Monday, August 23, 2010

Review: Vice Squad

Synopsis: Pimps, hookers, lowlife scum... you'll find them all in the big city, where sex and violence rule the landscape. But that's just another typical night on the mean streets for the Vice Squad!

Review: I'm something of an amateur devotee of low budget, grindhouse films. From flicks of the 60's to the present, I've seen my fair share. However, "Vice Squad" is one that will probably always standout to me, both in good ways and bad.

The basic plot is that a prostitute named "Princess" (played by Season Hubley) helps a seasoned vice cop (played by Gary Swanson) to take down a violent and deranged pimp named "Ramrod" (played by Wings Hauser), after he kills another prostitute friend of her's (played by Nina Blackwood), but soon becomes the target of the pimp's homicidal rage, after he escapes custody. Now the race is on between the vice squad and Ramrod, as to who will get to Princess first! The film is certainly not for the faint of heart, or those who easily offend. No punches are pulled in the violence and degradation that is shown.

It has a sort of gritty realism to it, but it doesn't quite make it over the hump to where you totally buy it. This is due to the stretching of credibility in some key moments. I mean, would an entire vice squad really go all out to find a single prostitute, even if her life were in danger? No, probably not. One cop, maybe two, but not the whole squad. And the violent pimp, who seems to constantly flip from calm to psychopathic at the drop of hat, would he really be able to intimidate all the hard players of this underbelly of civilized society? Again, probably not. So, when such instances happen, it takes you out of the moment and costs the film a lot of the dramatic tension it's trying to build.

Director Gary Sherman certainly does a nice job of portraying the seedier side of the big city (in this case Hollywood), as the grunge and sleaze of society's "forgotten people" is well displayed almost constantly. Sadly, though, there is little shown to us beneath that grimy surface. You never get into the minds of any of the players. You get a brief scene with Princess sending her daughter away, to show she has a softer side, but you never get much context on it. Even worse is Gary Swanson's play at the vice cop who gives a damn. Besides a very wooden performance, you never really get any insight into his reasons for being a vice cop. As he is asked at the film's end, "Why do you do it, Walsh? The streets are never going to change." The question is never answered, either to the character in the film or the audience.

The one solid bit here, is Wings Hauser's turn as the ultra-violent Ramrod. He plays it up for all he's worth here. He is certainly one of the perennial heavies of the 80's, both in film and television, but he steps things up a notch here, going from mean to downright brutal. His use of a coat hanger to whip up on prostitutes, shows a level of darkness that goes beyond ordinary misogyny. While most of the other actors just sort of plod along in their roles, Wings uses his to be a force of nature in the story, which is where most of the drama and action stems from.

The film is certainly not what one would call "classic," either in the award-winning sense or otherwise, but despite it's many flaws, it still manages to hold your attention and stick with you long after you've watched it. Whether that is due to it having that special 80's vibe, that made many less-than-stellar films give you that sensation, or merely the fact you can't look away from the sometimes over-the-top slimy nature of it all, I can't say for sure. All I can say is that, for good or ill, this is one film you won't soon forget.

Rating: 2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

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