Judge Paul Pritchard is never off limits.
"You still don't get it, do you? We're never outgunned!"
Vietnam vet Gordon Hudson (Paul Winfield, The Terminator) returns home to find the streets of Harlem overrun with drug dealers. The problem really hits home when Gordon discovers his wife has also fallen to narcotics addiction, forcing Gordon's hand. Together with three friends who also served in 'Nam, Gordon begins fighting back against the pushers and pimps, to bring to an end the violence that plagues his city's streets.
In Off Limits Buck McGiff (Willem Dafoe, Antichrist) and Albaby Perkins (Gregory Hines, Running Scared) are called in to investigate the murder of a prostitute in war torn Saigon, 1968. Their investigation reveals several other murders where each of the murdered women had been in a relationship with U.S. servicemen. With nobody seemingly willing to cooperate with their investigation, it's not long before the only assistance the two men can call upon is that of Sister Nicole (Amanda Pays, The Flash), and their NCO, Master Sergeant Dix (Fred Ward). While the war continues unabated around them, and their leads introduce them to increasingly dangerous characters, McGiff and Perkins soon find their own lives in danger as they press on with the case, later discovering that previous investigations had been shut down following interference from higher up the chain of command.
The two movies share billing on Gordon's War / Off Limits from Shout Factory.
Gordon's War, released in 1973, moves fast. With only a few minutes allocated to setting up the story, the film gets into top gear practically from the off, as Gordon and his crew tackle the drug peddling scum of Harlem corner by corner. It doesn't matter that Gordon is able to set up his operation with little in the way of available resources; the viewer is simply asked to just accept that he has a kickass command post with all kinds of surveillance kit ready to go. Gordon's War is not interested in offering a realistic portrait on the drugs problem that exists on the streets of Harlem. Instead it offers a simplistic morality play, a tale of good versus evil where the outcome is never beyond doubt.
Gordon's War is hardly an original work, but succeeds by virtue of the craftsmanship that has gone into the film. Victor J. Kemper's cinematography lends the film a gritty aesthetic that in many ways helps paper over the screenplays lack of depth. Likewise, the cast, particularly Paul Winfield and Gilbert Lewis, deliver authentic performances that never leave the viewer in any doubt as to how badass these guys are. By looking and acting the part, Gordon's War is able to overcome any shortcomings it may possess.
The film comes with a commentary track featuring cinematographer Victor J. Kemper, and actor Tony King. The two make for a surprisingly good combination, with King offering up a series of anecdotes, and Kemper (who also worked on such diverse films as Dog Day Afternoon and National Lampoon's Vacation) providing a more technical insight into the film. Also included are a selection of trailers and TV spots.
The DVD transfer is generally good, when taking into account the film's age and budget. There's a mild level of grain, and occasional signs of damage to the print. Otherwise the 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is a reasonably sharp, with natural colors and good black levels. The stereo soundtrack is serviceable, with dialogue at least remaining clear.
If Off Limits shares any similarity with Gordon's War, it is in its lackluster and rather formulaic plot. What helps distinguish the film from the overcrowded police procedural genre is its setting. Set against the backdrop of war, and dealing with a race-related series of murders, Off Limits has much potential, but not once does it use its setting to its advantage. Rather, writer/director Christopher Crowe (who also wrote the screenplay for The Last of the Mohicans) seems content to put the emphasis on the performances of his cast.
It's as well that the cast is up to task, considering how it is their work that ultimately makes or breaks the film, a task not made any easier by the one-dimensional characters. Hines and Dafoe prove a good combination, and both are dependable actors, so dependable, in fact, that they are able to practically sleep walk their way through the movie yet still keeping the viewer interested. Stealing the film from under their noses, however, is Scott Glenn (Sucker Punch), as an out-of-his-mind suspect. His role may be small, but it is memorable for Glenn's near-psychotic reading of the role. Also offering more than able support is Fred Ward (Tremors). These actors do well to keep the viewers attention away from the repetitive plot and ensure that Off Limits is worth a look.
Crowe's direction, though not flashy, still suggests he could have had a much more celebrated career as a director. Problems with the screenplay aside, his work behind the camera results in a slick-looking film, and he keeps the story moving along at a quick pace. It's a source of much frustration that everyone puts in solid work that is undone by such an unambitious screenplay. There are moments that shine, with Keith David's (Requiem For a Dream) memorable turn as a fast-talking, no-nonsense serviceman instantly grabbing the attention, but these are far too few in number. Even the potentially explosive racial tensions between the Americans and Vietnamese fails to ignite, with nothing more than a few heated looks and racial slurs managing to creep in.
Off Limits is a perfect movie for anyone scouring the channels late at night; it's uncomplicated, fast paced, and contains just enough action to keep you watching. Whether you would want to own it on DVD is another matter.
Off Limits is presented in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. The print is showing signs of damage, and grain is evident throughout. The image does appear soft at times, with a lack of fine detail. The stereo soundtrack does its job with no fuss, but no thrills either. The only extra included is a commentary track featuring director Crowe and lead actor Willem Dafoe.
Neither film is original, and it's debatable just how much replay value they have. As a double feature, though, there's just enough here to warrant a not guilty verdict.
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