Burying Art Alive In ’Avalanche’

Washington Post, The (DC) - September 23, 1978
Author: Gary Arnold

After theater managers add up the receipts, "Quarantine" may seem a more appropriate title for "Avalanche," an inept disaster melodrama now at several obliging, unlucky locations. This fizzled brain-storm from New World, Roger Corman ’s production company looks like a cinch for the first supplement to "The 50 Worst Films of All Time."

Not that "Avalanche" is the sort of terrible movie that cries out to be seen. It lacks the irresistible> transcendent foolishness of the bombastic, egomaniacal duds like "Exorcist II" and "The Trial of Billy Jack" and "Viva Knievel."

Basically a marvel of disorganized exposition and cut-rate disaster effects, "Avalanche" is a low-yield bomb-out.

Given Corman’s reputation for thrift. "Avalanche" poses a kind of chicken-or-the egg mystery did someone in the organization actually consider it timely to slap together a quickie imitation of "Earthquake" and "Airport 75" set at a ski resort in the Rockies? Or did Corman just have some winter sports footage gathering dust and decide that it had to be integrated into a feature at any cost?

Whaever the motives, the result is a shambles. The plot ostensibly a romantic triangle involving Rock Hudson as a dynamic resort developer, Mia Farrow as his on-again, off-again ex-wife and Robert Forster as a rugged outdoorsman never gets off the dime. Ditto for the "subplot" a shameless appropriation of the Spider Sabich-Claudine Donget case with Rick Moses cast as a philandering superskier and cathey Paine as his hysterically jealous girlfriend. Mercifully, the avalanche gets them before they can get each other.

After lurching between expository fragments and winter sports fragments without conveying the faintest illusion that anything of consequence has been depicted, the filmmakers turn to the avalanche in the vain hope that it might bury their mistakes. Instead, it compounds them.

The disaster footaage is faked so poorly that there never appears to be a pictorial connection between the rampaging snow - sometimes falling down real mountains at other times down miniature sets or in tacky optical shots - and the sites and characters it’s supposed to pulverize.

The disaster is reputed to begin when an off-course private plane plows into a snow-capped peak. The alleged destruction seems to cover an indefinably vast area. For all one knows, all of Colorado could be in the path of this elusive cataclysm. Extras keep screaming under the shower of falling snow, but it’s impossible to tell precisely where it came from and how it gets from one victim to the next. TR 3 avalanche

Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow aren’t exactly box-office giants these days, but they’re a little too well-known to lend their floundering, embarrassed presences to a down-and-outer as derelict as "Avalanche." You expect a movie this punk to star names like Edward Obscure and Lana Nobody. Or maybe Rick Moses and Cathey Paine.


’ Enter the Ninja ’
Washington Post, The (DC) - December 26, 1981
Author: Richard Harrington

Mark the ’80s as the Decade of the Ninja, the newest wrinkle on an American fascination with martial arts that began in the ’50s with judo, moved to karate and kung fu in the ’60s and ’70s and has now discovered ninjutsu, the 2,000-year-old "art of invisibility" taught in Japan. Count on this new outlaw warrior’s becoming increasingly visible if films like " Enter the Ninja " are successful at the box office.

" Enter the Ninja " starts off with the entire preview that preceded it in a dozen metropolitan theaters: A white-clad figure, Cole, is stalked through a forest by a dozen maroon-clad figures who become more maroon as Cole slices and dices with a sword, bow and arrow, sharp stars, caltrops and tegakis (don’t worry what they mean--they hurt). Behind them all is another stalking figure, Hasegawa (played by the stone-faced Sho Kosugi, all-Japan karate champion), dressed in black. Guess who the bad guy is?

Cole, played by a stone-faced Franco Nero, turns out to be the first Westerner to become a scroll-carrying master of ninjutsu, but it takes almost the entire film to provoke him into utilizing the nasty skills learned in the opening reel. By then, relying on the traditional chop ’em-sock ’em-kick ’em technique of all too many badly dubbed imported films, Nero has managed to kill or at least maim close to a hundred bad guys who are working for A Real Bad Guy, stone-faced Christopher George as the greedy Venarius. Venarius wants the farmland owned by stone-faced Alex Courtney and puffy-faced Susan George. Knowing there is oil in them thar grounds, Venarius sends for a bad Ninja, counting on Hasegawa’s telling the traditional "hired assassin" line to remove the farmers.

