Maybe I’m out of touch, but I had never heard of RENEGADES. At first I assumed it was a western. It does reunite YOUNG GUNS stars Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips (the original Woody & Wesley), but it’s a contemporary buddy/cop movie set in Philadelphia. And it’s as solid as you’d hope for from director Jack Sholder, following up ALONE IN THE DARK (1982), A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE (1985) and THE HIDDEN (1987).
Sutherland (STAND BY ME) plays Buster McHenry, who is one of those guys who goes into a little diner and is on a first name basis with the old man behind the counter. You know the type. Like Dirty Harry, he happens to see a traffic stop turn into a hostage situation from the window while having some night time coffee. Like Riggs, he goes out and performs a crazy stunt, pretending to be a drunk guy wandering in the situation so he can take one guy’s gun, shoot two others, make one surrender. Then he slaps the commanding officer and spends a night in the drunk tank for it. He’s actually a cop but he’s on vacation, doing a private undercover case with the knowledge (but not official sanction) of his boss/mentor/dead dad’s friend Lieutenant Finch (Bill Smitrovich, BAND OF THE HAND).
See, as a hobby or whatever Buster has infiltrated the gang of a psycho named Marino (Robert Knepper, TRANSPORTER 3, R.I.P.D., HARD TARGET 2, JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK). They commit a strong arm diamond robbery that needlessly leaves a guy dead and turns into an urban foot chase with bits that remind me of RESERVOIR DOGS. Fleeing police gunfire, the robbers run into a random building that happens to be the venue for the opening of a Native American art exhibit where Hank Storm (Phillips, THE BIG HIT) has loaned the “sacred lance of the Lakota Indians” for display. Marino sees the lance, takes a fancy to it, smashes the glass and takes it. When George (Gary Farmer, GHOST DOG) tries to stop him, Marino – clearly the Mr. Blonde of this gang – shoots him.
I’m a fan of this type of story where the McMuffin is not a world-ending weapon or priceless artifact, but just something that’s personally important to some people. One example is the first NINJA movie with Scott Adkins, where they’re fighting over a box of weapons that’s not dangerous or priceless, but meaningful to a ninja clan. Here most of the characters care about the diamonds, but Hank becomes involved because it’s his duty to reclaim this lance that’s been passed on through the generations. Getting revenge for George, who was his brother, seems like a bonus. As soon as this happens his dad (Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman, DANCES WITH WOLVES) nods to him and without hesitation he pursues the thieves like a T-1000, chasing their car on foot, then stealing a bystander’s Corvette. When they give him the slip but he finds Buster laying there wounded and brings him to his place to be healed by his father, not out of kindness but to get information from him. And he shoves him around and talks to him harshly. It’s one of those buddy movies where it’s a while before they don’t hate each other.
One impediment is Buster repeatedly calling Hank “chief,” even after he tells him not to. He seems to think it’s real cute. You know how buddies joke around with a little racism to become buddies. Buster’s other annoying habit is trying to ditch Hank, who can be a bit Road Runner-like in the ways he thwarts Buster. The moment I knew I loved Hank Storm was in the scene where Buster claims there’s something wrong with the engine and that Hank needs to put his finger on the “butterfly valve” while he revs it up.
Of course Buster slams on the gas to back up all the way down the block, peel out, step out of the car for a second to close the hood, real proud of himself, and…
You mean to tell me he just sat casually like that on top of the engine while the car tore down the street!? I don’t know what’s more impressive – his ability to do that, or to then sit there calmly and give him that intense look rather than laughing in his face. And you gotta figure that he made the decision to do this whole thing in order to show Buster who’s boss. He could’ve just said “No, I’m not stupid, you’re gonna drive away,” but instead he played along so he could blow his mind.
Maybe the first sign that they’re gonna buddy up is when they go threaten a guy at a mob restaurant to get information and end up locking him in the trunk of the car, right in front of two random bystanders.
They shut the trunk and as they walk up to the front of the car to drive off they give each other a look that turns into smiles. This signifies that they are officially buddies and in the car they have their first real conversation, about their dads. But when they go into Marino’s ex Barbara (Jami Gertz, Square Pegs)’s beauty parlor, having been given incorrect information that Marino is staying in the apartment above, they haven’t quite gelled enough as a team. Buster goes overboard and pushes her against a wall, so Hank gets him to back off and tries to talk calmly and reasonably. I think they want us to believe he has some kind of mystical Lakota power of persuasion – it works on a drug dealer’s vicious dog and a cop who corners him and he convinces it’s not worth shooting (unfortunately not even remotely believable today). But when he tries it on Barbara she says “Who the fuck are you??” and it’s clear that the good cop/bad cop thing won’t work here.
Barbara has just enough time to say “Look, I don’t want any trouble here, so why don’t you guys leave, okay?” before the bad guys pull up with big ass guns and start firing indiscriminately through the window. They escape and take Barbara with them, dragging her by the arm as sort of a hostage. Although Buster likes Hank at this point, he’s worried about his desire to kill Marino, so he tries to get rid of him with the trick where they get on a subway and then he pushes Hank and gets off just before it pulls away. Hank is a problem solver, so instead of giving up he thinks about it for a second and then realizes that the thing to do is climb up on the roof and jump onto another train going the opposite direction.
