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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Stone Cold (1991)

Looking back over “Stone Cold” and the amount of stuff that happens in it, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was three hours long; but it’s a trim and super action-packed 90 minutes, and not only that, it’s really good! While no-one would mistake Brian Bosworth for an actor, neither would they for Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal or many other of the action stars Bosworth was competing with at the time, and if this film hadn’t been such a flop, meaning he wouldn’t make another movie for five years, missing the end of the straight-to-video action movie boom, then who knows where his career might have gone?

There was some debate among my viewing companions about whether this “badass stops criminals in a supermarket” scene was better than a very similar one in “Cobra”, and while opinions were split, it’s safe to say they’re both great. The star being super-cool, an incredibly good fighter and a nice guy (also, Bosworth respects the property around him a little more than Stallone did), is what’s established here, as we meet Joe Huff, a cop who just can’t play by the rules (!), on suspension but taking any opportunity to bust some bad guys’ heads.

 

Huff, due to his love of bikes and magnificent, A+ grade mullet, is tasked by the FBI with the job of going undercover in The Brotherhood, a biker gang, and doing a number of things, really. Firstly, they’re interested in killing the District Attorney because he’s got one of their senior members locked up on a murder charge, but there’s also stopping their drug dealing (there’s some weird new drug on the streets) – it seems biker gangs are worse than Satan in this particular world, given the number of newspaper headlines there are about them. His undercover name is John Stone, which is a fine name for an action hero.

The introductory scenes for the Brotherhood are just amazing, and although you’ll have seen something similar a hundred times before (a ton of beefy dudes with big beards, wearing leather, and women gyrating around, mostly undressed) the way they do it here is a good indication as to the level of crazy you’re going to get. One of the gang’s main lieutenants, Ice (the great William Forsythe) and another guy are playing William Tell, with beer cans and guns. After a few rounds, one of them whips out a submachine gun and sprays it liberally around – hits the beer can but nothing else! There are hundreds of people stood around!

 

“Stone Cold” really looks after the cast, all the way down. Huff’s FBI handler is Lance, played by Sam McMurray, who’s better known for comedy and voice acting but is excellent here. Chains, the boss of the gang, is Lance Henriksen, who loves playing badass villains and does a great job again. Richard Gant, a fine “That Guy” actor, is the FBI boss, and Paolo Tocha (“Bloodfist 7”, “Bloodsport”, “Predator 2”) is “The Bolivian”, who Huff has to kill in order to be accepted into the gang (he just puts him on a plane to Mexico and borrows an ear from a corpse and pretends it’s his).

I could just recap all the stuff that happens in this movie and this review would be 5000 words long, and no-one needs to read 5000 words about this, as you should just watch it instead. Heck, I could spend a few thousand waxing lyrical about Bosworth’s mullet, so magnificent is it. So I won’t, but get ready for the final scene, a shootout of such over the top nonsense that you can’t help but be entertained. It’s set in Alabama but filmed in Arkansas, and when the producers asked if they could borrow the state capital for the day, flying a helicopter down the street and having bikers drive all over the courthouse, Arkansas was all “please do!”, meaning the ending definitely has a visual style that some other movies can’t match.

 

I mean, it’s very definitely not original. You’ll recognise the beats from dozens of other “undercover cop” movies – the gang guy who doesn’t trust the cop and warns everyone, the boss’s girlfriend who falls in love with our hero, the wacky comedy relief cop sidekick, they’re all there. But few of them are as absolutely relentless with almost no slack time as this one is.

 

I did kind of want to discuss a problem that the movie never really brings up, and that’s how good Huff’s police work is. He certainly inflitrates the gang, but does he stop them from doing…anything? Their plan, to bust their friend out of court when he’s on trial for murder, works pretty much perfectly, and Huff’s involvement comes right at the very end, with a couple of sweet fight scenes and some shooting. Imagine “Die Hard”, but instead of working to save the hostages and stop Alan Rickman from doing his thing, Bruce Willis just hopped out of the building at about the two-thirds mark, joined the cops stationed outside and just fired at the baddies on their way out? Okay, it’s not quite that bad, but when you start thinking about it, it’s a little curious – Huff doesn’t even save the woman who agreed to give evidence against her own gang!

There are a couple of interesting credits, too. First is the writer, Walter Doniger. He was born in 1917 (putting him in his early 70s when this movie was made) and is best known for being a writer and director of TV shows in the 50s and 60s (“Peyton Place” and dozens of western shows). He’d effectively retired by the mid 70s, with one credit in 1983 and then nothing until this (which was his last movie). It had, perhaps, been sat on a shelf for 20 years and was pressed into service by a studio looking for a quick starring vehicle for that former NFL guy they had? It bears a passing resemblance to 1968’s “Hellcats”, for example.

 

Then there’s director Craig R Baxley. He worked as a stunt coordinator on “The Warriors”, “Predator” and TV shows like “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “The A-Team”, and he’s still working as a director now, mostly in TV. But he gave us some gems before doing that – “Action Jackson”, “Dark Angel”, and “Chameleon 2”, to name a few. This was his last big-budget movie, sadly.

 

I hope I’ve persuaded you to give “Stone Cold” a go, although I assume you’re smarter than me and saw it years ago. From the good old days when an unknown star and a properly violent script could get major studio backing!

Rating: thumbs up