I watched WALKING THE EDGE because it came out on blu-ray from Fun City Editions – who seem to have an eye for ‘80s urban crime movies with a bit of an arty edge – and because it stars Robert Forster. I had just enjoyed him in ALLIGATOR, which is a much better movie to me, but it almost doesn’t matter. This is another one that for all its good qualities is about 85% running on the fuel of Forster’s charisma and acting choices.
It’s a simple story. He plays put-upon L.A. cab driver Jason Walk, who reluctantly picks up a fare one day (the cab is kind of a front – he really working for a mobster called “the Fat Man” [Bernard Erhard, voice of Cy-Kill on GoBots] and tries to avoid actual work), not knowing she’s on a revenge spree. At her first stop Christine (Nancy Kwan, THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG) splatters a guy’s chunky blood across a window while Jason sits in the cab obliviously grooving out to jazz. At the second stop he sees her get in a shootout with some guys at a garage and while the two of them are driving away yelling at each other he realizes she’s been injured (not from a bullet – from a hubcap thrown at her like a Frisbee!), feels bad and brings her to hide out at his apartment.
What we know, but he doesn’t yet, is that some drug lords killed Christine’s husband (Phil H. Fravel, Cop #1, STEELE JUSTICE) and son (Doug Toby, RED DAWN) in front of her, and she has just been released from hospitalization for a subsequent “nervous breakdown.” The ringleader of her family’s murderers is Joe Spinell (VIGILANTE) as a guy named Brusstar, pronounced like Brewster. He’s an interesting guy because he hangs out at a punk club that has sit down dining, wears a pineapple/Hawaiian shirt and feather earring, and resorts to violence any time anyone tries to call him “Bruce.”
I also want to note that in the opening scene where they kill Christine’s family one of Brusstar’s thugs (James McIntire, ROOTS: THE GIFT) is wearing a button up shirt with colorful lines drawn all over it and a Crayola box printed over the lapel pocket. Interesting fashion choice for a gang enforcer or whatever he is.
Before all this trouble, Jason came home to find his weirdo neighbor Mrs. Johnson (Ivy Bethune, BACK TO THE FUTURE) saying “Jason! It finally happened! Go in, you’ll see!” and then discovered his girlfriend Linda (Jacqueline Giroux, TRICK OR TREATS) fuckin some guy. He tells her to be moved out by the time he gets back, goes to the bar and immediately gets picked up by the bartender (Aarika Wells, SHARKY’S MACHINE). Despite her “wheelbarrow sized tits” he can’t get it up, and she says he’s “in serious debt.” This is also the first of two scenes where he says he needs “3 hugs a day just to survive.” So this is not the standard issue version of this story. It’s full of the odd little details and detours that make life and/or movies interesting.
It could be considered kind of progressive that the Asian-American female lead is not very exoticized – she later has connections in Chinatown, but otherwise her ethnicity is not really important. Too bad she ends up so sidelined. She basically waits in the apartment doing nothing, trying not to be spotted by the nosy neighbor. Jason brings her wine and McDonalds food. There’s lots of tension and arguments about whether he’s trying to rape her, and eventually there’s one of those scenes where they’ve had it with each other and get in a yelling match and then suddenly stop and start hungrily making out. It’s corny. I’m more into the other part of the movie, the Elmore Leonard/DEBT COLLECTOR type stuff where he drives around trying to collect overdue gambling debts for his boss.
There’s this prostitute he knows, Delia (Frankie Hill, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER), and when he drives up she starts talking game until she realizes he’s not trying to hire her, he’s just trying to collect from her pimp Leon (Russ Courtney), so she gets pissed and calls him a “jive ass honky.” But the next afternoon she sees him, gets in his cab saying, “I’m sorry about last night, I didn’t know,” and when he asks what she didn’t know she tells him how everybody’s out to get him. They have a friendly conversation about it but she makes him drop her off before anyone sees her with him. You understand.
There’s a nice touch that people constantly mention Jason’s past as a AAA pitcher. I think that bartender wanted to get with him because she had been a groupie (see also BREWSTER’S MILLIONS). The Fat Man thinks because he has “an arm” he can use it to strong arm people. His mechanic buddy Tony (A Martinez, JOE PANTHER) just wants him to use it to get the lid unstuck from a canister of engine lube. And there’s at least one part where he throws something at somebody. There’s a weird scene where the bad guys have been searching for Christine and one of Brusstar’s guys, McKee (Wayne Woodson, THE PERFECT MATCH), finds out who her mysterious cabbie is. He tells Brusstar about it at a batting cage, and I kept thinking Jason was gonna coincidentally show up there, but I guess since he’s a pitcher, not a hitter, it never happens. Instead McKee tells Brusstar “You don’t know the difference between a baseball and a tree frog.” Brusstar has a real evil moment where he gets McKee’s guard down by being humiliated trying to hit the ball and kind of laughing about it, then abruptly beats him up.
Jason does succeed in summoning his inner tough guy – there’s a great scene where he walks in on Leon playing a serious game of pool and just picks up a ball off the table. It seems kind of crazy that nobody fucks him up for this, but they all seem kind of in shock by the audacity of it. They can’t fuckin believe the balls on this guy.
It’s not all breezy. Spinell is the MANIAC, after all. A likable character gets horribly murdered, and it’s intercut with a passionate sex scene. That pushes Jason to go full-on Bronson on these guys, or arguably even full-on The Shape, considering he sets up two of the bodies to be found by his primary victim. Christine takes off for Chinatown and he doesn’t even know if he’ll see her again, but he must figure she’s gonna appreciate him finishing her rampage for her.
I dig this kind of grimy, day-in-the-life crime story, but it really is that Forster magic that makes it special. I love when he first meets Christine and tries to talk her out of getting a ride with him. Since she keeps insisting he asks, “Why me?” and she says, “Your cab number – 23. I was born on the 23rd.” And he just nods, as if that was an adequate explanation and needs no further discussion. He does alot of those perfect nods, and knows just when to raise an eyebrow, or to chew gum, or to call her “lady” instead of her name, as he drives around with his “sock full of money, enough to get to Bakersfield,” charitably trying to get her out of trouble after she randomly pulled him into it. He always seems like such a nice, reasonable guy, even when he’s out of line. He just kind of shrugs about Christine being uncomfortable at his place, but later we see that he has a poster on his wall that says “X-Rated Films – Leading Adult Entertainment Newspaper.” Like, maybe take that down when guests are staying over!
The score by Jay Chattaway (MANIAC, MISSING IN ACTION, INVASION U.S.A.) is some cheesy sax with catchy disco bass lines, seeming a little out of date for 1985, but also just perfect for this side of L.A. Also of note: Jerry Jones, the writer of DOLEMITE and THE HUMAN TORNADO, plays “Gabby.” And you know how L.A. is with their movie advertising, so there’s a good look at billboards for TEMPEST, CREEP SHOW and STAR TREK II.
Director Norbert Meisel had previously directed a movie called DREAMS OF DESIRE (1981), on which Kwan has story and producer credits. He also directed her in the David Carradine movie NIGHT CHILDREN (1989). Screenwriter Curt Allen wrote Forster’s only directorial effort, HOLLYWOOD HARRY (1985), as well as ALLIGATOR II: THE MUTATION (not starring Forster).