By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Blackmailed over sex tape.
Harry (Roy Scheider) runs a successful construction company and is married to Barbara (Ann-Margret) who’s running for city council. One day Harry gets abducted by three men in hoods (John Glover, Clarence Williams III, Robert Trebor). They bring him to an abandoned building and show him a video tape that they’ve recorded featuring Harry’s steamy affair with a 20-something stripper named Cini (Kelly Preston). They demand $105,000 per year to stay quiet and if not they’ll release the tape to the press. Harry decides not to go to the police for fear it would jeopardize his wife’s political ambitions and instead does the investigating himself to find the tape and the men who made it and then turn-the-tables on them.
In 1984 The Cannon Group bought the rights to Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name with the intent of turning it into a spy thriller with the setting changed from Detroit to Tel Aviv. Leonard was commissioned to write the script, but the drafts he submitted were deemed unacceptable and eventually someone else was hired as the screenwriter and the movie became known as The Ambassador. 2 years later John Frankenheimer, after having read the novel, decided he’d like to turn it into a movie in a more faithful version to the book. Since The Cannon Group still owned the rights they agreed to produce though several changes were made including having the setting in Los Angeles, which was mainly done for budgetary reasons.
While I’ve complained about other movies produced by The Cannon Group this one looks much more polished and could’ve easily been released by a major studio. I enjoyed the constantly moving camera that turns every scene into one unending tracking shot, which gives it a visual energy and allows the viewer to feel like they’re right there in the setting with the camera acting as their point-of-view as they move around amongst the action.
Many movies from the 80’s touched on the tawdry, underground lifestyles of Los Angeles, but would always pull-back before it became too distasteful and yet this one dives completely in and never leaves. By immersing the viewer into the seamy environment it helps them to better understand the sick nature of the bad guys and the elements that made them believe they could get away with it. It also features adult film stars from the era including Amber Lynn, Jamie Gillis, Tom Byron, and Barbara Dare. Porn legend Seka was also set to be in it, but the aging and apparently still quite horny Frankenheimer pestered her behind-the-scenes in an effort to have sex and even asked her out on a date, which was enough to get her to walk off the set.
The three antagonists are the most entertaining aspect. Glover gives a poetic quality to his character’s sliminess and is mesmerizing in his vileness. Clarence Williams III, best known for his work in the TV-show ‘Mod Squad’ has a creepy intensity that makes his scene riveting. Trebor, as the extremely anxious strip bar owner, makes breaking down in a panic an art form.
The problem is with the two leads who get upstaged by the baddies. In fact during the second-half the three villains receive more screen time than the heroes making it seem like the movie is more about them. Scheider’s insistence on trying to track down the culprits on his own with only an inkling of clues is intriguing to an extent, but he ends up finding their whereabouts too easily. Otherwise Scheider and Ann-Margret do nothing but react to the situation they’re in instead of propelling the action. It’s not because of bad acting either, but more due to the script that doesn’t flesh-out their characters enough to make them interesting, or for the viewer to care what happens to them.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: April 16, 1986
Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes
Director: John Frankenheimer
Studio: The Cannon Group
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Tubi