So once again we have survived.

Wanted: Dead or Alive

tn_wanteddoaI don’t know about you guys, but I think of Rutger Hauer mainly for playing charismatic villains and weirdos. Of course there’s Roy Batty in BLADE RUNNER and there’s his hitcher guy in THE HITCHER and that sort of thing. But a few times he took a shot at being a star of ’80s action movies, and though they didn’t seem to catch on they were some good ones.

I knew about BLIND FURY but somehow I missed this one until now. In 1987 director Gary Sherman (RAW MEAT, VICE SQUAD, POLTERGEIST III) made this movie that according to the internet is supposed to be connected to the ’50s western TV show starring Steve McQueen. McQueen played a bounty hunter named Josh Randall, Hauer plays circa 1987 bounty hunter Nick Randall. The credits don’t seem to acknowledge the relation though. There’s a part where he has an old timey pistol framed on the wall but I don’t know the show well enough to know if it was a reference.

mp_wanteddoaIn the classic ’80s tradition, Nick first reveals his badass skills by thwarting a grocery store robbery. (That’s how most badasses got their big break back then.) But he’s actually tailing the robbers for a bounty, it’s not the more traditional happens-to-be-there-when-it-happens approach.

He’s going after lawbreakers, but he acts like an outlaw. When he ties them up in his car trunk and drops them off at the police station he has to call an old friend as a go-between to have someone come outside to, you know, accept the package. “No no, I’m not coming inside. I don’t like cops. And they don’t like me.”

He’s got a set up like Blade or The Punisher or someone, he works out of a big garage with a bunch of cars, a shooting range, an arsenal of weaponry and for some reason a giant picture of the moon. I guess if you have a huge place like that a sexy pinup or a Ferrari poster isn’t gonna cut it.

But his vehicle of choice is a motorcycle (’cause he’s a loner) and his home is a small boat called the HMS Bounty. Because it’s like the Mutiny on the Bounty but it’s, he’s a bounty hunter though. I think you got that. I probly didn’t have to explain that one.

So we’ve established that he lives rough, he doesn’t get along with people, he wears a leather jacket (I didn’t actually mention that, but I’m sure you suspected it). He’s real good at handling burly biker dudes and other rowdy troublemakers. But there’s a bigger threat out there. There’s terrorism.

It seems that Malak Al Rahim is in town to kill Americans. And he does it in a way designed to stab specifically at the hearts of those of us who would watch WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE or read about it 27 years later: he blows up a theater showing RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II. We see all the innocent families going in, the little girls with their dollies who were never supposed to be part of this battle, they’re just going with their parents to watch Sylvester Stallone shoot, stab and arrow 74 people to death.

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Al Rahim comes into the country disguised as a rabbi, then he trims his beard. So he was very dedicated to this, he grew out the beard, it’s not a fake. He’s played by Gene Simmons, who arguably to his credit, but definitely to the detriment of the movie, doesn’t play it crazy over-the-top. He just plays it in the tradition of white guys playing evil Arabs. I didn’t even realize it was him at first.

It turns out Nick used to be in the CIA and Al Rahim was sort of his white whale, so his old agency buddy Philmore Walker (Robert Guillaume) recruits him to find the guy. Kinda weird for the update of the old western TV show about the bounty hunter, since it makes this end up not being about bounty hunting at all, but oh well. He tries to do it in his own lonery type way, tries to lose CIA guys who tail or bug him, gets betrayed, etc.

I called him a loner, and so does the poster (“Nick is a loner. A legend. A bounty hunter.”) But all that means is he doesn’t have a family. He’s not completely alone, because he has a cop friend named Danny (William Russ) who does him alot of favors, and a flight attendant girlfriend Terry (Mel Harris, RAISING CAIN). He’s even thinking of hanging up the guns (in frames, I assume) and settling down. Put a white picket fence around that boat.