The plot limps along, looking for convenient excuses for Ninjas to enter into brawls against such likely odds as 20 to 3, 14 to 1, back up to 40 to 1, then down to 12 to 1 and, finally one on one--good Ninja against bad Ninja in an all too brief encounter in a cockfighting arena surrounded by corpses and adorned with the admonition that "the judge’s decision is final." One marvels at their energy because, by the film’s end, they must both be tired assassins.

As so often happens in these films, none of the reasoning, acting or dialogue is particularly bright, much less believeable. The enraged Venarius, tripping over bodies, keeps screaming, "Where the hell is my Ninja?" as if he were looking for a pen to sign checks with. Nero, doing a slow burn when he spots his evil counterpart, manages only to describe him as "someone I went to school with in Japan." No one seems to mind being killed by a good Ninja, just surprised. Ultimately, it’s hard to decide which is more deadly, the action or the dialogue.

The best directing in the film comes from fight choreographer and ex-karate champion Mike Stone, who obviously gets his kicks in, while producer-director Menahem Golan is obviously counting on the proven box office appeal of this kind of film. For the purist, one can only recommend walking in for the last 15 minutes and staying for the first 15; the rest has been shown many times before.



Miami Herald, The (FL) - May 5, 1983
Author: BILL COSFORD Herald Movie Critic

"In terms of unassisted felony arrests," the captain says to Texas Ranger J.J. McQuade, "I’ll admit, your record is unrivaled." Savvy moviegoers know what to expect in this situation, for the dynamics of labor-management relations among motion-picture lawmen are never quite so simple. The movies demand an adversary relationship not merely between crooks and cops, but between cops and their bosses. Besides, the name of the movie is Lone Wolf McQuade, and no bureaucracy worth its memos likes a loner.

Why do they call him Lone Wolf? Maybe it’s because he keeps a real wolf at his door. Maybe it’s because his methods, in the tradition of Dirty Harry Callahan and the others, are unorthodox. In any case, the captain puts Lone Wolf on notice early: "You’re gonna start cooperatin’ with the state and federal agencies, understand?"

My, how quick-and-dirty action films have changed. A couple of sentences such as that would have been enough to send the action-film audience to the exits a few years ago, but today they serve as essential bits of exposition. After all, if the boss isn’t trying to stifle the top cop, where’s the conflict?

In the case of Lone Wolf McQuade, in which chop-sock veteran Chuck Norris plays the title role, it’s those very "state and federal agencies" that provide the action, mostly by screwing up the case against an illegal-arms syndicate so badly that Lone Wolf is at one point buried alive inside his turbo-charged Bronco. Yes, he drives out of the grave -- and there’s more.

Norris has never made a good film, but he has never made an unsuccessful one, either, so it’s hard to blame him for recycling the bits that work. Thus Lone Wolf McQuade might have been a conventional cops-and-robbers picture, and might have made more sense than it does, had Norris not felt the responsibility to address fans of the martial arts. So it is that David Carradine, once of TV’s "Kung Fu," is cast as Lone Wolf’s nemesis. The parts of the picture not given over to the bungling feds are devoted to setting up the climactic confrontation between Norris and Carradine, who at one point have at each other in a half-track and a bulldozer but are quickly stripped of all weapons but hands, feet and grunts.

So it’s all pretty silly. But it does move along, and the range of weapons is formidable. Steve Carver, who did Norris’ An Eye for an Eye, knows how to handle action, though Lone Wolf might have been more convincing had he let any of the bad guys shoot straight.

As for Norris, he may be a loner, but he is also good and earnest, the type of man who is willing to say, "My kind of trouble doesn’t take vacations." Strong? At one point, Lone Wolf and his ex-wife watch as a chauffeured limousine pulls up at the house, and a midget in a wheelchair debarks. "I’ll take care of this," Lone Wolf says, and we know everything is going to be all right.

