Bounty Hunters (1996)

Once in a while, the B-movie gods smile down on us and we get a gem from an unexpected source – in this case, a writer / director whose only previous experience was a Lorenzo Lamas vehicle (“Snake Eater”), and who’d go on to make a whole lot of pretty cheesy looking TV movies; and a couple of stars whose previous experience was in martial arts movies and fantasy TV shows. Let’s talk “Bounty Hunters”!

There are signs, early on in good movies, where you can tell immediately that someone was paying attention, or at least trying. As the camera pans over bounty hunter Jersey Bellini’s gun-rack, one of those ones where there’s guns encased in perfectly cut foam, only to see a couple of cigars with their own foam-slots…it’s like a calmness spreads over you. It’s an action comedy where both the action and the comedy work!

Bellini is played by Michael Dudikoff, who’s the reason we plucked this from the VHS mega-pile. After seeing him recently in “Cyberjack”, we know he’s got a light side, but it’s on full display here as Bellini is both incredibly well-prepared for all eventualities, and a complete slob who smokes constantly. While handing in one bad guy, he runs into his…ex-girlfriend? (it’s never really clear) BB, who’s also a bounty hunter – they work for the same firm! – and also kicks ass. They spar, verbally, but it’s not til they’re put on the same case by their unscrupulous boss that the sparks really start to fly. BB is played by Lisa Howard, who you might remember from such TV gems as “Highlander: The Series” and “Earth: Final Conflict”, and she’s better in this than I can remember her, ever.

The plot opens up logically and quite cleverly. As they’re going to apprehend car thief Izzy, they discover that he’s just, on a whim, stolen the Rolls Royce of a gangster by the name Deimos (Benjamin Ratner, looking for all the world like a poor man’s Lin-Manuel Miranda). As well as being a rather expensive car, it’s got a prostitute in the trunk (Erin Fitzgerald), and she was just on her way to get murdered for witnessing a mob hit when Izzy stole her car. So, our good-natured heroes, trying to find Izzy so they can collect the bounty on him, are drawn into the Mafia storyline because they want to keep him alive, at least until they get the money.

It’s not going to win any awards, for originality or anything else, but it’s important to remember that these as well as hoovering up all that sweet video shop money, these movies are allowed to be fun. It seems that Dudikoff and Howard, despite wildly different styles, work well together (there’s a sequel, and neither of them were short of work at the time, so they must have enjoyed it too). Their relationship, a sort of friendly antagonism with a medium-strength sexual undercurrent, could be cheesy if played the wrong way, but they both nail it.

Dudikoff is my favourite, though, and he clearly relished the chance to do comedy. An early scene involves him leaving BB to fight off a horde of goons, not because he’s chicken, but because he genuinely can’t be bothered; and him trying to blend in at a rap show is hilarious. Given he made his name in “American Ninja”, his fighting style here is that of a punch-drunk prizefighter – no kicks, no fancy stuff, and he even cheap-shots one goon right in the nuts. In fact, BB is a better fighter than he is.

I mentioned the signs up above, and another fine example that someone gave a damn is that every character has a character. It’s not “macho goon 1”, “macho goon 2”, and so on – from the woman who works in the video store (a store that displays only posters for director George Erschbamer’s previous movies), to the cast and crew of porno movie “Bimberella” that Jersey has to visit, to each and every bad guy, they all get a few lines and a chance to shine. I can’t tell you how rare that is, at this level of the movie business.

I didn’t care for the b-plot of the kid who lives next door, who adores Jersey, even if the parents think he’s a flake – he exists because the childless unmarried Jersey needs someone to care enough about to go and rescue – but I never like child actors so your mileage may vary. Other than that, though, I’ve got no reason to complain and neither should you if you’d like to track it down. The plot is simple, logical, and well thought-out; and even though there are a few tired scenes (hostage exchange has been done a million times, and there’s a very Lethal Weapon-y torture scene) and it goes on a shade too long, it’s a heck of a lot of mid-90s fun.

Rating: thumbs up