He has those friends at the beginning of the movie, anyway. There’s a great scene where he calls Danny late at night to get him to do the ol’ “get the guys to follow you around because you’re wearing the hero’s jacket and look like him from the back” decoy trick. Danny sort of reluctantly stumbles out of bed, trying to hide from his wife where he’s going. She’s obviously annoyed how much he helps Nick, and it must be alot because we see that in his bathroom he actually has a styrofoam head for storing the Nick decoy wig!

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I bet that was the wig the stunt double wore and somebody thought it would be funny to put it in Danny’s bathroom. If so they were right.

Danny gets the agents off Nick’s trail and goes to the boat where he sees Terry and there’s some humor about her having to play along with this guy she’s never seen before dressed up like her boyfriend. But (SPOILER FOR OBSCURE 1987 RUTGER HAUER MOVIE) it very abruptly shifts from dumb jokes to horrible tragedy when the boat blows up, killing them both.

Now everybody thinks Nick is dead and shit gets serious.

The wig isn’t the only odd little touch that makes this special. Another one I like is in a scene where Nick goes to the home of a big dude who sold detonators to the terrorists to try to rough him up for information. He’s a fat slobby biker type guy and wrestling is on the TV. It seems pretty stereotypical until we find out that his wife (who later gives him up) is the one who watches the wrestling. In their living room they have a piano with sheet music and everything, and Nick slams his head against the keys like you’d expect.

But which one of them plays piano? It doesn’t seem like a plays-piano type of household, but it is. Challenging our assumptions. Most movies would put these two in a trailer park, but not this movie. I like it.

still_wanteddoa2There is a small little action moment in this one that absolutely blew me away. It happens in the middle of the action, it’s not the climax of the setpiece, it’s not slow-motioned or emphasized with a musical sting, it’s not treated in any way like a money shot. It’s just one of those things that happens suddenly without warning that’s so cool you gotta rewind it a bunch of times and study it.

I took some frames from it here so you can see the sequence, but of course you gotta see it happen in motion in the context of the movie to really do it justice. It’s just a quick little thing that happens when he’s having a combination car chase shootout with some guys.

* * *

1. There’s a gunman in the truck he’s chasing, hanging out the back, busting off shots.

* * *

2. The guy hits Nick’s windshield a bunch of times, but misses him.

* * *

3. So Nick pushes his gun through his broken window, breaks off some of the pieces of glass, clears it out so he can see. Like when your window gets all fogged up and you gotta try to wipe it off to be able to drive, it’s sorta like that.

* * *

4. Then when he has an unobstructed view he pokes his gun out and shoots back at the truck.

* * *

5. He nails the guy, who flops right out the back of the truck

* * *

6-8. Then it’s a shot of the guy (well, a dummy of the guy) rolling in front of Nick’s car, rolling right under the wheels and BADUMP, his car just rolls right over and leaves the chump behind, never to be mentioned again.

* * *

Sayonara, gunman from the back seat of the truck.

You gotta respect Gary Sherman for throwing serious shit like that at us every once in a while. And, you know, I’m not one of those anti-digital age whiners, but stuff like this reminds you how deficient modern movies are of that kick you get from real stunts and simple practical effects.

By the end of the movie Nick is betrayed, he’s outnumbered, everybody’s after him, he has to climb through the sewer to get away. Are sewers really as big as they are in movies? I’ve never sewerclimbed before. I should try it out some time. Anyway, he’s got his secret lair so he’s able to have some target practice to get ready. He even shoots his TV when it shows the bad guy on the news. So he knows sort of what it will feel like.

But actually he chooses a way better way than shooting him. He somehow fits a grenade into his mouth, drags him around by the key, then pulls it out and struts away. We all respect an action hero who calmly walks away with his back to an explosion, but this is one of the few where it’s not a car or a building blowing up, it’s a famous rock star’s head.

WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE is a good b-movie in the classical sense: it’s not gonna be most people’s favorite movie of all time, but it’s gonna be a very respectable addition to a double bill. It’s knows how to use the fun action movie cliches, it has an enjoyable archetypical cool rebellious tough guy played by an actor who didn’t get enough of those roles, it has great violence and stunts, fiery explosions, crashing cars, some funny gags and one-liners, and some odd touches for flavoring.