COMMERCIAL TIE-IN NOTE: The Reese’s Pieces windfall from E.T. is now legend, but rarely do we see a product endorsement as bald as that offered in Lone Wolf McQuade. After a couple of shots in which characters are seen chugging Pearl beer, this scene develops between Norris’ character and a fairgrounds bartender:

Lone Wolf: "You got any Pearl beer?"

Bartender: "No Pearl beer. Heineken, Michelob, Dos Equis."

Lone Wolf: "Forget it."


Lone Wolf McQuade (PG) **



Chuck Norris, David Carradine, Barbara Carrera, Leon Isaac Kennedy, L.Q. Jones, Robert Beltran, Sharon Farrell


Director: Steve Carver

Producer: Steve Carver, Yoram Ben-Ami

Screenwriter: B.J. Nelson

Music: Francesco de Masi


An Orion Pictures release


Vulgar language in two languages (English and Spanish), violence


At Omni, Palm Springs, Miracle, 163rd Street, Ambassador, Campbell Square, Dadeland, Miller Square, Movies at Pompano, Plaza, Lakes, Mercede, Lakeshore Drive-In, Thunderbird Drive-In.



Miami Herald, The (FL) - June 14, 1983
Author: TERRY KELLEHER Herald Arts Writer

Ordered by their boss to "make Ortega an example of what happens to overzealous Interpol agents," three thugs in stocking masks invade the home of Agent Ortega, tie him up and slay his bride before his eyes.

Now for the exemplification. Raising his sword menacingly, the creep in command orders a henchman to ready one of Ortega’s arms for chopping. The henchman holds out Ortega’s strong right arm. "Not that one," snarls the head creep. "The other one."

The One-Armed Executioner would be a short subject if it weren’t for this sporting gesture. Like the majority of the population, our man Ortega is a righty. After a long time out for boozing and self-pity, he takes an intensive martial arts course for the exclusively right-armed. Then he takes his revenge with fist, feet, bullets, grenades -- and the aid of a helicopter.

Made economically in the Philippines (the big cheese at Interpol has portraits of President and Mrs. Ferdinand Marcos on his office wall), The One-Armed Executioner will be disappointing to fans of hard-core chop-socky. Too much time is wasted on routine gun battles and flashbacks to Ortega’s short, but idyllic marriage. Why have Ortega (Franco Guerrero) stumbling drunkenly through the streets of Manila when he could be kicking and jabbing pedestrians just for practice?

This movie also takes sportsmanship to extremes. The first time Ortega confronts the gorilla who killed his wife, he sticks him with a blade but neglects to finish him off. The second time he has the big guy at his mercy, Ortega throws him a gun to make it a fair fight. If we wanted Wyatt Earp, we wouldn’t look for him in a movie called The One-Armed Executioner.

The action scenes suffer from nagging flaws. One bullet knocks down two men. Minor villains take their slow-motion falls either before or well after a grenade hits. They fall too carefully, eyes searching for a soft landing spot.

At least it’s not hard to identify "the boss" of the evil
drug ring. Though his political philosophy is unspecified, his motor boat has a swastika on it.


The One-Armed Executioner (R) No stars



Franco Guerrero, Jody Kay, Pete Cooper, Nigel Hodge, Mike Cohen, James Gaines


Director: Bobby Suarez

Producers: Bobby Suarez, Rey Santos

Screenwriter: Ray Hamilton

Cinematographer: Jun Pereira

Music: Gene Kauer


A Super-Pix Productions Release




At the Marti, America, 27th Avenue Drive-In

SCHLOCK VALUE by Joe Baltake


Philadelphia Daily News (PA) - April 21, 1983
Author: JOE BALTAKE, Daily News Movie Reviewer

The revolving doors of our area movie theaters have been spinning furiously lately, with films coming and going with a vengeance. No fewer than eight new movies opened this past weekend, and I was handed my lunchpail and told to hit the road in search of cinematic genius.

I was determined to do it, too. So, with my car's gas tank completely filled, a Texaco road map by my side, my pail full of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and, just in case, an ice pack and a thermometer, I headed for the hinterlands of New Jersey and breezed away last Sunday afternoon with four schlock movies.

