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This one had the makings of a good, newfangled version of the old-fashioned, come-out-with-your-hands-up-or-your-guns-blazing, B-movie wallow. The opening diamond heist is a pip. And the cops-and-robbers car chase on the streets and sidewalks of Toronto (doubling for Philadelphia, where it’s more expensive to shoot) is almost exciting enough to make you forget there ever was a Bullitt or a French Connection. Director Jack Sholder, whose work on The Hidden never got the credit it deserved, is the right man to have around if you’re geared up for action. Sholder also treats his two pinup stars, Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips, as solid actors, which they are. Of course, they don’t get much of a chance to display their range, what with all the jumping, crawling, driving, stabbing and shooting going on. But they do develop an engaging rapport. Unlike many of their contemporaries — do I hear Rob Lowe or Judd Nelson? — they give the impression that they’re in movies for more than hair and makeup.

Once again, it’s the script (by newcomer David Rich) that shoots the picture’s promise all to hell. Look, nobody expects. The Maltese Falcon every time. But Rich stretches the long arm of coincidence until the joints crack. Sutherland, an undercover cop pretending to be a thief, is being chased by police into a museum where Phillips, a Lakota Indian, just happens to be exhibiting a tribal heirloom — a Lakota lance. The boss of the bad guys, played with repellence to spare by Rob Knepper, then stops in midescape to admire the lance, which he proceeds to pocket before firing a lethal shot into the belly of Phillips’s brother. This is what brings our heroes together. Sutherland wants to find the crooked cop on Knepper’s payroll; Phillips needs Sutherland to lead him to Knepper and the lance. Don’t ask me to explain how Knepper’s beautician girlfriend, played by Jami Gertz, manages to find herself with Sutherland in a department store while Phillips, staggering alongside in a psychic daze, picks up telepathic messages from his medicine-man father, whom Knepper is minutes away from murdering.

Rich says he lifted some of the plot from the 4000-year-old Babylonian myth of Gilgamesh. The mind boggles at what Sutherland and Phillips will do as a follow-up if Renegades turns out to be a hit. Anyone for Beowulf?

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