Case Number 13943: Small Claims Court


Legend Films // 1986 // 83 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // June 30th, 2008

The Charge

It's below Miami and above the law!

The Case

Legend Films continues their streak of releasing forgotten Paramount releases on DVD. The 1986 thriller Blue City, based on a novel by mystery writer Ross MacDonald (creator of private eye Lew Archer), was deemed a bomb when first released. Barely scraping seven million at the box office, reviled by critics, and even getting five Razzie nominations, it seemed like this film would never see the light of digital day. Now that's back in the spotlight, is it really as bad as its reputation paints it to be?

One-time troublemaker Billy Turner (Judd Nelson, The Breakfast Club) has just returned to his hometown after five years. On arrival, he finds himself in a bar brawl and thrown in the slammer...a reflection of his past history. Billy expects his father (Blue City's mayor) to bail him out, though he was mysteriously gunned down last summer. Now, with the aid of his former best friend Joey (David Caruso, CSI: Miami) and Joey's younger sister Annie (Ally Sheedy, St. Elmo's Fire), Billy is determined to bring his dad's killer to justice.

Billy's main target is Perry Kerch (Scott Wilson, Junebug), a successful gambler and brothel owner. While he has no direct evidence, he does know as soon as his father got killed, Kerch's business began to skyrocket and expand. However, his Barney-badass style doesn't mesh well with police Chief Luther Reynolds (Paul Winfield, Sounder), who is bound and determined to keep a tight leash on this loose cannon.

Let's get right to the guts of it: Blue City is a bad film. However, I didn't come away hating it as the celluloid crap it's reputed to be. If anything, the film isn't boring, and its short running time gives it a quick, almost rapid-fire pace. What seriously hurt the proceedings are the awful acting, nonexistent direction, and a juvenile script. If all of these three vital elements fail, you pretty much have a clunker, and Blue City is no exception, despite some nice touches here and there.

Starting with the acting, it's no big surprise that Nelson is the biggest problem. While watching his character in Blue City, I was reminded many times of The Breakfast Club. One scene in particular had the principal tell all the students, "Look at him...he's a bum! You want to see something funny? You go see John Bender in five years. You'll see how funny he is!" Nelson's character in Blue City is pretty much an extension of John Bender, except he's decided to hook up with Ally Sheedy instead of Molly Ringwald. It's not a good thing if an actor cannot give a performance which makes one forget of a previous incarnation.

Nelson isn't just a victim of miscasting. His character just makes no sense, starting with his mysterious disappearance for five years, which is never adequately explained. Billy suggests that he was on a "nature mission" of sorts; Nelson is the last actor I'd buy as a former transcendentalist. His Axel Foley-like riffs are more annoying than compelling and, despite his predicament, I couldn't find any reason to care about or root for him. It's clear he's trying to steer clear of his Brat Pack image by paying a gritty tough guy, though he just ends up being a smart-ass loser.

As for Ally Sheedy, she's certainly cute 'n perky as the love interest. She is also seriously wasted, with body movements more appropriate for Johnny Five in Short Circuit. The great Scott Wilson is utterly hammy as the antagonist, constantly chewing dialogue and spitting it out. On the plus side, David Caruso seems to be having fun, and Paul Winfield is (as always) rock-solid. Also, keep an eye out for Tommy "Tiny" Lister, Jr. (Friday) in one of his first films as one of Kerch's thugs, a giant hulk amusingly named "Tiny."

Considering the amount of harsh violence, it's surprising that Blue City was directed by a woman. In this case it was Michelle Manning, producer of the John Hughes films Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. This would be her sole venture into directing -- not counting episodes for Miami Vice and Friday The 13th -- before becoming the production head of Paramount Pictures! Regardless of her impressive accomplishments, she is no director. The camera shots feel generic and lifeless, and she seems to think the only requirement for making us care about a character is a facial close-up.

Admittedly, I didn't read the literary source of Blue City. As a result, I can't help but get the feeling that top screenwriters Lukas Heller (The Dirty Dozen) and Walter Hill (Alien) just didn't have enough faith in the material. The central storyline of the 1947 novel is here, but it's seemingly destroyed by an unlikeable lead character and a plot thin as a wafer. What's more, they give their characters no dimensions or layers to make them anything more than caricatures. For example, they seem to be high on the idea that if you give a guy a motorcycle and some four-letter words, he's automatically a tough rebel. Negative! (On an interesting side note, the motorcycle Billy rides is the exact same one that Richard Gere cruised on in An Officer And A Gentleman, which also co-starred Caruso.)

As with the many other Paramount titles provided by Legend Films, the print is faded and scratchy more often than not. It seems to me they are merely taking old VHS copies, giving them one brief polish, and calling it a day. Still, for an obscure film like Blue City, it's not really unexpected. The only other bit of praise I can give to the film is the awesome rock score (courtesy of Ry Cooder), which sounds just fine in the 2.0 stereo track. No bonus features at all, which is also not surprising in the least; I reckon the principals don't rate this film high on their resume anyway.

While Cooder and Winfield are free to go, Blue City and everyone else involved are found guilty.

Review content copyright © 2008 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile
Studio: Legend Films
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* None

Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* None

* IMDb

* Wikipedia: Ross MacDonald