It all started at 12:55 p.m. and, several days later, my head is still going flamboyantly crackers. The fare ranged from passable ("Lone Wolf McQuade") to so-so ("Curtains") to just plain awful ("Vigilante" and ''The Treasure of the Four Crowns"). Here's how I remember it all:

1 P.M. "Vigilante." An action drama starring Robert Forster and Fred Williamson. Directed by William Lustig from an original script by Robert Vetere. Photographed by James Lemmo. Edited by Lorenzo Marinelli. Music by Jay Chattaway. Rated R. Running Time: 90 minutes. In area theaters. (Screened at the Eric Westmont, New Jersey.)

This latest clone of "Death Wish" is likely to make you shiver and squirm - with irritation and revulsion. Just when it seems as if the vigilante genre had hit rock bottom, along comes this nasty, dimly-executed exploitation movie to lower it another thousand feet.

Directed by William Lustig, who helmed porno movies before expanding his filmic interests with the contemptible "Maniac," this movie chronicles the auspicious meeting of a fanatic vigilante (Fred Williamson) and a victim of urban violence (Robert Forster), whose family has been terrorized. An attack on his home has left his wife emotionally traumatized and his son dead.

The case is brought before an inept judge who is lenient with the chief culprit, and who tosses Forster in the slammer for illustrating his rage before the court. What with prison and everything, he's left with a taste for blood, and Williamson is there to help him draw some.

Lustig's aptitude for the horror of unleashed street crime is virtually nil. His style here is incongruously placid and placidly ugly.

To his credit, however, Lustig has loaded his background with ominous tom- tom music that let's us know when something awful is about to happen. Whenever you hear these sounds, you'd do well to make a beeline for the concession stand.

3:45 P.M. "Curtains." A thriller starring John Vernon and Samantha
Eggar. Directed by Jonathan Stryker from an original script by Robert Guza Jr. Photograhed by Robert Paynter and Fred Guthe. Edited by Michael Maclaverty. Music by Paul Zaza. Rated R. Running Time: 90 minutes. In area theaters. (Screened at the Echelon Cinema, New Jersey.)

This mystery film from Canada is less a comment on the state of the art than on the state of unemployment among movie performers. Poor Samantha Eggar! She's saddled here with a character that looks like a practical joke by her agent.

Like the other women in "Curtains," Eggar automatically has several strikes against her. She's a woman, for one. Which means that she and her cronies are doomed to be slashed. And she's playing an actress willing to do anything for a role in a new movie. (Or is it a play? It's never made clear.) Anyway, she and the others are willing to "audition" for the part for sadistic director "Jonathan Stryker" (played by John Vernon and also the name of this film's director).

Vernon, who makes the women participate in lesbian activities as part of the tryout, projects a genuine aura of menace as the psychopathic director.

The movie itself is never a mystery, never frightening, but is, instead, unrelievedly solemn, given to long, mournful pauses.

5:50 P.M. "The Treasure of the Four Crowns." An adventury fantasy starring Tony Anthony. Directed by Ferdinando Baldi from a script by Lloyd Battista, Jim Bryce and Jerry Lazarus (adapted from a story by Tony Petito). Photographed in 3-D by Marcello Mascicchi. Edited by Franco Fraticelli. Music by Ennio Morricone. Rated PG. Running Time: 99 minutes. In area theaters. (Screened at the Budco Westmont, New Jersey.)

This one has been done something in the manner of an old-time movie serial, although its Italian filmmakers have mistaken mangled, jerky plotting for serial-type cliffhangers. It is hardly as good as either "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or its Stephen Collins/Bruce Boxlietner TV-series imitation.

Shot in 3-D by the same team that made "Comin' at Ya!" a few years ago, ''The Treasure of the Four Crowns" uses up every visual gimmick within its first 10 minutes: For reasons that aren't immediately clear - but nothing in the movie is either clear or logical - star Tony Anthony dodges his way through a jungle as beasties jump out at him and us.

Since the plot is hopelessly mangled, it's also hopelessly incomprehensible. It seems to have become unhinged by the 3-D process. From what I can make out (remember, by this point, I was dazed from moviegoing in general and this film's eye-assaulting tricks in particular), the soldier-of- fortune plot is about Anthony's attempts to retrieve certain antique crowns that will assure the world's safety.

The effects are often dopey and largely vicious, the most imaginative one being when a character's face turns into mud.

