(US - 1990)
Directed by John Mackenzie. Written by Jere Cunningham, Thomas Lee Wright and George Armitage. Cast: Brian Dennehy, Joe Pantoliano, Jeff Fahey, Bill Paxton, Deborra-Lee Furness, Guy Boyd, Henry Darrow, Lisa Jane Persky, Michael C. Gwynne, Henry Stolow, John Finnegan, J. Kenneth Campbell, Xander Berkeley, Pamela Gidley, Michelle Little, Burke Byrnes, Patricia Clipper, Ron Canada, Tom Nolan. (R, 106 mins)
"Oh, don't give me that 'patriot' shit! Every time you assholes fuck around with the Constitution, you call it 'patriotism.'"
Barely released by Orion in the spring of 1990, THE LAST OF THE FINEST tries really hard to be a Joel Silver production of the era. With its ballbusting banter among buddy cops who play by their own rules, irate captains chewing them out before suspending them, and a drum machine-heavy soundtrack filled with bluesy licks by a famous British guitarist--instead of Eric Clapton, they got former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor--THE LAST OF THE FINEST plays like THE UNTOUCHABLES re-imagined as a post-LETHAL WEAPON cop thriller. It's a lot more overtly political than most, but as we're likely to continue seeing with many films of the last 20-30 years, it takes on new layers of subtext when viewed through the distorted prism of 2017 America and the years that got us to this point. For the most part, THE LAST OF THE FINEST is a routine and by-the-numbers affair, but it makes some pretty angry and cynical points that remain prescient and give this generally forgotten and relatively obscure film some unexpected relevance three decades later.
MALONE, another unjustly neglected Orion actioner from the same era. Norringer goes on and on about patriotism and how the means justify the end, but he's really just a right-wing fanatic who would probably be holding a key position in the government or hosting a Fox News show if this was made today. There's little subtlety in anything this film does, from Dennehy's barrel-chested bombast ("You just made a fatal fucking mistake!" he yells as he backhands Norringer) to Boyd's snarling villain, and nothing hammers the point home like a climactic explosion of a playground septic tank that's storing Norringer's $22 million, leaving most of the cast standing in a downpour of dirty money and human feces, culminating in the crash of Norringer's getaway chopper because the pilot can't see out of the shit-covered windows. Perhaps skittish about the film's criticism of Reagan-era policies and its direct invocation of Iran-Contra, Orion dumped it in 400 theaters with no publicity at all, grossing just over $1 million. Just out on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber (because physical media is dead), THE LAST OF THE FINEST is hardly an unheralded classic, but it deserved more of a shot than it got at the time and seems to play better now than it did then.