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Convoy Busters
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by Jack Sommersby

"Dirty Harry Italian-Style"
3 stars

While it's far from enthralling entertainment, this passable film gets the job done for the undemanding.

A short-barrelled .38 Colt isn't exactly the most photogenic of firearms on the silver screen. Usually movie cops carry .44/.357 Magnums, .45 Colts, or 9mm Barettas, which have longer barrels and sleeker-looking surfaces. The only fictional law-enforcement type I can remember who looked even remotely good carrying one was tv's Barnaby Jones, and he was played by the gray-haired Buddy Ebsen. So it's quite the compliment that Maurizio Merli, who plays the hero cop Inspector Olmi in the Italian crime pic Convoy Busters, carries one extraordinarily well. Thirtyish with swept-back medium-length blonde hair and dark green eyes, Merli hasn't so much as a speck of charisma yet is able to demand our attention every moment he's onscreen; he's not an "actor" in the conventional sense in that he doesn't suggest an active inner life but a forcefully-concentrated performer whose physical features the camera takes to quite well. Of course it helps that his Olmi is an attention-getting character, a relentless, doggedly-determined cop who's about as by-the-book as Dirty Harry and isn't above beating a suspect during interrogation -- heck, he even slaps a sixteen-year-old girl whom he suspects is involved in a murder. Olmi is a thorn in the side to his chief and a menace in the eyes of judges, and he wallops and shoots his way out of more situations than he can count in a film that's focused and paced well enough.

The story begins with the discovery of a dead teenage girl washed up in the river. Her throat has been expertly slashed, and an eyewitness places her with two other teens right before her untimely demise. One of the other teens is murdered shortly thereafter, with the culprit being a young man whose father is a high-ranking custom's official: he's involved with smuggling diamonds, and one of the teens overheard his conversation and had to be eliminated. Unfortunately, due to Olmi coercing a confession with a serious beating, the official is released, and Olmi is demoted from Homicide to the Emergency squad. Even here, though, he can't stay out of trouble. When a crime boss escapes from custody, Olmi chases the getaway van with a helicopter and successfully brings down all four men from the air. Reporters question whether he used unnecessary deadly force and is taking the legal system into his own hands. Frustrated by this and a corrupt judge's tipping off the official before another arrest can be made, he requests to relocate to a seaside-resort town to get away from the big city. He does, and finds himself frustratingly bored in the kind of place where four detectives respond to a bar brawl. But, predictably, all hope for quiet and tranquility are shattered when Olmi stumbles upon a weapons-smuggling operation, and he turns this serene little community into his own no-holds-barred battleground.

While lacking the jazzy narrative rhythm and visceral punch of Enzo G. Castellari's The Heroin Busters, Convoy Busters, which was released just a year after, is enjoyable from start to finish, and, like Castellari's small classic, is short on talk and long on action. The screenplay is episodic just like a tv crime drama, with an array of disposable secondary characters who're around either to remark what a hellcat Olmi is or give him their utmost admiration and awe. There's a romance between Olmi and a teacher that's given just enough screen time so as not to incline us to look at our watches, and his rapport between the other cops is never allowed to congeal into anything genuine. Olmi's the hero and the whole show, and Merli has such fine screen presence that we don't really mind. The director, Stelvio Massi, does adequate work and stages the action competently enough; he isn't the greatest in the visual department, with the compositions sorely lacking variety, but for such a small-scaled film his far-from-enthralling touch isn't much of a liability. The screenplay might have tried linking the villain from the first half with the one in the second half, because a decent amount of time is given to the former, so you expect the two to coalesce, and they don't. And maybe it'd have been nice to see Olmi transform the seaside cops into two-fisted forces of action like himself, but that'd probably be overcomplicating a story that gets by well enough with its simplicity. Merli is the one people are paying to see, and he delivers the goods in a manner that's fetching but disarming because you can sense the actor having a good amount of fun with the role and has the sense not to make anything Shakespearean out of it. And, hey, he does make that wimpy .38 look damn good, so who's to throw stones if the film itself isn't the greatest thing since sliced bread?

The DVD offers up bountiful special features, especially for fans of Maurizio Merli.

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originally posted: 12/27/06 11:56:44
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USA
  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 27-Jun-2006

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