7:45 P.M. "Lone Wolf McQuade." An action drama starring Chuck Norris, David Carradine and Barbara Carrera. Directed by Steve Carver from a script by B.J. Nelson (adapted from a story by H. Kaye Dyal). Photographed by Roger Shearman. Edited by Anthony Redman. Music by Francesco De Masi. Rated R. Running Time: 107 minutes. In area theaters. (Screened at the Ellisburg Cinema, New Jersey.)

Until recently, Chuck Norris has specialized in police/adventure dramas with karate kicks in lieu of plot twists. His movies have been likably sincere - and forgettable.

With "Lone Wolf McQuade," he's extended his limited range, giving a fairly good Steve McQueen impersonation in a plot that's purely bargain- basement Sam Peckinpah.

He's a ranger here - Jim McQuade - tough with men (especially bad men) and tender with women (especially beautiful women). His McQuade is recruited by the FBI to track down the person who is feeding arms to Mexican terrorists. Since the baddie is played by David Carradine, of TV's "Kung Fu" fame, the film naturally ends with a martial-arts match.

Norris does little more than posture. His idea of McQueen-style quiet strength is to stop in his tracks and stare into the camera. Even his action scenes seem frozen, devoid of gore, rancor and even energy.

David Carradine turns in a snarlingly detached and amateurish performance, and Barbara Carrera, in the Katy Jurado role, struggles valiantly with the film's worst lines.

"I'm glad you are alive," she tells Norris after he's been beaten to a pulp.

She could have said the same to me.


Hi, I'm William Lustig!"

(Lustig Image pilfered from Creation Entertainment)


Fighting Back


Detroit Free Press (MI) - May 25, 1982
Author: DIANE HAITHMAN Free Press Staff Writer

It’s hard to tell whether Lewis Teague’s "Fighting Back" is an indictment or a celebration of some of the nastiest, most shocking violence you’ll see on the screen this year. Either way, I’d just as soon have missed it.

Tom Skerritt plays John D’Angelo, a nice enough fellow content to run his grocery shop in a rapidly disintegrating, middle-class Italian neighborhood. But after several violent attacks on his family by neighborhood predators, D’Angelo decides to take the law into his own hands and organizes the People’s Neighborhood Patrol, dedicated to protecting the residents of the area at all costs. They are like the Guardian Angels, but older and much, much meaner.

IT’S A SCARY MOVIE , from the opening sequence of documentary film clips recording America’s last two shameful decades of assassinations and riots all the way to the lunatic vengeance of its ending. It’s all true, and we know it.

And there is no good guy. D’Angelo, who starts out a hero, soon grows obsessively fond of violence as he falls deeper into the belief that he is some kind of righteous god. The issue of whether self-appointed crime stoppers are infringing on civil rights, much in the news these days, looms abundantly clear.

Still, although the film pays lip service to the controversial aspects of vigilantism, there is also a calculated awareness on the part of the filmmakers that the violence itself, not the glibly constructed moral dilemmas, will have them cheering and screaming in the theater. And they do. They laugh , too. That is the film’s most frightening aspect. And it’s frightening that technically, movie violence has risen to the fine art we see here. It’s much, much too good.

OF COURSE, one might argue that you can’t tell a story about violence without violence. But these are horror movie tactics: What terrible thing will happen to the D’Angelos next? What’s behind the door? What nasty object have the neighborhood terrorists hidden behind the shower curtain? Can we invent an act so brutal that the audience has never seen the likes of it before?

It may be possible to make a film about our violent times without exploitation, but this definitely isn’t it. "Fighting Back" is a gruesome, twisted orchestra that is not a statement on our culture, but a symptom of it.


Area theaters

John D’Angelo........ Tom Skerritt

Lisa D’Angelo........ Patti LuPone

Vince Morelli........ Michael Sarrazin

Lilly Morelli........ Patch Mackenzie

Ivanhoe Washington........ Yaphet Kotto

Donato........ Peter Brocco

Police Chief Freeman........ Earle Hyman

Produced by Constantine Conte; directed by Lewis Teague; written by Tom Hedley and David Goodman; photography by Franco DiGiacomo, music by Piero Piccioni.

