Saturday, September 17, 2011

Oh, Thank Heavener: TWISTED JUSTICE (1990)

We're making history here at VJ with our first guest review.  After all, how could we possibly turn down an offer for a review of a David Heavener flick?  Heavener's work is a unique sub-sub-genre that we've been meaning to cover here, but haven't due to lack of time and sanity.  Without further ado, here is Guest Reviewer/Heavener addict Jamie Edwards trying to get you hooked on the heavenly Heavener.  Enjoy!

First off, I want to say thanks William and Thomas for the opportunity to do a guest review. So thank you good sirs, it's an honor. Ok, onto a topic near and dear to me: The films of Mr. David Heavener! Heavener comes from the school of D.I.Y. low budget film making. Since the late 80's he's literally been a one man movie making machine, often acting/directing/producing/writing and even doing the music for his films. I've seen almost all of them, and I’m not going to sit here and tell you they're all cinematic perfection. But more often than not, they deliver what a good low budget movie should: Action, entertainment, and a little humor thrown in. My favorite of his films (heck, my favorite low budget action movie of all-time) is TWISTED JUSTICE. I've been championing this movie to friends/whoever will listen to me for the past 10 years. Yep, it's your turn now!

The story takes place in Los Angeles circa 2020. Guns have been outlawed and even the police aren't allowed to carry them. Renegade cop James Tucker (Heavener) plays by his own rules. This frequently finds him butting heads with Police Commander Gage (Erik Estrada). The irony here is Estrada went from being the cop who irritated his sergeant on CHiPs, to being the irritated sergeant. But I digress. Tucker is a man of action, cool under pressure, smooth with the ladies, wearer of long johns, and always armed with a witty quip. He's the man you call when all else has failed.

And speaking of that, the movie opens with Tucker being called in to diffuse a tense situation (he arrives in style in his futuristic 72 Buick Riviera complete with "TUCK U" personalized license plates!). A man (Don Stroud) hopped up on a new designer drug called Umbra is on top of a refinery threatening to blow everyone up with a bomb. Apparently Umbra makes you crazy and gives you superhuman strength, kind of like PCP - OF THE FUTURE! (to borrow a line from MST3k). Negotiations break down and Tucker has to shoot him with tranquilizer darts, which of course have no effect. A fight ensues and ultimately Tucker is forced to pull out his contraband gun and put some holes in Mr. Stroud. There's a few actors that I think automatically make a movie better/more interesting just by them being in it. Guys like Dick Miller, Gary Busey, Clu Gulager, and Tim Thomerson. I’d put Don Stroud on that list too. It's too bad he's offed at the beginning of the movie, but a little "crazed Don Stroud" is better than none at all I always say.

Next we're introduced to a new crazed psycho (David Campbell), and he's paid a prostitute to put on some fake blood and pose so he can take lurid photos of her ("look buster, this blood crap is your idea, not mine!"). Strange hobby, but he is a crazed psycho after all.

"I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Deranged."

We then cut back to the police station, and Commander Gage is giving Tucker his usual "you've crossed the line" type lecture (bonus points for it including the phrase "damn good cop"). One thing I never grow tired of is the angry chief "you've crossed the line" lectures in cop movies, keep 'em coming I say. The scene ends with Commander Gage demanding Tucker turn in his gun or his apartment will be searched.

The crazed psycho is now on to his next target, Mrs. Granger (Karen Black), the wife of the Downing chemical corporation co-owner. He's poses as a limo driver and takes Mrs. Granger out to a secluded area, chases her around with a knife, and stabs her to death. Both Mrs. Granger and a previous victim were found with a bull’s eye painted in blood on their bodies, leading the media to believe both killings were the work of the "Bull’s Eye Killer". Commander Gage makes good on his promise to search Tucker's apartment for the weapon, and sends Jim Brown and James Van Patten over to turn his place inside out.

Thanks to a tip from the prostitute, the police start to piece together a connection between the murders, Umbra, and the chemical company. Gage assigns Tucker to the case while a woman from a police watchdog commission named Andrea Layton (Julie Austin) barges into Gage's office. She's none too happy with the rumors that Tucker has a gun and vows to stay all over him like a cheap suit.

Tucker goes back to the Granger murder scene to search for clues. At this point I should mention that he communicates with HQ through a dispatcher named Hinkle. Hinkle and Tucker have never met face to face, and Hinkle has a deep, electronically altered voice (why, I’m not sure) which leads Tucker to believe Hinkle is a man. In reality, Hinkle is played by the lovely Shannon Tweed. This leads to a running gag where Hinkle flirts with Tucker, and Tucker has to find ways to fend off her passes.

While out at the crime scene, Tucker runs into the killer, who then escapes by car. The car chase scene that follows ends up at the killer's hideout. He's brought down by tranquilizer darts and evidence is found that shows he's a chemist and ex-Downing employee named Steelmore. Gage is thrilled that the Bull’s Eye Killer has been brought in (and without the use of guns) and asks Tucker to appear on the "Sally Winfrey" talk show to discuss the gun ban.

But wait! Steelmore is released on a technicality! Tucker finds this out while taking a shower at Andrea Layton's house! Even the tough-as-nails Andrea isn't impervious to Tucker's charms. It's revealed that the murders are part of an extortion plot by Steelmore to keep his chemical supply from Downing flowing so he can continue making/using Umbra. Jim Brown and James Van Patten show back up at Tucker's place for another gun search. Brown (one of the baddest men ever to play in the NFL) is startled when he finds Tucker's pet rat "Freud" chillin' in the medicine cabinet. I don't want to spoil how Tucker hides his gun, but it's quite clever. With Steelmore back on the streets, he continues with his murder plot. Now all that's left is the final showdown.

TWISTED JUSTICE has several things going for it. The cast of veteran actors seem to be having a good time with their roles. Plus David Heavener's easy going persona and dry sense of humor help elevate it above your average low budget action flick.

Gun nut, rat lover and Raiders fan?
That explains it all!

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