Wanted: Dead Or Alive (1986)

Rutger Haure died in 2019, and he’s still got two movies to come out because he was just such an unstoppable powerhouse of great acting. Apparently, he himself said he was only brilliant in two or three of his roles, which is clear modesty on his part. So I picked this to watch as he was on the front cover, and I can comfortably say that this isn’t one of his best. But it’s also too interesting to not share thoughts on, so here we go.

I’m sure this will end well

The bulk of the film is standard action nonsense of the era. A law man who plays by his own rules gets called in for one more job, the stakes are high, and a lot of guns get shot whilst things explode in a gritty, post-industrialised world. No one can be trusted, lots of people say testosterone infused things in low lighting, and there is a love interest. Honestly, I can’t remember half of the story and at one point the sound FX for the guns became white-noise that I zoned out to. No one does a bad job of anything, but others have done much better.

Who doesn’t sniff their shotgun goodnight?

How Rutger Hauer got the leading role of Ex-CIA agent turned bounty-hunter Nick Randall I don’t know. All I do know is that he puts in an absolutely astounding Rutgerian performance, channelling parts of John Ryder, Captain Navaree, and Étienne Balsan into something exciting and new. He does something new and exciting, possibly only matched by Bruce Willis four years later, whilst everyone else just plods along, throwing the usual hard-boiled attitude and ammosexual eroticism into a tale intended to delight all the 12-year-olds in the audience (and I say that as an ex-12-year-old who would have loved this film).

This is the closest the film gets to subtext.

The result is what feels like a Saturday night comedy 3-minute-sketch (“Hey, lets get Werner Herzog to play a rookie cop in LA. He can throw a criminal through a window with kung fu”) that didn’t know when to stop. There is a bizarre tension between him and every other character in the film as he appears super-imposed into the film, with his ability to act creating an uncanny valley that nags at your willing suspension all the way through.

“There you go again with all your extra-judicial violence and fancy acting”

The other interesting element are the bad guys, who are semi-coded as Islamic terrorists (or at least as much as mid 80s politics allowed), but come across as Indian social justice vigilantes. Headed by Gene Simmons of KISS (who does a pretty good job of a middling role), they are out to recreate the Bhopal gas tragedy on American soil. People with a knowledge of the world industrial disaster in history (so far!) will be sucking air through their teeth at this, at it’s a massively politically charged concept. To the best of my knowledge, no one else was playing with this mix of concepts at this time in this type of film. To see it happening on the screen was exciting, interesting, and engaging. Until it wasn’t, because this is a by-the-numbers film, so nothing really paid off, but for a brief time it was damn cool.

“When I find my agent…”

Anyway, that’s all the good bits from the film. Don’t waste 104 minutes on this unless you have a grim determination to watch every Rutger Hauer movie ever (which I obviously do). Someone explodes on screen from a grenade shoved in their mouth and it’s still disappointing, which is a great metaphor for bold casting and interesting ideas being pissed away on everything else being as bland as possible.

The Raggedyman

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