In fact it is of crucial importance to tip my hat at one such odd touch that happens right upfront. It has an opening credits blues rock song called “Live Bait” by Delaney Bramlett that’s not quite as great or as raw as, but definitely in the tradition of, “Neon Slime,” the memorable theme song that Wings Hauser sang for Sherman’s earlier movie VICE SQUAD. In fact, I gotta assume either Sherman or Bramlett realized how awesome “Neon Slime” was and were trying to re-create that magic, because this one uses both words of the title in its lyrics:

“Streets infected / Crawled in the slime / The neon nightmare / is about to unwind”

Why did this one not become much of a cultural touchstone? Was it too early for TV show updates? I don’t know. But I do know this: I blame Bon Jovi. They piggybacked off of it, releasing the single “Wanted Dead Or Alive” about two months after this came out, and stealing the movie’s thunder. The sonofabitches. They robbed us of a potential STILL WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE in 1989. They didn’t want to have to compete with another awesome theme song.

But maybe you guys all knew this one already. If not I’m proud to introduce you to it.

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.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 at 3:45 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

21 Responses to “Wanted: Dead or Alive”

  1. One Guy from Andromeda

    December 2nd, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    This one sounds very interesting – The driving over the henchman shots reminded me a lot of Bad Boys 2 though!
    As long as Rutger Hauer is fresh on people’s minds – can anyone tell me the name of this dimly remembered Rutger Hauer movie? It must be from the 90s i suppose, direct to video probably, set in Alaska. Hauer starts off as a bad guy but in the course of the movie turns good. I caught it on TV late at night watching with my brother in law and we were both blown away with it because of many little scenes out of the left field. The one that especially stuck in my mind is one where the protagonist and Rutger Hauer, who is still the bad guy at this point, are trapped outside in the cold overnight and in order not to freeze to death strip naked and cuddle up to each other to exchange body heat!
    Sorry for that, anyway, wanted dead or alive – on the list!

  2. The Undefeated Gaul

    December 2nd, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    I’ll always remember two moments from this movie, the one where Gene Simmons is torturing a guy by shooting him first in the foot, then the kneecap, maybe his balls? I don’t remember exactly, but it shocked the hell out of me, as I was far too young at the time to be watching shit like that. I’d actually already seen Runaway, another one I should not have seen at that age, so I was already terrified of the motherfucker with the robotic spiders (I only learned much, much later that Simmons was not a proper actor but some dude who was in a silly rock band, I just thought his face looked fucking evil). The other moment is the grenade finishing move, which was the most badass thing I’d ever seen at the time. I’ve never really rewatched the film since, so in my mind it’s still got this dirty, violent, hardcore feel about it that will probably turn out to be very tame if I watch it now, so I don’t think I should.

    Just want to mention Rutger Hauer is one of the all time greats in my eyes, and one of the few Dutch actors to make me proud I come from the same country. (I know, Gauls are French, but I just really like that Spartacus show).

  3. One Guy from Andromeda
    The film you speak of is called “Arctic Blue”, it featured Huaer and Dylan Baker cuddling up in a naked embrace.
    “Wanted: Dead or Alive” was one of the first “Dollar Store” DVD’s over here in the UK, and prior to that had a very healthy shelf-life on VHS.
    Hauer, in my opinion, is one of the great “untapped potential” action heroes, had a striking look, an intrinsic “bad-ass” quality and actual acting chops.
    It’s a real shame that he beacame more famous for Guiness adverts than the awesome bad-assery he was displaying in his flicks. Blind Fury and Wanted may not be amzing films, but he was great in them and deserved more credit.

  4. “Fuck the bonus.”

    *KA-BOOM*

  5. Gene Simmons is one of those dudes The AV Club loves to hate, alongside James Franco and Shia LaBeouf.

  6. That’s Dylan Walsh in Arctic Blue, not Dylan Baker. That scene would be about a thousand times weirder if it was Dylan Baker.

