Killer Cast Double Feature: The Rage (1997) & Shakedown (1988)

the rage When it comes to action movies, there’s no lack of them on Netflix. So how does a discerning fan of the genre like myself decide which ones to view? Well, it doesn’t hurt to have a cast that rings some bells. In the case of The Rage, the bonkers nature of this particular group made me smile to the point where I just had to give it a look. I mean, you’re dealing with a weird triumverate of action here with stars Gary Busey, Lorenzo Lamas and Roy Scheider. Scheider has earned eternal respect thanks to his involvement in Jaws, so seeing him in any capacity is a treat. Then you’ve got the balls-to-the-wall insanity of Gary Busey who plays the role of the bad guy to a T in this flick. Finally, Lamas stars as the hero cop/agent. This guy wanted so much to be a next level action star, but only ever seemed to achieve also-ran status. I remember seeing an episode of his reality series where he or his kids lobbied for a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, but if you watch anything he’s been in, you understand why he didn’t make the sidewalk.

The film focuses on agent Lamas who’s teamed up with a female officer while on the trail of Busey, his insane girlfriend and their revolutionary milita-like group that wants to control the government or something (it doesn’t matter, I promise). Scheider’s higher up in the ranks and has a mad-on for Lamas and his new partner because of some Waco-like event that went down in their past. Again, it doesn’t really matter and I’m not sure if it even makes sense in the context of the movie, he’s basically just there to be a jerk. There’s even a terrible fight between Lamas and Scheider with a stunt double in a bad wig who looks nothing like Scheider getting knocked around by a guy whose own skills don’t exactly blow minds.

I’m pretty sure this is one of the many movies that tried following Quentin Tarantino’s footsteps by doing super intense and violent things, but not securing a cast that can handle the film’s tone or a director who can make anything look believable. See, Busey’s not just an insane murderer — he snaps a woman’s neck in the first few minutes of the movie — but it seems to completely miss the point of the serious story being told. For one thing, movies like True Romance or Natural Born Killers don’t spend all their time with the cops, they focus on the crooks to get into their heads and show what they’re like, warts and all. This movie still takes the boring old approach of following the investigation. They also don’t match the visual or acting tone with the things being said or done on the screen. I mean, you can talk about terrible things happening to the female agent all day long (and she really is the whipping girl here), but if your actress is barely able to convince me she’s a cop or that she knows what the next three scenes are going to be about and the film stock looks like the same thing that Lamas’ Renegade syndicated TV series was filmed on, I’m not going to buy it.

I wish I could tell you that this was a wild, over-the-top fun ride with all kinds of Busey madness, but it really only features the latter and, to my mind, not nearly enough of it. I think you could have actually done something interesting, intriguing and even moving with a different cast (I’d keep Busey and Scheider but make him more understandable and less of a punching bag). But, that’s not what you get with The Rage.

shakedown I wound up watching Shakedown for the exact same reason I took a look at The Rage, but wound up having better results. In this case the film starred two guys I absolutely adore for other iconic 80s flicks. You’ve got screen legend Sam Elliott, who I’m most fond of for his small role in Road House, as well as RoboCop and Buckaroo Banzai himself Peter Weller. I had hoped this would be more of a traditional buddy cop scenario because why wouldn’t you want exactly that from this pairing, but instead Weller plays a lawyer and Elliott a cop who are friends working on the same case, but from different angles and, usually, at different times.

I can say that it’s not a particularly absorbing story, but I really enjoyed watching both Weller and Elliott playing their roles to their full extent. Weller’s character loves music and for some reason decides to talk like a bebop jazz musician even though he only really talks about Jimi Hendrix. Meanwhile, Elliott’s the down-and-out, somewhat corrupt cop who still wants to do the right thing at the end of the day. He’s a good dude at the core and, if nothing else, you get to see him make good on the promise of his awesomeness presented in Road House. Instead of showing up for one fight, dancing with Kelly Lynch and getting knifed, this version of Elliott fights a guy on a rollercoaster!

The actual plot revolves around Weller defending a crack dealer accused of killing a cop. Weller’s not actually trying to prove that the dealer didn’t kill the cop, but murdered the guy in self defense, having no idea he was a cop. This uncovers a lot more corruption and a case the Elliott gets involved with at the request of his pal Weller. Meanwhile, Weller also winds up rekindling a romance with his ex who happens to be working for the state on this case. It’s actually been a few weeks since I watched this movie as I finish up this post and all I really remember is Elliott being awesome. And yet, I want to watch it again, so that’s a good sign right? Puts it in a better light than The Rage which still stinks in my head.

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