By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Veteran takes over town.
After oil is found near a small California desert town many people, including oil workers, move in looking for work. All the new people coming in causes a great deal of crime in the community and the local police force is too small to handle the influx. Ben (Jan-Michael Vincent), a longtime resident, decides to hire his brother Aaron (Kris Kristofferson), a veteran of the Vietnam War, to help act as a peacekeeper. Aaron then brings along some mercenaries to assist him, but he and his new associates begin acting more like the bullies forcing everyone to submit to their ways of doing things, or face the consequences. This causes Ben to come to the painful realization that his brother is more of a problem than the solution and forcing him to take matters into his own hands in order to rid the town of him.
This was the third film directed by George Armitage, who did Private Duty Nurses and Hit Man before this one and all three being produced within the Roger Corman family, this one by Roger’s older brother Gene, who approached George about the project having only the title in mind and no actual story. Armitage, who had only 30-days to film, decided to make it an allegory of the Vietnam War where a group of strangers would come into a town, much like the American soldiers did when they came upon a small village in Vietnam, and take it over while focusing on the helpless nature of the residents who could do seemingly little about it.
While the concept had lots of potential the execution is rushed making the story come-off as cluttered and unfocused. It’s one of the few films made where there’s violence and action immediately before there’s barely any onscreen credits, but the motivations of why it’s happening is not clear, so it’s more confusing than exciting. The plot doesn’t make much sense. Why are these new people all resorting to criminal behavior including robbing a bank? Other towns that boast job opportunities don’t necessarily have a dramatic spike in crime especially if the new people coming in are actually getting employed, which the film intimates they are, so then why the anger and chaos? It seemed to me that there needed to be some sort of crime boss behind it, but there really isn’t. There’s a certain figurehead shown briefly later on, but he seems to be more of a symptom of the crime that’s already had been occurring versus the main orchestrator.
The setting also has a strong country feel with men folk walking around and behaving like blue collar cowboys making Texas a better location for the town than California. Even if for budget reasons is still had to be done in Cali I would’ve at least made it seem like it was the Lone Star state, which is considered a ‘rebel’, redneck state to begin with and thus making the behavior of the townspeople seem a little more organic.
I loved Kristofferson whose laid-back demeanor comes-off as creepy and menacing, but I would’ve liked his dark side to have been played down more at the beginning. The viewer should’ve been roped-in into believing he was a good guy, or hero, and then had the big reveal in the third act that he really wasn’t versus it being obvious right from the start that there was something not right about him.
Bernadette Peters, who plays his on-again, off-again girlfriend, is a delight, but Vincent is not as good. He’s unable to equal Kristofferson’s screen presence and way too naïve. It’s obvious to everyone his brother is trouble, but he remains oblivious for too long making him seem dumb and then when he finally does catch-on he comments that he was aware of his brother’s ‘problematic side’ ever since they were kids, but if that were the case then why did he hire him in the first place?
If you like basic 70’s action, including car chases, fist fights, and explosions, then this may suffice even with the wobbly story. Anyone though expecting anything more will most assuredly walk away disappointed as the script lacks nuance and surprise.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: September 9, 1976
Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes
Director: George Armitage
Studio: United Artists
Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Blu-ray