Anchor Bay // 1982 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // August 14th, 2000
He just wants to be left alone. I'd advise you to do just that.
A small-budget, offbeat action film made by a collection of friends, Ruckus knows enough not to take itself too seriously and is the better for it! Anchor Bay gives this nearly unknown film a commendable DVD presentation.
Writer/Director Max Kleven is far better known for his work on stunts and as a second unit director on such big budget films as Wild Wild West, the Back to the Future trilogy, and Silver Streak. (I had to mention that last; it's a personal favorite!) As he mentioned on the disc, Max Kleven wrote the story for Ruckus on the back of the script of a "terrible" film he was in. More or less on a lark, and with some luck, he brought together some of his actor friends, notably Ben Johnson (Wild Bunch, The Last Picture Show, Red Dawn) and Richard Farnsworth (The Two Jakes, Misery, The Straight Story), finagled the financing and even had country star Willie Nelson contribute music. "[It] was something that was just put together with friends," Kleven remembers. Studio politics complicated the theatrical release plans for Ruckus (i.e. it sat on a shelf for a couple of years and then went to cable), but finally we can all see what we have missed.
The story is not that complicated. Traumatized Vietnam veteran Kyle Hanson (Dirk Benedict), an ex-Special Forces soldier, wanders into a small Southern town with a dirty face, few words, and a desire to be left alone. When local business magnate Mr. Bellows (Ben Johnson) wants to know if this lonely soul knew his missing-in-action son, he asks some of the local folks to ask Kyle on his behalf. Well, Kyle doesn't want to talk much, which gets the folks riled up, leading to a most unfortunate confrontation. A few kicks, punches, and a throw of one assailant into the river later, Kyle silently walks off leaving bruised bodies and egos in his wake. The local Sheriff (Richard Farnsworth) does not fare better when Kyle eludes his grasp, stealing Sheriff Pough's police cruiser in the bargain.
Kyle finds an unlikely refuge in the home of Jenny (Linda Blair), the daughter-in-law of Mr. Bellows. She is initially scared of this stranger, but slowly recognizes his humanity and deep inner pain. Meanwhile, the locals are quite miffed at this stranger, and for reasons never entirely made clear continue to hunt Kyle with dogged perseverance, suffering further indignities (and exploding or otherwise damaged cars and boats) as he continues to elude their grasp. In order to have a suitable finale, Kyle comes out into public (on a "date" with Jenny at the local fair) just long enough to get captured, taunted, and mildly abused by the locals before again escaping and leading the mob on another chase. Kyle wants his peace, the locals want blood, and Mr. Bellows holds the balance of power between them. In the end, it is Mr. Bellows who finds a lasting solution.
Though Ruckus may inevitably be compared to its more famous cousin First Blood, it in fact preceded that Stallone flick, though the general plot of a misanthropic loner beset by a posse of narrow-minded locals is not exactly original, either. What works in Ruckus's favor is a lean script that does not belabor the plight of the Vietnam veteran hero and that uses a certain light-hearted touch to the action so that we never feel that anyone is in serious danger of grievous bodily harm When the twang-twang music starts up during chase scenes, you know that Ruckus is not a serious film, and you cannot help but laugh.
As for the acting side of the ledger, well, sometimes you may laugh here as well, though this may not be wholly intended. Dirk Benedict (best known for his roles as Lt. "Face" Peck on "The A-Team" and Lt. Starbuck on "Battlestar Galactica") seems out of his depth during the first half of Ruckus when he has nearly zero dialogue and wanders around with a dirt-painted face, occasionally coming out of his funk with a horribly contrived scream to hand out some old-fashioned ass-whuppin. Once he cleans up and is allowed to converse like a reasonable human, Dirk Benedict is on much firmer ground, conveying a sense of Hanson's conflicted desire for isolation as well as Jenny's company.
Linda Blair (forever known for The Exorcist) is appropriately sweet and earnest, but she has no chemistry with Dirk Benedict and lacks the emotional depth I would expect of someone whose husband is missing in action and presumed dead. However, the solid, unpretentious acting by Richard Farnsworth and Ben Johnson are worth a look. In each case, you can sense the devotion to the acting craft that have sustained their careers over many, many decades.
Surprisingly for such a low budget, obscure film, Anchor Bay saw fit to grace Ruckus with a satisfactory anamorphic video transfer. As I note below with the sound, nobody is going to confuse this with a reference quality modern transfer. Sharpness is fair to poor, shadow detail is severely limited, and light spatterings of film defects and dirt bits on at least one occasion become a heavy thunderstorm of "film crud" (for lack of a better term). On the up side, flesh tones are accurate (very important to help you spot the real rednecks!), colors decently saturated, and I did not notice any digital enhancement artifacting.
The mono sound is adequate for dialogue, though of course it lacks the directionality and bass response necessary to support an action movie. If you are looking for an audio demo disc, this ain't it! On the other hand, the track is clean and has reasonable frequency response across the spectrum.
While normally the limited extra content on Ruckus would be cause for criticism, with a small film of this age I am happy that Anchor Bay gives us a commentary track made for the DVD release and a talent bio section for Max Kleven, Dirk Benedict, and Linda Blair. The commentary features that same trio as they have a grand time remembering the making of Ruckus, which clearly was indeed a friendly undertaking. Kleven, Benedict, and Blair take delight in poking fun at themselves and the movie as they tell many anecdotes about the filming process, their respective creative perspectives, and some remembrances of their other friends on the set and their now departed colleagues (notably Ben Johnson).
Ruckus is the sort of film you can either look at as a glass half full or half empty. If you are in a mood to tolerate light-hearted, slightly goofy action, dimwit locals outsmarted by a lone innocent tortured soul, and Willie Nelson-style twangy music, it can be a pleasant if insubstantial experience. If you are not in the right mood to appreciate the low-budget charms and ripe Mystery Science Theater 3000 material of Ruckus, then you will find no shortage of story, acting, or directorial aspects that you can rip to shreds.
One minor though persistent criticism stands. Every film, without exception, simply must have at least English captions for a Region 1 release. There is no excuse for making it harder than necessary for the hearing impaired to understand what is going on in a movie by not including captions. Tsk, tsk.
If you hated "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "The A-Team," or if you were cheering for the law to catch up with Rambo in First Blood, then you probably should give Ruckus a pass. For the rest of you, consider a rental of Ruckus if you and your friends are in the mood for this sort of high grade B-movie not-so-serious action. If you decide that Ruckus is your kind of flick, retail is a so-so $25.
Anchor Bay continues to show the big studios that even a tiny, obscure film deserves unique extra content and an anamorphic video transfer, and is therefore acquitted on that basis. Ruckus, well, it ain't hurtin' anybody jest sittin' over thar, so I jest let it be. Court's adjourned! (spit)
Review content copyright © 2000 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Commentary Track
* Talent Bios
* Kamikaze Cowboy (Dirk Benedict site)