Pushed Too Far Double Feature: Steele Justice (1987) & Eye Of The Tiger (1986)
I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of movies where a capable man is pushed too far and feels the need to take the law into his own hands to avenge a hurt or dead family member or friend. Of course, I like the action and the explosions and the punching, but there’s also a very obvious power fantasy involved. If gangsters killed my best friend, would I be able to get back at them? Probably not. I’d probably wind up accidentally blowing myself up while trying to do one of those awesome “getting ready for battle scenes.” How do I know what to do with a grenade? I’m a freelance writer for goodness sake.
Anyway, Steele Justice is one of those movies where exactly that happens. This Vietnam vet has had trouble since coming home form the war and just when he meets back up with his old army buddy, a group of Vietnamese mobsters role in and kill the friend and most of his family. Pushed to the edge, John Steele uses his war training to wage his own war against the killers! Man, I should write the summaries for the back of the DVD boxes or Netflix.
There isn’t a whole lot that sets this movie apart from the hundreds of others out there like it except for the cast, which I thought did an interesting job of casting against type for some of the players. Steele is played by Martin Kove who played the coach of the evil Kobra Kais in Karate Kid. I’m sure he’s played lots of other roles, but he will always be the jerk who punched through two car windows at the beginning of Karate Kid 2 to me. The movie also stars Ronny Cox who played the nefarious Dick Jones in RoboCop as a good guy and Sela Ward as Steele’s long suffering ex-wife who also happens to be a music video director. A personal favorite scene of mine is when Steele shows up to the set of a music video. He pulls up behind some very 80s dancers who don’t seem to notice the stolen police car, ill fitting cop uniform or shot gun for a while. It’s funny stuff.
When I saw that Gary Busey was in an action movie called Eye of the Tiger and that the poster showed the actor holding a small child AND a shotgun, I knew I was in for a treat, but I had no idea how crazy of a treat it would be. I must admit that my love for Busey came while I was in college and the Comedy Central show I’m With Busey was on. He’s just so bonkers and kinetic and crazy in real life that I started noticing a lot more when he showed up in movies. Sure, I’d seen Lethal Weapon, but Busey wasn’t Mr. Joshua to me, he was Busey. Same goes for his character in Predator 2.
In this flick, which yes contains the theme song from Rocky III on several occasions, Busey plays Buck Matthews who is not only a Vietnam vet, but also just got out of prison in time to come home and see his wife murdered by some motorcycle riding thugs. His little girl is alive, but not doing well, so he and his pal J.B. (Yaphet Kotto) decided to take the town back from the corrupt sheriff who’s letting the biker gang, lead by Blade (William Smith), basically run the town. It’s kind of a mix of the Rambo/Steele Justice set-up with Road House which is a combination I can always get behind.
The surprising thing about this movie, is how far it goes in showing scenes I’ve never seen in a movie like this. You get the obligatory “hero at the funeral” scene, but instead of letting it just be that, the biker gang actually comes rolling down the hill, driving around the grave and then leaving. I was pretty blown away by this for some reason. Don’t they know that will just make him more angry? There’s also a scene where Buck is trying to get some information out of a criminal in the hospital. He does the usual threat thing, but then goes nuclear. To coerce the villains, he rubs Vaseline on a stick of dynamite, shoves it in the guy’s ass and lights a long fuse. That was another shocker. I like seeing new and unexpected things in movies like this. I think that’s what makes me watch more of them than I should. That and the punching.