Welcome back to Classic Movie Review, where we dig up relics from the past and put them on the pedestal. This time we take a look at a popular, but largely forgotten piece, Nighthawks.
No no no. Not the painting Nighthawks, though that is considered a classic in its own right. But I’m not an art critic. I’m a movie critic. And I usually don’t consider them to be the same thing, unfortunately. No, for now I am talking about the film Nighthawks. The classic movie from . . .
NO! No, what is wrong with my images today? NO, I’m not talking about the 1978 British gay film. Please. I’m talking about the incredibly American not at all homo erotic buddy cop action film with Sly Stallone.
Really. No, that is what I’m talking about. Not the other one. No way. Not that there’s anything wrong with Richard Peck’s 1978 film about a gay man living a double life. No sir, nothing at all. It’s just not what I’m reviewing is the thing. It’s the Stallone Nighthawks. Seriously.
Yes. Yes, that’s it. The “one man can bring the world to its knees” Nighthawks. The 1981 classic film that saw Stallone doing his best Serpico impression, teamed with Lando Calrissian, and fighting Roy Batty from Blade Runner. What a flick!
We start in New York, late 70’s or early 80’s. Either way the town is a total garbage dump in this era. Dirty subways, grimy streets, a tough town. The town that gave birth to Robert De Niro and Al Pacino ova’ here. You talkin’ to me? Attica! Attica!
We open on a lady walking down a very dangerous street. She’s confronted by some thugs, but just then, she strikes! Slamming her purse into thug number one, she whistles for help, and takes off her wig, revealing herself to be Stallone! In drag! What? This is what they make you do in vice now?
Stallone chases thug number two, while Billy Dee Williams cuffs the others. You see they’re partners, but there aint no way Billy Dee is getting into a dress. Stallone chases down the thug and whips him good. So there. Now you know our two hero cops, Stallone plays Deke De Silva and Billy Dee Williams plays Matthew Fox.
No! No no no no no. Goddammit! What’s going on here? No, Billy Dee Williams is Det. Sgt. Matthew Fox, not Lost star Matthew Fox. The hell?There we go. That’s it, blog. One more screw up from you and I’ll turn this post right around and go home.
We cut to London, and we’re given exact dates as if we care, where a bearded Rutger Hauer is strolling around a department store. But we know better. Somehow, we’ve already guessed he’s the bad guy. We sure know it aint Serpico, I mean Stallone.
He sets down a package, walks out, and sure enough – bam! The whole place goes up and he gets on a phone to tell the media, so image conscious this mad bomber.
Wait a minute Charlie, you’re thinking. This whole thing isn’t really sounding too classic at all. I’ve never heard of this movie, you say. In fact, so far it sounds completely formulaic, uninspired, down right contrived. What’s the deal?
It’s Hauer people. This was Rutger’s first American movie, the man was unknown. But he holds and even surpasses the star power of Stallone and Billy Dee with terrifying aplomb. He’s a cool character. Both a suave ladies man, and brilliant terrorist. He’s scary. Very scary, but with such a natural charm, it’s like he’s not even trying. Trust me on this. I really think this is the movie that got him the part in Blade Runner, his most iconic performance to date.
Ok so we’ve got the bad guy set up. All ready to go. Now the movie’s really going to pick up speed.
Cut to Stallone and Billy Dee busting up a drug house. Another exposition scene involving character development. Ok.
Cut to Rutger hiding out and escaping/ killing a bunch of policemen, or “bobbies” as you Brits would say. Alright, more character development I suppose.
Cut to Stallone and Billy Dee working vice in Central Park, more character development. C’mon now guys, we get it. There shouldn’t need to be this much set up.
Cut to Rutger, talking about how everyone is after him and he needs to go to America. Yea, we could have figured that out. After all, New York is where the story takes place.
Cut to Stallone and Billy Dee arguing with a police chief. Yes, you guys, we get it. They are both loose cannons, wild cards, impulsive, no nonsense cops, both of them. They are partners. Got it.
Cut to Rutger in New York. Movie, please speed this up.
"Somebody put me back in the fridge."
Cut to Stallone and Billy Dee, what is this? Are we just going to go back and forth forever? We’re almost forty minutes in, and nothing has happened to really advance this thing. I’m waiting…
Now we have Stallone and Billy Dee getting recruited to go on an anti-terrorism force specifically to go after Rutger, whose terrorist name sounds a little confused by the way. Wulfgar? Wulf-gar? Like a wolf? Or is it German? Kinda seems like a lazy name. Anyways. Stallone and Billy Dee literally spend ten movie minutes sitting in a room learning about Wulfgar, all of which is info WE ALREADY KNOW. Why are you recapping this thing for the characters, movie? Fucking get on with it.
It even get as tedious as this: Interpol guy lecturing them on Wulfgar tells them that Wulfgar likes nice clothes, women and clubs. Cut to Wulfgar in nice clothes, talking to a woman at a club! Tell or Show movie, not both. Not both! This is like when the teacher gave handouts in school and then read word for word the handout he or she had just given you. Either tell us or hand it out- there’s no need to read to us what is on the paper, no need.
This movie is starting to frustrate me. And you know what? Stallone feels the exact same way. He’s getting fucking pissed at this Interpol guy going on and on. “Why are we not looking for this creep?” Stallone asks. And he’s right. This movie is killing me right now? Why?
Finally, Stallone and Billy Dee get out on the streets where they belong, and they start tracking down zee Wulfgar. And just like that, they spot him. Could have done that ten minutes ago. Now the movie is starting to go somewhere. In a dance club, Stallone and Wulfgar share this massive stare down, with Stallone and Billy Dee looking about as conspicuous as any cop could look, and Wulfgar immediately figuring out whats going on. They shoot it out a bit, then run around the city, eventually leading to a tense moment on the subways. Now the movie is finally working.
Billy Dee gets hurt in the chase, leading to a tender moment with Stallone holding him and cradling his face. They look long into each others eyes. It would be touching if I hadn’t already seen these characters developing for an hour already.
What comes after that is a memorable scene involving the Roosevelt Island Tram and a hostage situation. Rutger Hauer plays the villain perfectly, while Stallone goes on yelling things at the top of his lungs like “You’re dead! You’re fucking dead!” The finale is something you’ll have to see, but suffice to say, there’s more cross dressing involved. (Spoiler? Is is possible to spoil a movie from 1981?)
So why Nighthawks? Well, there’s some great performances by actors in their prime, especially Billy Dee Williams, hearing he was in it is why I watched it. The man needs more work. And I’ve already gone on about Rutger. Love that guy. There’s also some good stuff at the end if you can stand getting there. It’s a mindless film trying to be more, and not really accomplishing it. But the effort is worth noting. The music is killer, a synthesizer epic from composer Keith Emerson. A good time overall. AAAANNNDDD, you can watch it for free on Hulu or IMDB, they’re just giving it away. And that’s how it should be. Nighthawks, bringing a whole city to its knees. Chick a wow wow.