By: John M Jerva
Since I’ve been down for the count and no real or legit action films have seen a new release this week, I’ve been dabbling in my classic and vintage action section of my movie collection empire here at home. Out of the blue while I was strolling through my titles of limitless action greatness, one film from the 80’s screamed out for me to view once again. This is a man’s man movie after all as the lead actor is brandishing a rather awesome looking shotgun with a laser site on it on the box cover art. Yep, you heard me right , a shotgun with a laser sight on it. Totally redundant but totally kick ass at the same time. The weapons do make the action hero and here it is extremely evident.
Now if you’re a true action fan, then you already (without looking at the title of this article) know what movie I’m talking about. That’s right boys and girls, I’m talking about the 1987 action/thriller Wanted: Dead or Alive with the late, great Rutger Hauer. This is one bad ass movie with an equally bad ass Hauer who was probably at his most bad ass then any other movie. Throw in Gene Simmons from KISS as the head terrorist baddie and you’ve got one great recipe for one rousing dose of 80’s action cinema.
Hauer stars as modern day bounty hunter Nick Randall, who just happens to be a descendant of Steve McQueen’s Josh Randall in the TV series that he starred in back in the day. This is another way you know that Randall is bad ass. Hauer brings it here as the no nonsense street hunter who just happens to be a former CIA operative who was served a raw deal and now he spends his days and nights roaming the urban jungle looking for the next paycheck to collect in the form of a wanted criminal.
Randall has friends though so he’s not a complete lone wolf warrior and his biggest ally is Det. Danny Quintz played by the great character actor William Russ. Quintz is a cop and it’s good to have a cop as your best friend so Randall can do all the things he does. Did I forget to mention that Randall lives in one of those awesome warehouse lofts that you only see in action movies. You know the kind. The ones where you can ride your car into an elevator to go up to the third floor with all the cool gadgets, guns and workout equipment that is easily assessable at your fingertips. Another reason why Randall is bad ass.
Anyway, I got off subject but I’m back now. Randall is also seeing a stewardess named Terry played by Mel Harris so he’s not a complete hermit. Terry isn’t just an ordinary stewardess though, oh no. She’s going to college to get her doctorate so yeah she’s a keeper.
Anyway back to the plot, it seems that ruthless terrorist Malak Al Rahim, played with steely eyed ruthlessness by the great Gene Simmons, is in the states and he’s aiming to blow up a lot things and kill a lot of people. This guy even burns down a theater playing Rambo! Now that’s just not right by any stretch of the imagination. He’s bad pure and simple.
Enter Randall’s former friend from the CIA Philmore Walker played by the equally great Robert Guillaume. You know Benson. Walker wants Randall’s help in getting Rahim because no one else can do it but Nick who reluctantly agrees to do it but not before he knows he’s going to get paid enough to finish his boat to live a quiet life with Terry.
What ensues is an action drenched game of cat and mouse between Randall and Rahim that literally turns the streets red and culminates in the climatic showdown that everyone can see coming a mile away. Who will be left standing when the smoke clears? I bet you know the answer.
Now let me point something out. My tone so far in this Action Rewind has sounded kind of sarcastic but let me tell you that I loved this movie when I saw it in theaters back in the day and I love it just as much today. Hauer made many films where he was the epitome of action cool but for me Wanted: Dead or Alive is the top of the mountain in his film biography. He was just so cool and surgically lethal in the role and sold it in the action sequences. Did I mention the shotgun with the laser site? Just checking.
Simmons is equally up to the challenge as Randall’s cunning adversary and it’s hard to believe that he’s the lead singer for KISS watching this movie as he just totally immerses himself in the role of Malik. There’s no saving grace to this guy. He’s as bad as they come and when he finally gets his dues, it’s sweet and satisfying. It’s also important and cliche to point out that Malik wants Randall’s head because they have history, you know the nasty kind.
Helmed by Gary Sherman who has given us such other 80’s classics as Vice Squad, and Poltergeist III, this is pure 80’s action greatness with all the shootouts and practical stunts you could want. It’s a shame that this generation will never probably know how great some actors like Hauer were but hopefully, myself and others like me can keep the flame burning.
It’s important to note that this film is rather sad as Randall loses the two most important people in his life due to his war with Malik. It’s depressing but it punctuates the dramatic side to the film thus confirming that Randall is cursed to truly be a lone wolf. To make it worse, his best friend and girlfriend are killed from a bomb meant for him. He’s the sad hero cursed to walk the earth alone and see the ugliness of it every day. The lonely harmonica music that eerily is played throughout is a firm punctuation point on the subject. Especially at the end when the credits role.
The finale is a true and legit action climax as well as Randall makes his final stand and plays a serious game of tag with trucks with Malik as terrorists pop out of canisters like some demented game of whack-O-mole which leads to the one sided altercation between protagonist and antagonist. It is one sided as Malik shows his true side and doesn’t put up much of a fight but it is satisfying to see Randall beat the snot out of him.
Randall gets his man and fittingly puts a grenade in his mouth and just when you think he’s going to collect his extra bonus for turning him in alive, he promptly says “fuck the bonus” and pulls the pin to where Makik’s head blows off in a great practical stunt. Probably the movie’s best moment and a standout for Mr. Hauer.
This leaves the lone wolf to somber down to the river and sadly play the harmonica that was given to him by Terry. It’s a depressing end but one that is fitting a lone hero. Every time I watch it, I feel a sense of hopelessness for Randall and it never goes away.
Overall, Wanted: Dead or Alive is Rutger Hauer’s finest hour besides Blade Runner and he truly was an action star who was a legit and bona fide great actor. There’s plenty of action and drama and once again a really cool shotgun with a redundant laser sight on it. Hauer is the epitome of cool and the movie is the epitome of 80’s action cinema.