  7. One Guy from Andromeda

    December 3rd, 2014 at 3:21 am

    Ah yes, Arctic Blue! Thanks guys!

  8. Griff, people hate Simmons for entirely different reasons, though.

  9. Franco and Shia are pretentious weirdos who are fun to make fun of. Simmons is just a straight up asshole.

  10. It seems like Simmons has been an even bigger asshole of late, because a bunch of journalists decided for some reason that his opinions were worth printing. I’ll defend Franco some. Sure, he’s pretentious. (And I mean that in the full sense of the word, in that he thinks his art is deeper and more meaningful than it actually is). But at least he has a sense of humor about himself. And if you’re going to abuse your power as a celebrity, then racking up graduate degrees is hardly the worst thing you could do. Shia’s nearly indefensible at this point, however.

    I think Vern is onto something about Bon Jovi eclipsing the film. That damn song got caught in my head the moment I read the movie title.

  11. “I have a greater understanding of art than James Franco. I also have a comprehensive understanding of James Franco himself. In order to defeat him I have studied him, no, I have become him. And therefore I know exactly how much depth and meaning he ascribes to his own work. In this way, from my necessarily correct evaluation of his art I can tell that he is overvaluing his own work.”

    I have to agree with Vern that using the word pretentious can often be pretentious itself. You might then suggest that statement could imply that I am also being pretentious. To explain why I’m not I’d have to first… Hey! Look over there! It’s Gene Simmons with a grenade in his mouth! *Smoke bomb*

  12. Ok now I’m confused. What is the name of the Rutger Hauer futuristic thriller where he ends up being put in a sensory deprivation chamber as a punishment for ages an ages? At some point a guy opens it and pisses on him. I thought it was this one. Maybe neck collar gadget things are involved. Or am I just wrong on all counts and that film doesn’t exist?

  13. I think you’re thinking of WEDLOCK, which had the neck collar thing.

  14. Thanks Vern, this review motivated me to finally give that secondhand DVD I bought 4 months ago a spin. I hadn’t seen this movie since it debuted on VHS and it was encouraging to know it still holds up well as a sturdy B-movie. The link to the original series did feel a bit tenuous, like maybe it was an 11th hour rewrite. You have the lack of any crediting to the series, Josh Randall is only mentioned briefly in a line of dialogue. McQueen’s signature weapon was a sawed-off lever-action rifle known as the “Mare’s Leg” and I guess Hauer’s shotgun is a rough equivalent, but it certainly should have been the weapon hanging on the wall if they wanted to make the link explicit. The idea of a CIA agent turned bounty hunter is an interesting “only in the movies” kind of development, but Randall is doing quite well for himself compared to Jack Walsh.

  15. Holy shit Al T, you look just like Dolph Lundgren!

  16. Darren- I know, right? I could be his stunt double.

  17. But seriously Al – well done, that’s a great photo. He looks like a real affable guy to meet in person.

  18. Thanks Darren, it was a stroke of good luck I was in Southern California when he held the book signing where we met. Affable is right, he was exceedingly gracious with everyone who came up to him. To put this thread somewhat back on topic, I had to pass up a chance to meet Eric Red, screenwriter of THE HITCHER(with Rutger Hauer) and NEAR DARK, who was having his own signing at another bookstore at the same time. Not a huge loss since I already met him in Houston when he introduced a screening of his directorial debut COHEN & TATE.

  19. I’ve seen Eric Red’s 100 FEET with Famke Janssen, which wasn’t bad, and I’ve had his werewolf movie BAD MOON on my radar for a while since reading Vern’s review. I need to get on that one.

  20. I remember reading somewhere that Rutger’s bounty hunter is supposed to be Steve McQueen’s grandson. Don’t really know why they made that one up, since they don’t use the Connection for anything in the movie.

    As for Simmons, why wouldn’t the press print every word he says? Here’s a guy who politically is further right than Hitler, has a dinosaurs view on women and who treats the music business like Ebenezer Scrooge treats his firm. The shit writes it self.

  21. Thanks Majestyk!

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