Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Film Review: FLASHPOINT (1984, William Tannen)

Stars: 4.2 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Tag-line: "A wrecked jeep.... A skeleton.... A rifle... $800,000 dollars in cash..."
Notable Cast or Crew: Treat Williams (DEAD HEAT, HAIR, PRINCE OF THE CITY), Kris Kristofferson (LONE STAR, BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, PAYBACK), Rip Torn (EXTREME PREJUDICE, WILD 90), Kurtwood Smith (ROBOCOP, RAMBO III, THAT 70's SHOW), Kevin Conway (The 90's OUTER LIMITS, F.I.S.T.), Miguel Ferrer (Albert on TWIN PEAKS, ROBOCOP), and Jean Smart (PROJECT X, DESIGNING WOMEN). Music by Tangerine Dream. Written by the underrated Dennis Shryack and Michael Butler (CODE OF SILENCE, PALE RIDER, FIFTY/FIFTY) and based on the novel by George La Foutaine, Sr.
Best exchange: "Like my Daddy always said, 'If you can't get out of it, get into it.'" –"I thought your daddy used to say, 'If you can't fix it, fuck it.'" "He said that, too."

FLASHPOINT is a little known 80's gem from director William Tannen (Chuck Norris' HERO AND THE TERROR and Larry Cohen's DEADLY ILLUSION- not to be confused with F/X 2: THE DEADLY ART OF ILLUSION), who manages to toe the odd line between the sensibilities of Sam Peckinpah and Oliver Stone. I'll be careful not to disclose too much about the plot itself, but suffice it to say that two border patrol agents make a discovery in the desert (see the tag-line) which may or may not bring with it some overwhelming repercussions.

Frequently touted only as a JFK conspiracy flick, the film has significantly less to do with the assassination's cover-up than it does with the powers of the (capital S) System encroaching on the rights of its unwilling subjects. It has an anti-technology slant, to be sure, but only so far as in it is against technology's hijacking by the powers that be for use as, shall we say, a blunt instrument (our heroes frequently feign walkie-talkie malfunction to fleetingly slow the System's bureaucratic juggernaut, which threatens to replace them with robotic sensors).

Meet your replacement.

Orwell tells us "if [we] want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever..."

Well, who's moving to prevent that? In FLASHPOINT, its guys like the 'Nam vet Kris Kristofferson, who'd ordinarily like nothing more than to remain beneath the System's radar:

the intrepid Treat Williams, who believes that inner righteousness will see the storm through:

and the irascible Rip Torn, a sheriff (much like his character in 1987's EXTREME PREJUDICE; he even says the line "The only thing worse than a politician is a child molester," which he would use again with élan) whose hillbilly aphorisms and preference for sour mash disguise a tremendous understanding of the sheer scope of the System's various wheels and gears.

Representing the System is the reptilian Kurtwood Smith, a flag-pin wearin' creep who literally thanks God every day for drugs, murder, and subversion- the general pretenses for said boot stamping.

That oily devil.

Tangerine Dream supplies one of their best, ethereally pulsating scores (on par with RISKY BUSINESS and THE PARK IS MINE!); there's excellent bit parts by Kevin Conway and an always-snarky Miguel Ferrer:

Miguel Ferrer prepares to unleash a blistering remark that will both delight and appall.

there's a certain amount of levity and buddy-bonding:

("Which one you want?" "-The mean one." "You're a sick man."), and it all adds up to an understated thriller that's well worth your while. It's not action-packed by any means, but the payoffs are well-earned and quite satisfying. I'd even say that the mood of the picture has resonated onward and has certainly influenced films such as WHITE SANDS and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. A touch over four stars.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Underrated is right! I've always felt that this film featured some of the best work Kris Kristofferson or Treat Williams ever did. Great stuff and so under the radar. Most people aren't really aware of this film which is a damn shame.

And yes, the Tangerine Dream soundtrack is fantastic. In fact, I heard the soundtrack before I ever saw the film as my dad was (is) a HUGE fan of TD.

Interesting, I never thought of it in relation to NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN but no that you mention it...

Sean Gill said...

What's funny is that I heard the soundtrack before I saw it, as well- I'm a huge fan of TD, and made an effort to see all of their 80's soundtrack movies (THREE O'CLOCK HIGH, THE KEEP, VISION QUEST, FIRESTARTER, MIRACLE MILE, THIEF, THE PARK IS MINE etc, etc.). Still haven't seen WAVELENGTH. But their body of film work almost has a consistently level of quality- I don't know if it's luck, coincidence, or if a TD soundtrack really elevates a film.

But FLASHPOINT definitely belongs near the forefront of the "conspiracy flick" canon, and it's also a worthy product of Peckinpah's legacy. Because of the Tannen connection, I almost was expecting a similar caliber film from HERO AND THE TERROR, but it pretty much falls flat, even for a Chuck Norris vehicle.

J.D. said...

I dunno, if you heard but STREET HAWK is finally coming out on DVD this summer and, of course, TD did the theme song (insanely memorable) for it. I forget if they actually did the music for the show as well but I always remember the theme music and loving the show. Can't wait to see it again.

Sean Gill said...

Did not know about STREET HAWK- I've never seen it and look forward to checking it out. I have heard the Theme, though, as it's on the Le Parc TD album, I believe.

Justin O'Neill said...

Thanks for your post on a movie that doesn't have much written about it. Enjoyed it.

I recently watched "Extreme Prejudice" as well and I wanted to point out that it was actually Nick Nolte who played the Sheriff in that movie. Rip Torn played his boyhood friend/drug kingpin.

Both enjoyable movies that are available on HBO GO right now.

Justin O'Neill said...

Retract previous comment...I was thinking of Powers Boothe. My bad!

Sean Gill said...


Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you enjoyed- there's not enough love out there for FLASHPOINT.

I'm also a big EXTREME PREJUDICE fan– and actually, Rip plays a supporting sheriff-mentor figure to Nolte in that flick, and Powers Boothe plays the childhood buddy/kingpin. Interestingly enough and true to his penchant for improvised dialogue, Rip utters the exact same line, "The only thing worse than a politician is a child molester" in both films.

Sean Gill said...


Just now saw your retraction. Carry on!