Anyone who has witnessed the glacial cool that Rutger Hauer bestowed to either of the genuinely terrifying villains of Blade Runner or The Hitcher might have openly wondered why Hollywood bent over backwards so much to make him an action hero. The overwhelmingly obvious answer was, obviously, because he’s was one cool motherfucker, that’s why – but coolness doesn’t necessarily mean that you have good taste in scripts.
The lack of quality control that Hauer had when picking projects was impressive, even when judged by the standards of other also-ran action heroes, but the guy just seemed to love picking the odd shit when he should have been a freaking megastar.
Airheaded actioner, Wanted Dead Or Alive is a prime example of this and at times, amidst the copious explosions, ludicrously tough heroes and dubious racial sterotypes, you’d swear blind that you’re watching a Cannon production.
Ex-CIA operative Nick Randall currently makes his living as a swaggering bounty hunter, violently bringing lawless lowlifes to justice for a sizable hunk of cheddar cheese – but despite the fact that he does most of his business with the loud end of a devastating shotgun and his office is a warehouse filled with automatic weapons and a jukebox, he is a surprisingly sensitive man too. Managing to hold down a relationship for the first time in yonks with the understanding Terry, he also gets his conflicting emotions out by being a bit shit on the harmonica, but soon his life is about to get a whole lot more complicated.
Stereotypical 80’s Arab terrorist Malak Al-Rahim has come to Los Angeles to spread chaos in his wake and to show America that he’s not fucking around, he ruthlessly blows up a movie theatre packed with wholesome families.
Naturally in these kinds of movies, both Nick and Malak have a bitter history that stretches back to Randall’s CIA days and the numerous branches of government who want the bomber off the table think that hiring Nick to Hunt his nemesis down will make the perfect bait in order to smoke the terrorist out. However, due to the unwillingness of some of those departments to share with Nick that hes only a worm on a hook causes Malak to slip through the bounty hunters fingers one too many times and soon it results in a personal tragedy for our mulleted, harmonica sucking hero who allows everyone to think he has perished in order to get revenge.
However, the CIA would prefer if Al-Rahim was brought in alive and have even offered Nick a substantial bonus to make it happen, so what’s a vengence driven bounty hunter to do? Follow the rules and pocket the cash, or simply shrug their shoulders and say “fuck the bonus.”?
If there’s a glaring issue with Wanted Dead Or Alive, it’s that it hovers somewhere between the poles of being a Crazy 80’s Action Flick or a Hard Boiled Procedural Thriller while ultimately satisfying as neither. Directed by Gary Sherman, who subsequently went on and laid the Poltergiest franchise to rest with the moribund Poltergeist III, this action flick certainly has all the ingredients needed to be a rollicking, gonzo, shrapnel hurling romp or a more restrained cop flick, but instead is caught in a weird limbo between the two. Rutger Hauer brings all the weird, Rutger Hauer tricks to the trade he usually installs within his characters and, to be fair, Nick Randall is probably once of the best good guys he’s portrayed as he doles out good old American justice with a shotgun that looks like it could put a hole clean through a rhino. However, bizarrely enough, his character is supposed to be a relative to Steve McQueen’s character from an all but forgotten tv western with the same name, but while it’s heavily hinted at, it just seems like an unnecessarily random extra bit of backstory that has no effect on anything whatsoever. Still, for a gun toting bounty hunter who sneers at authority from under a mop of Danish, mulleted hair and is prone to shotgunning his own television in fits of anger, Hauer isn’t half bad at all and even displays actual emotion other than the standard jaw clenching, when shit starts to get dark. He also has that amusing immunity that all 80’s action heroes seem to have, getting off scott free after causing vast amounts of collateral damage and even pulling a knife on a superior after he he discovers he’s being used to draw his enemy out. The rest of the cast is fairly standard (eyes peeled for Jerry Hardin – aka. Deep Throat from The X-Files), but making a spirited play for things is Robert Guillaume – better known as TV’s Benson and The Lion King’s cub hoisting Rafiki – who, as the only man our Nick can trust, goes to town with such absurdly hard boiled lines as “The next time you fuck me, kiss me first!”.
Of course, that leaves the villain of the piece and I guess it’s time for me to break out the old “it’s a movie of its time” speech as Gene Simmons from KISS scrapes off the makeup, removes those gargantuan heels and reels in the Lovecraftian tongue in order to play Malak Al-Rahim with all the subtlety of a man whose day job is blowing fire at screaming groupies. Keeling things overwhelmingly sinister at all times and rarely entering a scene without a swirl of villainous Arabian flute music in his wake, he’s not quite the leering terrorist seen in such movies as Invasion USA and The Delta Force, but he still murders wantonly and even slaughters his own men when things aren’t going great. The fact that Simmons is actually American Iranian makes things even more ironic, but I honestly have to admit – his climatic death scene is fucking metal…
Speaking of the climax; this is where Wanted Dead Or Alive finally comes, well, alive, as Sherman let’s his opus finally become the crazed exploitation film we all hoped it would be from the start. Hurling a truck chase, exploding barrels and well earned beat down for its bomb-happy antagonist at us with reckless abandon it even leaves us with arguably the most underappreciated villain death of the entire decade. Leading a battered Malak out to the awaiting authorities with a hand grenade wedged tight in his maw, Nick weighs up his options concerning the bonus he banks if his prey is brought in warm and makes his decision with a terse “Fuck the bonus!” and yanks the pin out as cops scatter for cover.
It’s frustrating, because if the whole movie carried itself with such vigor, instead of bogging down a saggy middle section with endless bickering between various law enforcement agencies, we’d no doubt have a kick-ass little cult movie on our hands. But as is stands, Nick Randall sadly remains unwanted; dead or otherwise.