PARENTS’ GUIDE: Rated R; gruesome violence, lots of profanity, partial female nudity.



Boston Globe - May 26, 1982
Author: Michael Blowen Globe Staff

" FIGHTING BACK " - A film directed by Lewis Teague, written by Tom Hedley and David Z. Goodman, starring Tom Skerritt, Patti LuPone, Michael Sarrazin and Yaphet Kotto, a Dino De Laurentiis production of a Paramount release, at the Cheri and suburbs, rated R.

Thugs, pimps, drug pushers, burglars and gangsters have invaded John D’Angelo’s Philadelphia neighborhood and he is hopping mad about it.

How do you know that John dislikes his new neighbors?

Easy. He drives around the city in a vigilante patrol car bashing the heads of blacks and throwing Puerto Ricans through the second story windows of burning warehouses.

The good guys are Caucasians who want to clean up the parks, the bars and the streets and the black guys drink beer in the playgrounds, spend all night in the bars and use the streets to make drug deals and rent their hookers.

The Caucasians love their wives and mothers and the black guys seem to like nothing more than slapping women around.

" Fighting Back " plays to the prejudice of whites against blacks and deals in cultural stereotypes. The black guys beat up D’Angelo’s mother and murder his dog.

Is this racism in the cinema?

Of course not, assert the producers in a press release. It’s just the story of the "steady, ever-increasing assaults on his (D’Angelo’s) lifestyle."

Aside from the obvious sociological implications, " Fighting Back " is a simple-minded, poorly conceived exploitation film that deserves to die. In fact, if it opens in your neighborhood, you just might want to organize your own vigilante committee and run it out of town. As John D’Angelo says, "Enough is enough.



Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA) - May 26, 1982

By Desmond Ryan

Inquirer Movie Critic

Lewis Teague’s Fighting Back , which contains such curiosities as a living Philadelphia mob leader, is a film about vigilantism that succumbs to its own peculiar death wish. After conferring on its hero ample reason for the pursuit of vengeance and
righteous justice, Teague’s film shows initial signs of interest in the moral, legal and political issues involved in taking the law into one’s own hands.

Such points are, of course, conspicuously absent from the two Death Wish movies. Sadly, however, the crude appeal to bloodlust that makes the Charles Bronson films so popular ultimately proves too attractive to the people responsible for Fighting Back . In John D’Angelo (Tom Skerritt), screenwriters Tom Hedley and David Goodman have created a character with more potential for subtle development than Bronson’s Paul Kersey. The latter is dead to the world and thus suited to the uncanny immobility of Bronson’s face. John D’Angelo’s rage is of a more channeled nature, and Hedley and Goodman have tried to present him as being out of his depth. So are they.

D’Angelo is a grocer enraged at the drug peddling and other crime that infest his South Philadelphia neighborhood. He is moved to action when his wife has a miscarriage after an argument with the local pimp and his mother has her finger cut off by a robber who wants to take her ring. He gathers other concerned businessmen and even a couple of police officers to join him in an organized neighborhood patrol. At this juncture, the film faces a fork in the road and takes the wrong turn. The borderline between citizen participation and vigilantism - the dispensing of punishment outside of the legal process - is a fine one. It is a line that becomes even more blurred in battle zones such as D’Angelo’s neighborhood. The effect such a situation has on ordinary people, all with their measure of anger and prejudice, is what Fighting Back should be about. Instead, the movie only alludes to such matters and makes D’Angelo’s vengeance its main theme.

In this reading, his enemies have to include those who run the system -crooked politicians and hostile police officials. A system that is in real life inept and unresponsive is perceived as downright malevolent for the convenience of the film. Fighting Back makes no effort to explain or justify its views. Teague’s film is a simple-minded view of an intriguing subject. Here and there, it brushes against something important - as in D’Angelo’s meetings with a black community leader - but it is hard to make a complex point while wielding a baseball bat.

It is D’Angelo’s weapon and a fitting symbol for the film. Teague, who directed the tongue-in-cheek horror film Alligator , has considerable technical verve but no discernible opinion on the issues of the story. The cast, led by Skerritt and Patti LuPone, who plays his wife, is much better than one normally encounters in this kind of movie and their talent is a galling reminder of the film’s missed potential. The location sites in Philadelphia are a stiff antidote to Rocky-like celebrations of the city. The mob chieftain, who is still alive at the end of the film, tells D’Angelo that his organization does not deal in drugs - a claim that sits well with the rather bizarre view of the city to be found in Fighting Back.

