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Hipster Holy Grail: Maximum Force (1992)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I try to find and review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 5,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover something amazing. Sometimes I don't.  This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don’t Like to Read Reviews

Maximum Force never delivers on its initial premise and feels padded even at 90 minutes. Even so, there’s at least one compelling performance and a supply of fun ideas buried in the gloominess that may be worth your time.

My Rating: 3 / 5 (JVBM)

The Plot Summary

The film opens with Rick Carver (Jason Lively) working surveillance on some arms dealers.  The deal appears to be taking place at an abandoned airport, which I would argue is a mistake since you can’t cover your tracks too well out in the open.  To prove my point, Carver has set himself up on the rooftop of a nearby building and is effortlessly watching, recording, and photographing the entire thing.

Then a bum comes out of nowhere and starts begging for change.  Yup, on the roof.  It’s where all the good payouts are, right?

Carver gets understandably flustered and starts shoving money at the bum and demanding that he keep quiet.  But then the bum gets excited about all of Carver’s equipment and starts checking it out like a nerd in an electronics shop.  The arms dealers overhear the bum and realize they’re being watched.  Action ensues.

The arms dealers shoot the crap out of the bum and chase Carver in a helicopter, leading him to duck and roll and dodge gun spray.  Eventually he gets his bearings and shoots back up at them, then blows up their chopper and smirks.

Title screen!

Now, so far, this is an enjoyable movie.  Carver is a fun protagonist – he’s competent, but awkward and prone to exasperation.  If this movie was remade, he’d be played by Nick Frost. I’m all set to see what he does next.  Naturally, this is where the movie forgets he exists for 15 minutes and starts dragging down.

The next chunk of the movie is an extended introduction to the other three main characters: Max Tanabe (Richard Lynch in shitty old man makeup), Michael Crews (Sam Jones), and Cody Randal (Sherrie Rose). Their introductions are clumsy and take way too damn long, but the gist of it is that Tanabe is an Evil Rich Guy who controls all the crime in the city, and Crews and Randal are loose cannon cops.

The movie takes a huge misstep here by cross-cutting footage of all three.  It starts with Tanabe, who is holding a late night meeting with his criminal underlings.  He gives a speech about how great America is and how it’s a land of opportunity for enterprising masterminds like himself.  Then it cuts away to Crews, who is trying to bust up an underground boxing club of some sort and gets beaten up.  Then it cuts back to Tanabe, who’s still having his meeting and still excited about capitalism.  Then it cuts to Randal, who is working undercover to bust a prostitution ring and whose cover is blown by a prospective john who blabs to the pimp she’s trying to arrest.  Then it cuts back to Tanabe, who ends his speech by killing one of his guys in a fit of evil.

The result of all this is that Tanabe never gets to gel into a proper villain since his scene can never build momentum – not even when he’s smothering a guy to death with cling wrap – and you have no idea who the protagonist is supposed to be.

That’s when Captain Fuller (John Saxon) shows up and explains the plot to us. Fuller sends a cryptic message to each of the three cops, Carver, Crews, and Randal, and asks them to meet him in an abandoned warehouse.  Fuller is out to bring down Tanabe once and for all, but he can’t work within the normal confines of the police system due to corruption.  His plan is to take three talented cops who already have a grudge against Tanabe for various reasons, train them covertly as a tactical team, and then unleash them on the city.

On the one hand, this sounds like it could be promising.  It’s a cop movie with three loose cannons instead of just one.  But here’s where Fuller undercuts it: he tells them they’ll live and train in the warehouse.


Yup, it’s the old “single location savings” trick.  This is when you realize that the better part of the movie is going to take place in this warehouse, so you better settle in and start enjoying the ambience.

I’m not a fan of warehouses.  I understand the appeal to a producer – they’re big enough to set up all your equipment, rugged enough to add some grit, secured from the elements, and confined enough that you don’t have to worry about disturbing the peace.  They’re also boring.  You know what the difference is between a warehouse and a giant empty room?  Not a goddamn thing.

So, the warehouse.  Sigh.

What ensues is a training / bonding montage.  Carver tinkers with some gear and invents gadgets to help them out, Crews practices his boxing, Randal shoots some targets, and Carver and Crews alternately try to hit on Randal with varying degrees of success.  There isn’t much chemistry between any of them, but Carver continues to be affable and injects some personality into the mix.

