Felony (1994)

Dear reader, I hope you’re still with me on this final leg of the movies of David A Prior. We’ve only got a few more to go before his ten-year hiatus, and hopefully some of the ones from the end of his career never got official releases so we won’t have to bother reviewing them.

Now, I don’t want to get you too excited, but this might be a genuinely good movie! It’s got a strange premise, actors playing completely against type, lots of scenes of such oddity that they must have been played for laughs, and fun banter between cast members. I know, right? After a miserable last effort, Prior came out all guns blazing here, spent his money wisely, and came out with a winner.

We start off with a “Cops” style reality TV show, where a couple of cameramen are following round a group of cops (and some DEA agents) as they’re about to bust a huge cocaine deal. The cop is worried about the monologue he just performed, and wants a take two, which is a nice touch, but the camera guys are pros and tell him he was great. Bill Knight is the chief camera guy, and he’s played by the great Jeffrey Combs (“Dr Mordrid”, “Abominable”, “From Beyond”, “Lurking Fear”, “Fortress”), who seems to be relishing the opportunity to play a dashing romantic hero.

Anyway, the cops run through the house and find absolutely nothing, but while they’re all stood in the lounge pondering what to do next, they’re set upon by a legion of armed guards (who they completely missed in their apparently not-so-thorough raid of the house) and slaughtered. The only survivors are the two cameramen, who of course caught everything on tape, including main villain Cooper (the great David Warner, “Beastmaster 3”, “Final Equinox”, “Cast A Deadly Spell”). Bill has to go to hospital, so he asks his friend to make sure the video tape is snuck out of the crime scene.

I mentioned casting against type, and we’ve got a couple of beauties coming up. Playing the two cops, whose contribution to the movie is pretty much zero, are Charles Napier and Leo Rossi, both of whom you could consider as part of Prior’s company of players by this point, both of whom far better suited for gruff villainous roles than wise-cracking cops. Also, Napier (who got his start in Russ Meyer movies, I discover) would have been 60 years old when this movie was made, far too old to be a normal beat cop.

When Bill is in hospital, he meets nurse Laura (Ashley Laurence, “Hellraiser”), and despite him being in a rather stressful time of his life, hits on her. Men are scum! I was hoping for a shootout in the hospital, as it looked like we were building for one, but they sensibly decided that “Hard Boiled” was the final word in health-care-facility-based mayhem and didn’t do it.

There are even more characters we’ve not talked about yet! Joe Don Baker, smirking like he can’t quite believe he’s getting paid for this, is a stereotypical Texan who’s also a Fed (working for the Office of Internal…something that starts with an M, I don’t remember), and he wants that tape, almost as much as Cooper’s boss, CIA deputy director Taft (Lance Henriksen, “Hard Target”, “Hellraiser: Hellworld”, also some actually good movies). People double-cross people, get chased through city streets by assassins openly brandishing shotguns, you know, the typical. Oh, and Taft has former Miss Olympia Cory Everson (“Double Impact”) as his arm candy, and I get the feeling she had a larger role that was left on the cutting room floor a little.

Let’s discuss one of the plans of the villains, to get to the other cameraman. He offers to sell the tape to Taft, and gets the cash, but Taft goes to shoot him (you know, like all high-level CIA officials, just murdering American citizens on American soil in broad daylight) and the guy gets away, while being chased by a bunch of assassins, firing indiscriminately into crowds of people. Anyway, he gets away and Taft goes “time for plan B”. So, the camera guy gets back to his apartment, and is unlocking the door when he’s approached by a beggar. He gives the guy some cash, only to get shot four times, nice and quietly, and the beggar to get Taft’s envelope back and slip away. Now, for me, plan B seems a lot more sensible than plan A, and I’d have probably stuck with that one!

The next scene, a little over halfway into the movie, is the biggest indication so far that Prior is having fun with making a movie as deliberately over the top as possible. The camera guy survives being shot four times, but doesn’t go to the hospital or call anyone – he makes it all the way to Bill’s house, way out in the suburbs, and slumps against his front window, getting blood everywhere, before dying in Bill’s arms. Come on! But I guess we’re supposed to believe this is a world where cops are super-bothered about the location of a tape but not remotely interested in the dozens of heavily armed assassins patrolling their streets, so never mind.

If you can wade through the mountains of product placement (Bud Light is favoured), the horrible-looking 90s fake boobs in the strip club scene, and get over the fact that no-one seems to mind that the deputy director of the CIA dresses like a Miami pimp, or watching Jeffrey Combs kick a bunch of ass, then there’s a heck of a lot to enjoy here. Like, a weirdly large amount.

There was a key for me, and it was when there was a three-way car chase. Car 1 is being shot at by car 2, but then car 3 gets involved and poor old Cooper is having to fire both ways to keep alive. This scene is so ridiculous that it has to be played for laughs, a director amping up the tropes of action cinema to see how silly he can make it without it looking too ridiculous. When you see and understand that, the rest of it, including the last half-hour which ratchets up the “wait, that character is a spy too? He got shot that many times and is still alive?” to insane levels, fits into place.

Yes, my friends, David A Prior has come up with an honest-to-goodness gem of 90s action-comedy cinema, and it only took him 30 tries to nail it. He hides it in a movie with a generic title, with its best actors nowhere near the front cover of the VHS tape, with a moderately slow first half-hour more than made up for by its insanely paced second half.

Rating: thumbs up

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