Walter Hill’s desire to make almost everything he’s ever directed feel like an impossibly gritty western is well documented, but with his dusty, bullet casing strewn 1987, action/thriller, Extreme Prejudice, he took it to an almost ludicrous degree. Despite the contemporary setting that throws cars, helicopters and modern firearms into the fray, Hill delivered an unabashed neo-western that somehow feels more like an example of the genre than the actual westerns the director made before and since – but that’s not what initially brought me to this intense, pistol-packing party, oh no.
Despite being a movie that’s been effectively lost to time in the passing years, Extreme Prejudice boasts a cast fully loaded with a selection of scowling character actors who are renowned for their villainous antics in other movies and acts as surprisingly effective merging of the crazed excess of 80’s action cinema with the edge of a 70’s thriller.
Smile-phobic Jack Benteen is an insanely serious, third generation Texas Ranger with a “spit shine heart” who is getting progressively sick with the damage that drug smuggling is doing to the town and the people he grew up with. The cause is his childhood buddy Cash Bailey, who has gone from police informant to full fledged, white suit wearing drug baron; but because the two are still good buddies (who have both dated Sarita, the señorita who is currently with Jack) they are willing to still give the other the chance to step out of the way before things get even more violent.
Meanwhile, a cluster of U.S. Army Sergents assemble to form a zombie unit (meaning they’re all officially KIA in order to put an extra dollop of secret into their secret missions) under the command of Major Paul Hackett. Their questionable mission seemingly runs parallel to Jack’s quest as the team are looking to liberate vital details to Cash’s operation from it’s location in a lock box at the local bank, but Hackett maintains that they don’t have the time to go through legal matters in order to get their hands on what they need, so this team of professionals choose instead to rob the bank.
While the soldiers prep for their mission, Jack determination is ratcheted up another couple of notches when a sheriff buddy of his is fatally caught up in an ambush and Sarita leaves him and flees to Mexico to be with Cash, but sooner or later, all these separate plot threads will soon collide with the force of someone slam dunking a basketball sized lump of unstable gelignite as the stranger’s righteous anger fused with the fact that the zombie squad are starting to question their leader’s integrity will cause a massive gunfight to level most of the cast. But when the gun smoke and muzzle flashes finally die down, who will be left as the last hardass standing?
A movie as sweaty and harsh as a leather car seat left in the sun, Extreme Prejudice is a flawed, but glorious throwback to a time when flamboyant villains were legitimately loathable and heroes were as emotionless and stoic as a Batman statue and the only way that a collection of emotionally stopped-up rednecks of mass destruction such as these can ever emote is either through a drunken lament or with bursts of savage violence.
If I’m being honest, as much as I adore ridiculously overblown 80’s tough guy shit, Extreme Prejudice had somehow passed me by in a haze of Predators, Robocops and Rambos, but while it may lack the snazzy kapow of those other titles, director Hill manages to slam together a neo-western that seems like it wants to breed Sam Peckenpah’s The Wild Bunch with a more serious version of Commando. The ludicrously brutal, chaotic fire fight at the climax certainly lends itself to that fascinating description as it conveniently ties up the majority of the remaining character arcs by having resolution come in the form of mango-sized exit wounds for anyone too slow on the draw – it’s exhilarating stuff and it’s made even better by a cast that puts the “cast” into “cast iron” and who spits out lines so thick, they sound like they’ve been scrawled in tobacco juice.
Leading the way is Nick Nolte’s stern Texas Ranger who never unclenches his jaw once throughout the entire movie and is an intriguing lead despite being a straighter arrow that Captain America who keeps all of his internal torment crushed deep down inside him where it’ll not doubt cause cancer later in life. Opposite him as ex-friend Cash Wheeler is the incomparable Powers Boothe, relishing his audience of Mexican stooges and bitterly striding around in white, man from del monte style suits that he must of gotten straight of the hanger at Drug Barons R Us and when he’s not crushing scorpions in his bare hands, or lusting after Mariá Conchira Alonso, he’s curling that rumbling voice around some choice dialogue. Proping them up is infamous, Hollywood wild card Rip Torn as a pragmatic sheriff and the aforementioned Alonso as a typically fiery female for the leads to fight over thanks to them not being particularly great with emotions. This brings us to the soldiers on the other side of the movie who are led by cinematic psycho supreme Michael Ironside and contains such bad guy alumni such as Clancy Brown and William Forsythe, but the twist here is that even though we have a group that’s essentially made up of Richter from Total Recall, the Kurgan from Highlander and that beefy fucking lunatic from Out For Justice, they’re (mostly) all playing good guys. Well, I say good guys but they’ll do anything it takes to get the mission done, including erasing a certain Texas Ranger who knows they exist. The verbal back and fore between all of these guys is ace with such diamonds dropped as “Who you callin’ uncouth, man? I’m couth as hell!”, “Hell, Jack… the only thing worse than a politician is a child molester.” and “The only time the Border Patrol wins hot pursuit is when they get laid.” and Hill simply couldn’t have picked a better cast to utter them.
Problems? Extreme Prejudice most of the time really does feel like two completely separate films smooshed together to make a double decker sandwich so ornery it could punch out a bison and the negative of that is that sometimes the plot is unsure exactly where to focus as each one sometimes sucks the energy of the other leaving you unsure exactly what the movie is about. Is it about a Texas Ranger feuding his cartel buddy, or is it about a team of soldiers who gave given up everything for their country, or both, or neither? Thankfully that gargantuan shootout I mentioned earlier flattens out the majority of the creases (along with a good patch of Mexico) and is well worth waiting for – Christ, it even ends with a quick draw!
Muddled? With the amount of Tequila consumed on film, I’d be stunned if Extreme Prejudice wasn’t at least a little confused with it’s own focus, but for those who fancy an underseen example of unabashed, pure 80’s machismo, Walter Hill’s ode to mean, but ultimately honorable bastards is an uneven treat.