Eventually this ends with my favorite scene in the movie.  Fuller comes back to yell at the cops and basically do the ol’ “You’re worthless!” drill sergeant shtick.  Then he says he’s got a test for them – and three ninjas burst out of nowhere to beat the crap out of our heroes.  While they’re getting pummeled, they remember that Fuller told them to work together – so they form a tight back-to-back-to-back circle and use teamwork to punch back. The ninjas get knocked down, and Fuller applauds, then introduces the ninjas as fellow police officers who are apparently on standby, just waiting for Fuller to sic them on somebody.

And that’s it – their training is done.  Fuller tells them they’re ready to go to work.  Apparently, in his book, the benchmark for success is beating up three of your coworkers.  The movie’s half over by now, by the way.

Finally, we leave the warehouse for some fresh air.  The cops go on their first outing as a team and bust some low-level crimes for a few minutes.  Tanabe gets word of it and demands revenge, so his goons track the cops down…

…back to the warehouse.  Gah!

A bunch of goons break in and fight with the cops / Fuller.  There’s a lot of generic fighting that isn’t shot terribly well, but there is one reasonably entertaining sequence that deserves mention here.  Of course, it involves Carver.  He uses a remote to drive a toy police car up to some thugs and screws around with them for a bit.  They try shooting the car, but keep missing.  Then he pushes a button on his remote and the car explodes, killing the baddies.  Thus ensues a montage with about ten more RC bombs, which Carver keeps deploying and blowing up with glee.  It’s pretty stupid, but I liked it.

All good things must end, though.  After the bombtage, Fuller and Carver are both shot to death and Crews and Randal are left nursing their wounds.  They mourn briefly, then head to Tanabe’s headquarters for the climactic showdown.

And boy, did they ever run out of steam.  You know how all the warm air gets sucked right out of the room when you open a door on a cold day?  That’s the last fifteen minutes of this movie.  They leave the warehouse, and it’s like nobody cared where they were going next.

There’s some more generic action, some more generic deaths, a go-nowhere subplot involving the Chief of Police (played by Mickey Rooney), and then Crews and Randal shoot up a bunch of Tanabe’s guys.  I want to gloss over all of this because none of it is very good, but there are two highlights:

1) When Crews and Randal first go to Tanabe’s hideout, Randal says something like, “How are we going to do this with just the two of us?”  And then Crews says, “I brought a friend.  Meet Bear.”  And then a lumberjack-type guy / half-rate Hulk Hogan comes out of nowhere and introduces himself.  A new character ten minutes before the credits?  Sure.  Why not.

2) A bunch of Tanabe’s underlings run into an elevator on the top floor and get stuck inside. Then Randal, who is nowhere near the top floor, says something like, “You’re going straight to Hell!” and pushes a button.  The elevator cable snaps and they all plummet to their deaths.  How did she know who she was killing?  What if that was just the janitor?

Tanabe tries to escape on a helicopter, but then Crews takes careful aim and shoots him to death.  Crews and Randal hug and the movie ends.

What I Liked / Didn’t Like

Carver steals the show.  Not only is he the only one in the cast with any kind of screen presence or charisma, he’s also the only one who does anything fun.  Whenever he appears, it’s like the movie remembers that it was trying to be entertainment.

In fact, I’m almost certain that Carver’s introductory sequence originally appeared much later, but they re-cut the movie to put it at the beginning once they realized it was the most interesting part.  It’s kind of a dirty trick they pulled.

The rest of the movie is just so dour.  Dim lighting and angry pouting.  Nobody looks like they wanted to make this movie – they all slog through it like they’ve been saddled with jury duty.

I zipped right by it in the plot summary, but a perfect example of what I’m talking about is Mickey Rooney.  He’s in the movie for like a total of five minutes just so you know that Tanabe has a grip on the police department.  That much is fine – but then he makes this epic speech right at the climax of the movie about money and corruption.  What?  Why?  Who asked for a monologue about the ills of capitalism at the end of your action movie?  It’s called Maximum Force, for Christ’s sake.  I'm just here to watch you shoot things.

Ultimately, it feels like a missed opportunity.  The formula is all there – three loose cannons take on a crime lord.  They got one of the cannons right, but then the other two just become generic action fodder and get stuck in a warehouse for an hour.

There’s enough fun stuff in the movie to keep it somewhat interesting throughout, so I’ll still give it a marginal recommendation as a Junior Varsity Bad Movie.  If you can stomach the tedium, you’ll be rewarded with a few glimmers.

Where You Can Watch

If you go before it gets pulled for copyright violations, you can watch Maximum Force on Youtube for free.

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