Produced by D. Constantine Conte; directed by Lewis Teague; written by Tom Hedley and David Z. Goodman; photography by Franco DiGiacomo; music by Piero Piccioni; distributed by Paramount Pictures; running time, 1 hour, 35 min

John D’Angelo--Tom Skerritt

Lisa D’Angelo--Patti LuPone

Vince Morelli--Michael Sarrazin

Ivanhoe Washington--Yaphet Kotto

Parents’ guide: R (violence)

Motley ’Fighting Back ’
Washington Post, The (DC) - May 26, 1982
Author: Gary Arnold

" Fighting Back " is a lurid glorification of urban vigilantism remotely inspired by the career of Anthony Imperiale, the charismatic community leader of riled and fearful Italian-American residents in Newark in the late ’60s. Imperiale himself is recalled in newsreel clips in the course of the movie, which opens for no justifiable reason with a medley of traumatic documentary footage, from the assassination of President Kennedy through the assassination attempts on President Reagan and Pope John Paul II.

The protagonist is an indignant raging bull called John D’Angelo, the owner of an Italian-American deli and catering service in Philadelphia. When his pregnant wife and elderly mother are severely injured by local riffraff, D’Angelo organizes a volunteer protective service, the People’s Neighborhood Patrol, and proceeds to ride roughshod over pimps, pushers and muggers. While there are murmurs of skepticism and disapproval from certain representatives of the police and the city government, the opposition seems to have been mysteriously disarmed by D’Angelo’s shock tactics. With everyone from the police commissioner to the local godfather guaranteeing tacit approval, D’Angelo climaxes his campaign by firebombing three bad hombres, a terroristic beau geste that supposedly restores peace and security to his home town.

There are fleeting indications that the filmmakers--director Lewis Teague, who did a creditable job with John Sayles’ witty "Alligator" last year, and screenwriters Tom Hedley and David Z. Goodman--recognize traces of demagoguery, racism and willful ignorance in their protagonist, who’s occasionally taken to task for flying dangerously off the handle.

Dynamic leading roles are no doubt a temptation for any actor, but Tom Skerritt would have been wiser to resist the forceful indignity of D’Angelo. It’s a De Niro-reject sort of role that doesn’t suit Skerritt’s reserved, watchful personality, a reliable source of calm, rational strength in four earlier movies--"M*A*S*H," "Fuzz," "The Turning Point" and "Alien." He looks acutely miscast as a wrathful brawler and compares most unfavorably as a potential leader of men with the corpulent but commanding Imperiale, who imposes more authority in about 20 seconds of old clips than Skerritt can generate with an entire runaway vehicle at his disposal.

In fact, a good deal of acting talent is wasted on negligible or disreputable material in " Fighting Back ." Patti LuPone, the original "Evita," gets her first substantial movie role as D’Angelo’s wife, and there’s something compelling about her oversized features and aura of discontent. Still, the interesting hints of marital tension that she suggests are strictly gratuitous shades of characterization.

Michael Sarrazin, whose career took an unfortunate detour at least a decade ago, has been improbably cast as D’Angelo’s best friend, an Italian-American cop, but he emerges as a more attractive figure by embodying the self-control and sense of social responsibility that the hero lacks. One of Skerritt’s crewmates from "Alien," Yaphet Kotto, heads a formidable auxiliary of black actors in superficial supporting roles. Kotto turns up as a community organizer called Ivanhoe Washington, a character about as loosely related to Leroi Jones as John D’Angelo is related to Anthony Imperiale. Ted Ross of "The Wiz" and "Arthur" makes a light snack of the smoothly corrupt police commissioner, while Jim Moody, who gave "Fame" a glimmer of educational reality as the drama teacher, confirms the good impression as a black businessman aligned with the predominantly white People’s Neighborhood Patrol.

All of them are impressively overqualified for the minimal, motley quality of illusion that " Fighting Back " is content to confuse with effective contemporary melodrama.