What do you think of when the Viet Nam war comes up in conversation? Platoon? Apocalypse Now? Born On The 4th Of July? All great films, but one I like to call attention to is Off Limits, a sweaty, disturbing murder mystery set in the heat of Saigon during the height of the war. Someone is brutally murdering prostitutes in the brothels, raising enough of a stir that Army cops Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines are called in to investigate all fronts. Because this is war and anything close to an organized procedural is hopeless, there’s a creepy, lawless feel to their work as they probe American GI’s, shady local characters and even US military honchos. This is an unpleasant, royally fucked up film that isn’t easy to sit through or warm up to, but it’s brilliantly made and the sheer level of feverish intensity kept up by everyone involved has to be commended. Dafoe is reserved but lethal when necessary while Hines brings the humour as a guy who creates a flippant smokescreen to hide just how sharp he really is. Fred Ward plays their commanding officer of sorts terrifically but it’s Scott Glenn who lays down one absolute WTF of a performance as a psychopathic American colonel with some disgusting extracurricular habits, one hell of a nasty attitude and probably the single funniest and most unnerving death scene I’ve ever seen. Keep a lookout for Richard Brooks, David Alan Grier and Keith David in solid turns as GI’s who are immediately suspects because in a climate this volatile, everyone is. A fantastic film that fires on all cylinders, is exceptionally well made and very overlooked but be warned: you’ll want to take five or six showers after those credits roll.
1996‘s The Substitute thought of arming schoolteachers with guns a few decades before the thought crossed Trump’s mind, thank you very much, and in movie-land at least it was somewhat successful. Of course, Tom Berenger is the teacher in question here, and he also happens to be a highly trained mercenary who’s just trying to protect his teacher girlfriend (Heat’s Diane Venora) from a raging band of psychotic cholo gangbangers led by Marc Anthony, of all people. It’s a silly premise given all the cheesy bells and whistles the 90’s had to offer, and could almost be considered a cult classic these days. Berenger’s Shale leads a colourful team of badasses including Raymond ‘Tuco’ Cruz (wearing a manbun before it was cool), Richard Brooks, Luis Guzman and volatile William Forsythe, back from a botched mission in Cuba and ready for the next one in urban high school territory. A few forged papers later, he’s a legitimized teacher who steps in for Venora and discreetly investigates who’s responsible for viciously attacking her and running drugs through the school. Not so discreet is the multitude of high powered shootouts that he finds himself in, eventually backed up by his men. I know this is an action film but so frequent are the bullet ridden dust ups that they kind of drown out some of the attempted social satire in deafening commotion. I enjoyed Ernie Hudson’s high school principal who moonlights as a nasty arch villain running the drug syndicate (of course it’s the principal) and Glenn Plummer’s heroic but short lived teacher who’s on Shale’s side of the moral compass. Marc Anthony has always been an incredible actor (see Man On Fire and Bringing Out The Dead) whose talents behind the camera exceed those in the recording studio, and he makes a wicked little street-shit scumbag here. A little less gunplay and a bit more pithy dialogue and tongue in cheek locking horns would have suited this one. Otherwise, it’s a neat little picture. I can’t speak for the sequels that find Treat Williams stepping in for Berenger, but who knows. Oh wow, I just googled it and there’s *three* more sequels with Williams. Not since Michael Gross in Tremors has an actor hijacked a franchise out of the original star’s hands.