Bet you didn’t think he was gonna do some DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE shit, did you, McHenry? The chase continues until Hank gets frustrated and causes a scene in a department store. Buster sees security about to take him away, and knows it’s his chance to really lose him. But he steps in to fake arrest him and get the team back together. The putting-a-guy-in-a-trunk-together team. (Oh shit, what happened to that guy? Did they just leave him parked by the beauty parlor?) Barbara seems to be impressed enough by all this that she decides to now willingly join them. Seems kind of implausible, but I’ll take it because it’s a good feeling that they’re finally all on the same page.
Hank and Buster both figure out at the same time that Lieutenant Finch is crooked and involved in some scheme with Marino. Hank’s first thought is to make sure Buster knows it, and his second is to show sympathy.
“He was a friend?”
For the climax, the two of them attack the heavily armed gang at their isolated farmhouse hideout. Our boys are hiding in the stables when the bad guys shoot a flare in and start a fire. Hank kindly releases the horses, riding on one of them, because he’s a Young Gun. Except Buster doesn’t know how to ride a horse, but suddenly he emerges on a motorcycle and he does a cool move to jump off and ram it into a guy. And they fight in some burning woods and SPOILER the lance is on fire when Buster throws it into Marino’s heart.
I enjoyed RENEGADES. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s a kick because you don’t really see this type of thing anymore, an action movie with a decent studio budget and a director with a bit of a nasty streak. So you have multiple high-damage shootouts, a big scene in a department store with lots of extras, a long wrong-way car chase on populated streets with tons of collateral damage – running over carts, going all the way through an office, police cars piling up with a bit of that BLUES BROTHERS spirit. The bad guys have big guns and a habit of shooting people for no reason. When the gang shows up out of the blue to shoot up the beauty shop we’ve been among these innocent ladies for a couple minutes and it’s played for terror, not wackiness, even when a curler gets shot off.
Second unit director/stunt coordinator Mickey Gilbert was following up his work on ABOVE THE LAW. He later did YOUNG GUNS II, LAST OF THE MOHICANS and WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE. Sholder’s also backed up by Cronenberg’s production designer Carol Spier, HIGHLANDER II cinematographer Phil Meheux, THE STUNT MAN editor Caroline Biggerstaff and of course composer Michael Kamen (DIE HARD, FOR QUEEN & COUNTRY, ROAD HOUSE).
I don’t want to make too big a deal of this, but I think it’s worth mentioning: it’s possible to read the last scene as saying they hook up. It’s a sweet epilogue where Buster shows up on the reservation and finds Hank, because he never got a chance to thank him. And he says:
The end. If I’m not mistaken, there’s never any mention of a wife or girlfriend for either of them, and neither of them falls for Annette or anything like that. And though that’s unusual in our very heterosexual culture, it shouldn’t be – not all movies have to be about love, and it’s nice to step away from the usual formula and expectations. Two men can certainly meet at a motel and go have a beer together or whatever just because they’re friends who were involved in like ten car chases and shootouts one time.
So obviously it doesn’t mean anything. But this is from the director of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE, which we now understand to have intentional gay themes introduced by screenwriter David Chaskin. I never picked up on them back in the day, and when they were pointed out to me I initially took them to be homophobic. On the excellent documentary NEVER SLEEP AGAIN, Sholder denies that there was any such intent, but Chaskin says it was conscious on his part.
So, man, what if that happened to Sholder again? What if screenwriters keep pulling fast ones on him?
Anyway, whether they’re special friends or regular friends, I like these renegades.
Sholder went straight into TV movies (BY DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT, 12:01, SKETCH ARTIST II, GENERATION X, etc.) and episodes (Tales From the Crypt, Mortal Kombat: Conquest). Ten years later he returned to horror part 2s with the DTV WISHMASTER 2: EVIL NEVER DIES. Screenwriter David Rich went on to write a few episodes of MacGyver, Legend and Stargate SG-1. In 2010 he directed GOING DADO, apparently a documentary about dealing with “the most virulent of his myriad mid-life crises” by interviewing “Neo-Dadaist provocateur Bernard Anson Silij” in Rome. Possibly unaware that he would be credited as the author of the summary on IMDb, he says that “the filmmaker, in a virtuosic display, weaves together a patchwork quilt of images, sounds and ideas that take the audience on a journey into the belly of the beast we call life on the material plane.”
Sutherland and Phillips never revisited these characters, but they did reunite in YOUNG GUNS II, TERESA’S TATTOO, HOURGLASS, PICKING UP THE PIECES and two episodes of 24.
I guess the only real mark the movie left is on corny pop rock soundtrack singles. This one ends with “Only the Strong Survive” by Bryan Adams. Composer Michael Kamen would subsequently reteam with Adams for the smash hit “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” for ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, as well as “All For Love” for the 1993 version of THE THREE MUSKETEERS starring Sutherland and “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” for DON JUAN DE MARCO.