By: John M Jerva
The 80’s and subsequently the 90’s were a marvelous, and I do mean marvelous, time to be an action fan. Numerous action stars graced the screens of countless movie theater and even VHS and eventually DVD were coming into their own which opened up a whole new world for genre fans. The action just seemed more bombastic and the use of practical effects, stunt work and above all blood squibs were used to maximum effect delivering countless hours of non-stop carnage.
During this period, the late, great Steve James burst onto the scene in 1985’s Cannon Films classic American Ninja and was also featured in the second and third films. Sadly, James’ greatness was never fully utilized as he usually played the secondary lead to others in his movies. From movies like POW: The Escape with David Carradine to the aforementioned American Ninja with Dudikoff, James usually was the sidekick but we all know that he was more than second fiddle. Don’t get me wrong though, the man rocked it in any action pic he did and always elevated that film with his mere presence. It would have been nice to see James headline more movies then he did but there were a few where he took center stage. Films like Riverbend which not only served fans numerous action moments but also delivered a powerful message at the same time. Enough of that film right now as I’m here today to talk about another James led action film that to this day is a clear example as to why this period was great.
The film that is the subject of this edition of the Action Rewind is 21 Century Films low brow and stripped down guilty plesure Street Hunter. Even the name radiates 90’s action coolness and James was in fine form as ex-police officer turned Bounty hunter Logan Blade. Now lets stop right there for a moment. If that’s not a truly rad action film name then I don’t know what is. Logan Blade…it just radiates 90’s action awesomeness.
Now you see Blade was a cop who was handed a raw deal when he was accused of being dirty. He was acquitted but he never forgave the powers that be because they questioned his integrity and loyalty to begin with. Now, Blade roams the streets in his van as the Street Hunter, a tough as nails bounty hunter who goes after the lowest form of scum that walks the streets. Together with his loyal doberman, Blade daily dishes out street justice of the highest order and punishes the guilty while collecting a nice paycheck. He even wears one helluva nice looking trench coat and fedora that just screams super slick. All in a day’s work.
Unfortunately there’s a street war brewing between the Italians and the dreaded El Diablos who are being run by upstart Angel which was played by a sadistically and gleefully young John Lequizamo. Angel wants to make a name for himself in the city’s criminal underworld and to do it he has hired lethal mercenary Col. Walsh played by the equally fantastic 80’s and 90’s action star Reb Brown. Walsh has a code and a strange fetish for military history but he will work for anybody who will pay his price and now he’s turning Angel’s possee into a serious fighting force to take over the crime element in the city.
Blade is after Angel for the hefty bounty on his head and this will lead to one massive war that will elevate the body count to some serious numbers before all is said and done. That’s OK though because Blade is a one man army that doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit.
Watching Street Hunter, which was a product of 21st Century Films that former Cannon Films honcho Menahem Golan started when that company went belly up, you can certainly see that this pic generated some of that great Cannon atmosphere even though it was clearly a lower budgeted affair. The movie is dark and when it’s night, it’s hard to see the action at times but it doesn’t take you out of the fight while watching it and the cast gives it their all throughout. James and Brown are the real draw here and without seeing the movie, you know that they will eventually go toe to toe or mano a mano. After all, they are featured prominantly on the cover art for the film.
James definitely shows why he was a staple in action cinema during this time as he takes command of the movie and oozes coolness and gravitas to the highest order. James was also a rare action star as he also had the acting chops to go along with the fisticuffs and firepower and here with street Hunter, he makes a strong case for being an action leading man. It is such a shame that we lost him to cancer a few years later and just like Brandon Lee, Steve James is an actor that was gone way to soon and before he could really take the bull by the horns.
Reb Brown has always been one of my favorite classic action heroes and whether he was starring in campy sci-fi fair like Yor: The Hunter from the Future or military themed Rambo action rip offs like Strike Commando, Brown had the California beach boy looks and the commanding physique that made him a winner in B action movie city.
Brown usually played the hero but here he technically is the bad guy although his Col. Walsh might do bad things, he’s got morals that help him sleep through the night. It’s almost as if Walsh, in his mind, still thought he was good but he just needed a war to fight and so he would do any job for those paying his price. Walsh strikes you as the kind of guy that would shoot those who deserved it but would still help get a cat out of a tree. He knows Angel is scum but hey, he’s paying the tab.
The Colonel also loves a good adversary and with Blade, he sees a foe that not only could be his equal but he also respects him. At one point he even tries to get Blade to join him.
The action in Street Hunter is entertaining and while the fight choreography might not hold up to some of the movies we get today, it still is an entertaining film with violence breaking out every few minutes. Fans are treated to gun battles with squibs punctuating the mayhem and beatdowns as James demonstrates some of his bad ass martial arts skills on numerous faceless goons during the film’s running time.
Brown unfortunately doesn’t get a lot to do in the action department until the finale but he still gets to let loose his amazing 80’s action war cry that he is best known for. Take a look at the video below that showcases some of his finest moments and see what I mean. It is truly awe inspiring.
Now the action culminates into the inevitable showdown between Blade and Walsh where the two legends duke it out for action film supremecy and we all know who’s going to win because, well, he’s the good guy but not until we get to witness James and Brown pummel each other for a few minutes with fists and feet. Some newer viewers might not find anything to admire in this confrontation but it wasn’t made for this generation. While it might seem a little slower paced then the hyper kinetic bouts of today, James and Brown deliver the desired amount of ass whooping needed here and it serves up a wonderful helping of nostalgia. Lets not foget the organ blasting music that is blared during the altercation. It almost makes the scene a religious experience.
Overall, Street Hunter is a classic case of what made the VHS action era so great. It’s got gratiutous violence and language, oh did I forget to mention that the F word is used like a thousand times before the credits roll, and two action legends for the price of one. James was a rare action star and while he didn’t get the opportunity to headline more, he left his mark on the genre and he will always be remembered by those who lived this era. Reb Brown was a force to be reckoned with as well and the man could let out a battle roar like nobody’s business. Street Hunter might have been lost in time to a point but I will make it my personal mission to make sure that it’s never forgotten. “So, you coming or what?”
Before checking out the movie, take a look at the retro trailer below and see what it was like when even the teasers were macho.