Beyond The Law (1993)

In a world with an effectively infinite number of entertainment options, when you run a super-popular movie review blog like this (current career earnings: $0) you have to artificially limit yourself in some way, for fear of being crushed by the sheer weight of choice. It’s why we did all 16 “Witchcraft” instalments, despite every one past the first being unmitigated garbage; and it’s why we’re now going to have a mini season of “undercover cop joins biker gang” movie reviews, because my friend Sean suggested I watch “Stone Cold” the other night and it seemed like as good an idea as any.

 

Tonight’s feature is a TV movie starring none other than Charlie Sheen, still ripped from his time on “Hot Shots” and towards the end of his time as an A-lister (1994’s “Terminal Velocity” was his last major starring role, and judging by the names of his efforts between that and his comeback as a TV star (“Spin City” then “Two And A Half Men”), he either worked with smaller budgets or was way down the cast list. He even did an Albert Pyun movie!

“Stone Cold”, which we reviewed yesterday, was a wild, action-packed, set-piece-laden, bit of fun. “Beyond The Law” is not – not to say it’s not good, but it’s much slower, darker and more character driven. Sheen is Dan Saxon, a sheriff’s deputy with some secret trauma in his past, and we’re introduced to him waking up from a nightmare where a cop hits a woman and a kid. He gets fired for assaulting the Sheriff, after we see said Sheriff accept a bribe from biker gang boss Blood (Michael Madsen). He’s approached by an FBI agent who offers him a job – infiltrate the Jackal biker gang and find enough evidence to get some arrests made, break up their drug and gun-running operations, all that good stuff.

 

For those of you who like noticing weird similarities between movies, this and “Stone Cold” have a couple of doozies. Firstly, there’s a weird pet (an unusual breed of turtle; Bosworth had a Komodo dragon looking thing), and secondly, there’s a scene at the big biker get-together where two guys have a can-shooting competition. Coincidence or friendly borrowing?

 

Saxon gets help in his infiltration efforts. First up is Virgil (the great Leon Rippy), who’s a mechanic and is luckily cool when Saxon drunkenly tells him he’s an undercover narcotics officer, and volunteers to help him look and act the part. Handy! Then there’s Renee (the also great Linda Fiorentino), a photo-journalist who’s doing an article about the biker gang. She rather coincidentally met him when he was a deputy and doesn’t so much help him as just not tell anyone he’s a cop.

Before I tell you whether you ought to track this down or not, I wanted to mention that it is, apparently, based on a true story, published in “Playboy” magazine in 1981. Now, I’m sure there’s almost nothing of the actual story left on the screen – although the undercover cop from the article is a technical advisor here and even appears as an extra in a few scenes – but it might help you understand that when one of the main characters just says “I’m done” and walks off screen with quite a bit of running time left, never to return, that’s just what the real person they’re based on did. The only time we’re told that it’s a true story is right at the end, via Virgil’s voiceover, and he’s so peppy that you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a joke.

 

Dan, or “Sid” as his gang name goes, gets closer to Blood and keeps finding evidence, all the time not being very good at being undercover – he turns down drugs and opportunities for crime a little too often. The real-life relationship took 18 months to build, apparently, and here it’s a matter of weeks, but, you know, it’s a movie, and I like how Madsen and Sheen play it, and I like Sheen’s descent into being a little too “in character”. He keeps having nightmares too, and we gradually find out the real story – he shot his abusive cop stepfather when he was 6 years old, and no-one knows he did it. Not especially original, but it doesn’t have to be to be entertaining.

I know I’ve been comparing it to “Stone Cold” a lot, but if anything it’s more like the first “Fast and the Furious”, minus the wild stunts of course. There’s a lot of family and character-based stuff and right up to the very end, I wasn’t sure if Sheen was going to go rogue or not. After watching this, you get a sense of why some people want to join gangs.

 

Shall I mention how much Chris Rea, not exactly biker gang music, is on this soundtrack? Nah. I will mention, though, how many decent movies writer / director Larry Ferguson penned – the first “Highlander”! “Beverly Hills Cop 2”! “Alien 3”! And, er, the 2002 version of “Rollerball”.

 

I like its dramatic elements and the performances of all the main leads. I like the way biker gangs are shown. It could have had a little more action, it could have been a tiny bit quicker, and they could have not swerved us at the end (it looks like the FBI agent is going to take all the credit for himself, but then we see a scene where a room full of law enforcement gives Sheen a standing ovation at the FBI agent’s insistence), but it’s a solid and interesting movie.

Rating: thumbs up

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