- Movie Rating -

Wanted: Dead or Alive (1987)

| January 16, 1987

Wanted Dead or Alive opens with a scene that gave me déjà vu.  A killer is on the loose and law enforcement is powerless to bring him down.  BUT there’s one man, one man who can do that job.  Unfortunately, he’s has retired and is living comfortable with a girlfriend who looks like she might have occupied the cover of last month’s Playboy.  Our hero is happy, content and not interested in getting back into the life.  But some cajoling and a few violent encounters later, he agrees and off we go.

This is a routine that I’ve seen a thousand times (hence the déjà vu) but in particular I was thinking back to the Arnold Schwarzenegger adventure Commando, in which he played a retired special forces guy who is cajoled out of retirement to assassinate a political figure and kills 300 people when they kidnap his daughter.  What I noted immediately was that Schwarzenegger turned out a better product.  Wanted Dead or Alive seems to run through the motions without being exciting or fun.

The two films are similar in that they employ an Eastern-European actor for the hero role.  The previous had Arnold from Austria and this one has Rutger Hauer from The Netherlands.  Neither is what you’d call a titan of acting but between then Arnold is the better actor.  He plays to his ridiculous physical stature.  I’m not sure what Hauer is doing.  He has an accent, I guess, in which he is trying to fake American but you can’t really nail down where his origins lie.  Maybe I wouldn’t carp so much if he just came right out and said it.  Tell us where he’s from and move on.

The only real point of interest here is that Hauer plays Nick Randall who claims to be the son of Josh Randall, the character played by Steve McQueen on the “Wanted Dead or Alive” TV series in the 60s.  That’s an idea that is dropped as quickly as it comes up.

You’ll notice that I’m avoiding talking about the plot.  That’s because there really isn’t one.  You don’t really write a plot like this, you just plug it in from dozens of previous movies, you hire a star who appeared in a better movie (in this case Blade Runner), then you hire an actor to play a slobbering villain, and in this case you potentially have a good one.

His name is Malik Al Rahim, a smooth-talking Arab terrorist who takes pleasure in blowing up peace-loving Americans.  Now here is the one thing in the movie that I did like.  Rahim is played in a creepy performance by Gene Simmons, lead guitarist for the rock group KISS, and he has a pretty effective screen presence.  When he calls the newspaper to tell them that he’s about to blow up a movie theater full of patrons, his voice is calm and even and a little scary.  I believed that he would do what he said he would do.

I am troubled, however, by the fact that he’s an Arab terrorist.  Why was that necessary?  Why was it not enough to just make him a narcesistic madman?  Why bring ethnic stereotypes into the mix?  Was that to sell the movie to right-wing moviegoers who want to see Middle Easterners blown to bits?  What was the purpose there?  I wouldn’t lean so hard on this if the movie made clear exactly what Rahim represented or who he represented or what his goals were.  The movie wastes an effective performance on a character that is essentially a blind alley.

The whole movie is like that.  There are no real motivations, no real characters, only ugly violent scenes that are there for the sake of being there.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1987) View IMDB Filed in: Action