Wanted: Dead or Alive (1986)
By: Stuart Giesel on November 11, 2014 | Comments
Bounty | Region 4, PAL | 1.85:1 (Non-anamorphic) | English DD 2.0 | 106 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Gary Sherman
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Gene Simmons, Robert Guillaume, Mel Harris, William Russ
Screenplay: Michael Patrick Goodman, Gary Sherman, Brian Taggert
Country: USA
Wanted: Dead or Alive is so 80's it hurts: a New World Pictures production, Rutger Hauer, straightforward dumb action, big hair, awful soft rock soundtrack and harmonica-infused score (when it's not indulging in Halloween-style cues, that is), Gene Simmons (!), murky and unflattering cinematography, and terrorism themes which would not get a play post-9/11. Gary Sherman, who directed the wonderful, underrated Dead & Buried, does an adequate job here, delivering a solid, straightforward effort, albeit with little panache, that has weathered the test of time slightly better than many of its 80's action movie brethren.

The material's about as thin as a book on Uwe Boll's Mastery of Cinema, but it's straightforward mindless fun, the likes of which we don't get much nowadays where every action film is impregnated with a barrage of CGI and has to have a running time just shy of Seven Samurai. Nick Randall (Rutger Hauer), ex-CIA agent turned bounty hunter, works with cop buddy Danny Quintz (William Russ, master of the inauthentic line delivery) to bring in wanted criminals for a cut of the profits. And credit to co-screenwriters Sherman, Michael Goodman and Brian Taggart; Randall's association with Quintz means his actions aren't completely implausible, plus they take pains to mention things like "rights" and "paperwork". Midnight Run may remain the definitive cinematic film about bounty hunters, but this is no slouch. Randall used to work for the CIA (mostly referred to in the film as "The Company") and is roped back into service by his old handler Philmore Walker (Robert Guillaume) to track down international terrorist (whatever that is) Malak Al Rahim (Simmons). In fairness, Randall at least asks up-front for immunity from prosecution, setting the stage for the old "good guy can fuck shit up and the cops inexplicably leave him alone" scenario that plagues a lot of urban actioners. And, er, that's about it.

There's some back story about how Randall killed close associates of Al Rahim, meaning Randall is on the terrorist's shit-list already. So the stage is set for some fun, brutal action. Hell, we know this right from the start, as Randall follows three criminals to a grocery store - we know some bad shit's about to go down, because nothing good ever happens in a supermarket or grocery store in action films (see: Universal Soldier, Cobra, Robocop to name three just off the top of my head). Gotta love these heroes who storm the joint and wind up causing way more damage and financial harm than the bad guys ever do. And, yep, that's exactly what happens. At least in Randall's case he does hand over some money to the poor shopkeep to cover some of the damages.

Hauer makes for a terrific protagonist - he's laid back enough and has a nice, languid but tough delivery, and he's a big enough guy that he looks imposing enough for the role. Unfortunately his character plays the harmonica, the absolute worst instrument this side of the recorder (although it would be hilarious to have an action hero play the recorder after a big shootout just to wind down). In all of cinema only Charles Bronson's character in Once Upon a Time in the West gets a pass when it comes to using this infernal instrument. And like most 80's action heroes, Randall can't just live in a normal fucking house or apartment - he has a sort of warehouse/garage/loft thing as well as a houseboat. He also has a beautiful girlfriend named Terry (Mel Harris) who is getting her doctorate in anthropology, so she isn't your typical action movie eye-candy idiot, even though she has a thankless role in the film and gets do to little but help the plot along.

And in an...interesting...casting choice, Gene Simmons plays Al Rahim. Simmons's performance is, frankly, perplexing. His accent varies from scene to scene. We know he's supposed to be Middle Eastern because of his name - and the fact that in one scene, Randall charmingly calls him a "rag head" - but he sure as shit doesn't look Middle Eastern. No, he looks like Gene Simmons trying to act menacing but failing. He mostly underplays the role, which is nice in theory but the result is that he looks uninterested and sleepy. At one point Al Rahim he goes to a cinema playing "Rambo" (ignore the fact that there was no movie called Rambo out at that time, because it can't be the 2008 exploding-head-fest, so I assume it's meant to be referencing Rambo: First Blood Part II). On his way out after placing a bomb, Al Rahim passes a family in the foyer and runs his hand along a little girl's face. What the fuck? The father doesn't bat an eyelid, though at least the mother is a little creeped out, but what the hell was this moment for? To prove how much of a sicko Al Rahim is? I think we get the idea when he obliterates the entire cinema and its patrons. It would have been great if the parents called the creep out on his behaviour and the cops took him away and that was it, end of movie. It's such a weird moment.

Once the action gets going there's lots here to enjoy. The pyrotechnics are decent, the action is pretty violent and brutal, and the movie never outstays its welcome. There are lots of random amusing moments too. Crime scene examiners sift through rubble with no gloves and people trample through the crime scene like it's a parade (and this happening the morning after the bombing in question, and after the morning news have reported on it - that's some long-winded crime scene investigation). Robert Guillaume's weird, ill-timed cry of "Nick!" after he's just seen the dude apparently die in an explosion. There's a great dummy-run-over-by-car moment, one of the better ones captured on celluloid. You have terrorists hiding in barrels waiting for Al Rahim's signal, which turns out to be a simple goddamn car horn. Lucky there's not much traffic around where they're going. There's the ridiculous, explosive ending. And we can't forget the film's best line, when Guillaume snaps at CIA agent John Lipton (played by character actor Jerry Hardin who seems perpetually stuck in sleazy authoritarian roles):"Next time you decide to fuck me Lipton, kiss me first!". So much gold.

Wanted: Dead or Alive is undoubtedly a product of its time, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, and to be honest it feels less dated than other action flicks from that period (the aforementioned Cobra, for one). There's enough OTT violence on offer to satisfy undemanding fans of the genre, and Rutger Hauer is always watchable in anything he does. Yeah, it's not Die Hard, but then again what is?
The Disc
We have another bare-bones release here. Picture is so-so, and the drab cinematography doesn't help matters. The Dolby 2.0 sound is similarly of average quality at best, but you probably wouldn't want to hear the film's horrendous soundtrack and score in 7.1 anyway. No, the disc is certainly nothing at all to write home about. As far as features go...well, like I say, this is bare-bones, so you get some chapter listings and a trailer. And, it has to be mentioned, the DVD menu is absolutely intolerable - it mercilessly repeats sounds of gunfire, yells and sirens on an endless loop, and proves to be one of the most annoying title screens I've ever experienced. Even a rehash of the harmonica-ized version of "You Are My Sunshine" would be better than what we got.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Wanted: Dead or Alive deserves better treatment than this fairly poor excuse for a release from Bounty Entertainment. The film is pretty good for what it is, providing solid and violent action and some unintentional laughs. Fans of Rutger Hauer will want to pick the disc up regardless, but beware that there's little here other than the quality of the film itself in a decidedly average but watchable transfer.
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