Shout! Factory has your back for another B movie Friday night. First on the bill is Gordan’s War starring Paul Winfield who plays a Vietnam vet who comes home to dead wife and assembles a team of army buddies to deliver some righteous vengeance. Next up is Off Limits, starring Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines, two army cops in 1968 Saigon on the trail of a prostitute targeting serial killer. So stick in the DVD, crack open the first of that sixer and pull off the first piece of that frozen pizza, its time for some B movie fun.
Gordon Hudson, Paul Winfield, is pissed. After serving his country in Vietnam he returns to Harlem to find his wife dead from an overdose. Adding insult to injury the pimps who do the drug dealing in Harlem and got his wife hooked do business out in the open and with impunity. They own the neighborhood. When Gordon figures out exactly which pimp dealt to his wife he takes the direct approach. He puts the guy in the hospital. Pimps aren’t stupid. They track down Gordon and give him the message to back off. The message would have been sterner, but Gordon manages to give as good as he gets even when its three to one. Gordon’s not going to be so easily deterred but he’s not stupid either. Before he continues his insurgency he decides to look up some old friends. Old friends that, like him have just recently returned from Vietnam. Together they plan on cleaning up Harlem.
Gordon’s War is an odd little movie. Directed by Ossie Davis it has the trappings of a Blaxplotation movie, but it doesn’t have the heart. Yes, there are pimps in outrageous pimpsuits driving around in outrageous pimpmobiles. There are the black heroes doing their best to clean up a neighborhood gone to seed. There is the white organization that is the true source of the drugs ruining the neighborhood. There are fist fights, gun fights and even a kick ass car chase. There is the preachy moralistic tone and the funk and soul fueled soundtrack. But what’s missing is the over the top bad assedness, Gordon’s War is just so reasonable. When Gordon first ventures out for revenge does he kill the guy who in his eyes murdered his wife? Actually this isn’t the best example for my argument because even though he doesn’t kill the pimp what he does is pretty bad ass. The pimp committee’s response is decidedly non bad ass though. The level of violence does ratchet up as the story progresses but all the character’s responses are always so reasonable. Even the drug kingpin actions are always calm and coolly considered, not the calm and coolly considered of a psychopath either it’s the calm and coolly considered of an experienced businessman. Eventually the stakes do rise to an appropriate level and you are rewarded in the end with a suitably bad ass showdown it just takes too long for everything to get wound up. Besides the story the direction by Ossie Davis is decent. The pacing could be tighter but there are a few scenes that really pop. The acting is above average for a B movie and the score is no reservations great.
Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines, McGriff and Albaby (in respect for his mother don’t call in Al she named him Albaby) are two military cops working the off limits red light district of Saigon in 1968. They don’t have to run around in white helmets and MP armbands and bust up bar fights though. They get to dress in civilian clothes and drive a sedan instead of a jeep and instead of rounding up drunken GIs they chase down AWOL GIs. Or at least that’s the biggest part of their job. That’s what they are doing when the movie opens up; they finally get a lead on an enlisted man they have been chasing down for three days. That’s why they are not so pleased when they get pulled off that case for another crime. This new crime is a nasty piece of work too. Somebody has put a bullet in the head of a whore. Not a very nice thing to do but they ask their boss Dix, Fred Ward, what does this have to do with them since they only investigate crimes committed by members of the US Army. “Nothing” he tells them “until somebody found this” holding up a plastic sandwich bag with piece of an Army officers insignia. Thus starts their journey down the rabbit hole. They quickly turn up a witness, Maurice, a paranoid Keith David, who refuses to talk to anybody less than a General; he’s planning on leveraging his testimony into a ticket home. So Griff and Albaby put him up and assign Rogers, David Allen Grier (yeah these names keep popping up), to babysit. There is not much Rogers can do though when the wall of his apartment is blown in and Maurice gets machine gunned. McGriff and Albany get the message they are on the trail of a very dangerous man, just how dangerous they realize when their investigation leads them to Nicole, Amanda Pays, a Nun, or technically a Novice she’s not quite a Nun yet, who shows them evidence of six more similar killings. Along the way Griff and Albaby run afoul of local law enforcement, crazy Colonels, the VC and the Tet Offensive.
Christopher Crowe has mashed up a bit of noir, with a touch of buddy cop, and a lump or two of war movie and rolled it out into a nice taunt if a bit predictable thriller. Bangkok serves as an excellent stand in for Saigon and you can feel the heat and humidity and the crush of humanity. It’s seedy and decadent but alive. Dafoe and Hines make a good buddy cop team and Ward is perfect as their boss sliding effortlessly between chewing their ass and backing them up when the chips are down.
The films are both presented in widescreen format. The transfers are from decent prints and they both look pretty good though the colors in Gordon’s War are a little washed out. I never noticed any digital artifacts like moiré, aliasing, or blooming even with both movies squeezed onto one DVD.
The audio is presented in the original mono for both movies and in English only. There are no subtitles available. The sound is nothing special but it is functional. The dialog I always clear and never stepped on by the foley or the score.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The DVD comes in a clear Amaray case with artwork derived from the original movie posters. There is an audio commentary track for each film, Christopher Crowe and Willem Dafoe provide the commentary for Off Limits, unfortunately Paul Winfield and Ossie Davis are no longer with us but cinematographer Victor J. Kemper and actor Tony King provide a lively and informative discussion. That’s it except for a trailer and some TV spots for Gordon’s War.
What, you’ve still got one beer left. Quick knock it out before the credits finish. What use is one beer? The left over pizza you can stick in the fridge for breakfast in case you wake before noon tomorrow. I know, it’s a long shot but stranger things have happened.
Overall (not an average) 7/10
The Movie 6/10 and 8/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (not an average) 7/10