooting that’s excessive, in my opinion.
But $3 million from the set-up drug deal goes missing, and cops start turning up dead (including McCain’s partner played by Tony Todd). So McCain has to solve the mystery or kick a guy or whatever. And the mobster wants the money and does some killing and what not. You know how these work.
Lance Henriksen plays the chief of police, more of the understanding mentor type than the kind that’s always yelling for McCain to come into his office. The part becomes a little more than that later on, there is more dimension to the character than revealed at first. I would never dream of giving away what it is and also there’s just no chance you would possibly be able to guess what sort of twist there could be involving a nice character played by Lance Henriksen. So let’s forget we even brought it up.
One thing of interest is that McCain has two (2) badass juxtapositions. The first one is that he’s a jazz pianist. He hangs out at James Earl Jones’s club De Ja Vu. He just walks in off the street, James is on stage playing sax with his combo and McCain joins in. The score for the movie is cheesy LETHAL WEAPON style electric guitar noodling, so I’m surprised how tasteful the jazz is here. Not even smooth at all.
That’s a classic badass juxtaposition but of course it’s the exact same one Clint had in IN THE LINE OF FIRE, as well as in real life. But I looked it up and EXCESSIVE FORCE actually came out about two months before IN THE LINE OF FIRE. So I’m gonna give him this one.
Clint did it better, because Clint does everything better than everybody. Luckily McCain has a backup juxtaposition, and that is that he has a kitten. He pisses off his ex by bringing it to her house and feeding it milk, but then she understands when he explains that it belonged to his dead partner. You know how cops are, always buying kittens when they’re on a big case. Anyway, the movie doesn’t address that milk gives cats diarrhea.
The fights are pretty good. There’s some jumping and kicking guys through windows. There’s some jumping over a car and dangling from a pole like a monkey to shoot. There’s a pitchfork used as a weapon.
Unfortunately there’s not enough excessiveness in EXCESSIVE FORCE. Despite all the talk this guy doesn’t really go that overboard compared to other movie cops, so it feels alot more like a MEDIUM FORCE or an AVERAGE FORCE. Also the movie seems to approve of him being excessive, but only in a passive way. It clearly doesn’t disagree with him but doesn’t bother to make a passionate argument on his behalf either. Making that the title maybe confuses the issue.
The production value is surprisingly good for a movie starring Thomas Ian Griffith called EXCESSIVE FORCE. It feels almost on par with Andrew Davis’s movies, and not just because it also takes place in Chicago. It’s above competently made and watchable. But I think the plot is just too generic to stand out. It’s got all the things we’ve seen a million tmes before without enough unique flavors. I’m sure it’s partly modeled on the early Seagal movies like ABOVE THE LAW, but it doesn’t have as much of the personal obsessions and quirks as Seagal added to make the movie reflect himself.
You know me, I don’t require these things to be very original, but you gotta put something on there. You take all the formulas and the cliches but then you put them together in an odd way or put some strange touches on top of them or use them to set you up to expect one thing and get another, or some damn thing to make the move interesting. Unfortunately this one is completely coloring in the lines until maybe a few things near the end.
I do gotta say I liked the punchline at the end which is (yes, that means SPOILER when I say I’m about to say the punchline at the end) nobody ever finds the money and then the refrigerator it’s stashed in gets donated to the Salvation Army. I guess it’s kind of like the end of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK now that I think about. But with less face melting. Anyway, my guess is the money was eventually found and used to fund the sequel.
Henriksen of course does a good job as a quiet, intensely intimidating dude, but it’s not one of his more interesting characters even of that time (it’s within a couple years of STONE COLD, HARD TARGET and DELTA HEAT).
I don’t know how familiar you guys are with Griffith. I’m new to him. I know him mainly as Valek, the lead bloodsucker in John Carpenter’s VAMPIRES, but he’s a practicioner of Tae Kwon Do and Kenpo karate so he started out in THE KARATE KID PART III and later some of these b-action movies. This is actually the third one that he wrote (after NIGHT OF THE WARRIOR and ULTERIOR MOTIVES).
I was curious about his martial arts background so I looked up his Tae Kwon Do master, Jun Chong. Turns out he also taught Phillip Rhee, star of all four BEST OF THE BEST movies, and Rhee teaches at his school in San Francisco. Jun Chong also had the same Hapkido teacher as Bruce Lee. He’s also done a few movies himself and in fact starred in the not-even-remotely-close-to-as-awesome-as-it-sounds BRUCE LEE FIGHTS BACK FROM THE GRAVE, credited as “Bruce K.L. Lea.”
I’ll say this for EXCESSIVE FORCE: it’s way fuckin better than BRUCE LEE FIGHTS BACK FROM THE GRAVE, and has just as much to do with Bruce Lee. There really is a part 2, which has a different cast and director, apparently not connected to this one. But I’ll have to watch it eventually because it’s called EXCESSIVE FORCE 2: FORCE ON FORCE.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.