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by Jack Sommersby

"Before There Was Rambo..."
3 stars

A nice little time-killer that played well on cable television over twenty years ago and still semi-satisfies today.

Contrary to its title, Ruckus is really no big deal. It's irrelevant and hokey and about as substantial as the term "compassionate conservatism." Admittedly, though, it makes for fairly entertaining stuff. Dirk Benedict stars as Kyle Hanson, an ex-Special Forces soldier just released from a military-mental hospital who inadvertently stumbles into some big-time trouble while passing through the small Alabama town of Knights Landing. Bearded, face caked with dirt, smelly, wearing an Army jacket, he arises the ire of the redneck townsfolk by his "jungle freak" appearance; he's a man of very few words and riles things up when refusing to answer a simple question by the town's Mr. Big, whose son has been missing in Vietnam for four years and who wishes to know if Hanson knew him -- he sends some men to show him a picture of his boy, but the roughneck crowd pushes him, Hanson pushes back, assaulting them, fleeing the scene, and taking up temporary refuge on Mr. Big's homestead, where his considerate daughter-in-law opens their home to him while Mr. Big is away for the weekend. At first the shell-shocked Hanson's as taciturn with her as he is with others, but after cleaning himself up he gradually eases his way into polite conversation; he reminds her of her husband, who was as wild as Hanson was last time he was home. Despite his being no real threat, the rednecks, all of whom have been waiting in line to make a play on the woman as soon as her husband's death is confirmed, go to various lengths to apprehend or just plain kill Hanson, but their each and every effort is thwarted by this expert in guerrilla warfare who shows up these good-'ol boys every step of the way with his affinity for high-speed driving, bow-and-arrows, dynamite, and just his bare hands.

Released in 1981 before the excellent First Blood, Ruckus functions as a comedy-actioner for the most part, venturing into dramatic territory on only a few occasions. There's not so much as a single death; rather, the bad guys are deterred like in a Wyle E. Coyote cartoon, and the writer-director, Max Kleven, keeps the tone genial and fun. At first, it seems Hanson, who's "the most exciting thing to hit this county since the '68 hurricane", is going along the same dramatic route as author David Morrell's Rambo character, with his scraggly appearance, withdrawn manner and aura of unpredictability; but springing into action against these inferior, hunting-rifle-toting bumpkins opens something up within him -- an amusement over his antagonists' fuel-driven machismo that makes them overconfident and careless, and he enjoys the ease with which he cuts through their tough actions like a knife through warm butter. As Hanson, the always-welcome Dirk Benedict, who played the appealingly conniving Face in the tv series The A-Team, lacks the feral intensity the role initially calls for but settles more comfortably into the proceedings as things progress, with his charisma and good-naturedness keeping us on his side until the end. As the wife, Linda Blair does her best work in years in an unaffected performance. Ben Johnson and Richard Farnsworth are their usual reliable selves. And Matt Clark is whining perfection as Cecil, the most cowardly of the inept posse who couldn't hit the side of a barn with a double-barreled shotgun on a bet. Ruckus is far from enthralling filmmaking -- it could have been second-unit directing for all the lack of finesse by Kleven (though the plentiful stunts are first-rate, which is no surprise given Kleven's background as both a stuntman and veteran stunt coordinator) -- yet it has a relaxed, easygoing feel to it that goes down well, with songs by Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette and Hank Cochran making it go down even easier.

If you can forgive a stupid musical montage involving the slow-motion racing and jumping of dirtbikes, this should sate an undemanding filmgoer's appetite.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14745&reviewer=327
originally posted: 07/01/06 16:54:17
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  N/A (PG)
  DVD: 25-Jul-2000



Directed by
  Max Kleven

Written by
  Max Kleven

  Dirk Benedict
  Linda Blair
  Richard Farnsworth
  Matt Clark
  Jon Van Ness
  Taylor Lacher

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