"Don Johnson vs. White Supremists in This High-Voltage Thriller"
Yes, legendary director John "The Manchurian Candidate" Frankenheimer made some cinematic calamities like the ecological horror tale "Prophecy" and the inert political thriller "The Holcroft Covenant". But he also was responsible for the underrated treasures "Black Sunday", "The Challenge", "52-Pick-Up", and "The Fourth Wall". Add this wonderfully entertaining Don Johnson star vehicle to this list.Again, the underrated Don Johnson proves with the right material that he can be a first-rate actor. At first glance, one might not expect an action film by the likes of Dead-Bang to provide much in the way of an opportunity for a capable thespian, but in between the bountiful array of expert action sequences (courtesy of veteran director John Frankenheimer) there are a few priceless 'character' scenes that give Johnson ample screen time to strut his stuff. Whether it's an uninterrupted one-shot of his talking calmly to his estranged wife on the phone, which simmers to a slow burn and then a violent physical outburst; his cynical write-off of life being nothing but "death and taxes"; or (in the film's best scene) his going into a giggling fit during a session with a psychiatrist when commenting that he looks just like Woody Allen, and minutes later physically and vocally threatening the man when he recommends taking him off a case ("I will focus on you as the instrument of my destruction!"), Johnson is utterly commanding and always compelling. He plays an L.A. cop investigating the murder of a fellow officer on Christmas Eve; the evidence leads to a white supremacy group, which Johnson doggedly tracks to Arizona, Oklahoma, and then to a "survivalist camp" in Colorado. There's a bothersome secondary character in the form of a prissy FBI agent (unimaginatively played by John Forsythe), but a winning turn by W.K.R.P. in Cincinnati-alum Tim Reid as a Boulder sheriff helps compensate. Frankenheimer stages the shootouts and car chases creatively, and the film moves at such a fever clip that you've little downtime to question the sturdiness of the plot. It doesn't have the ingratiating charm of a Lethal Weapon or the brilliant control of a Die Hard, but Dead-Bang still qualifies as a pulse-pounding thrill ride more than worth a visit. (And, hey, how many films are you going to see where a hung-over cop chases down a suspect, tackles him -- and then proceeds to vomit all over him?)An unfortunate box-office bomb, "Dead Bang" is more than worthy of discovery on home video. Yes, the DVD could be a lot better -- it's not letterboxed (though Frankenheimer didn't shoot the film in a widescreen aspect ratio) and is bereft of special features (aside from a theatrical trailer, which is considered by more and more as as much a special feature as chapter stops) -- but it serves up a lean and mean action pic that's infinitely better than most of its ilk. See it.