Friday, May 27, 2016

Band of the Hand

   I knew I'd seen this exact same premise in motion before... on an episode of MacGyver. Which I can only assume came out around the time of the movie's release, to cash in on it's success. However, it's not like there's any quality competition here. As much as I love Richard Dean Anderson and his rad mullet, this urban action flick, Band of the Hand, by director Paul Michael Glaser is just as rad. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but this tale of reformed hoodlums becoming street justice vigilantes is everything I could've wanted it to be. It's slick, funny, dark, serious, action packed, and never dull.

   The movie opens with short introductions to each of the five delinquents, the main characters, and each intro is capped off with a close up shot of their rap sheet. Immediately, each character has personality and some grave issues to work out. To help them with that, whether they like it or not, is Joe, a Native American... Rambo-esque social worker? I guess? It helps that he's played by Stephen Lang, but at the same time... Lang is clearly not Native American. People in the movie kept calling him 'Tonto' and 'the Indian', and I thought I had legitimately missed a character somehow. But, yeah, no- they were addressing Stephen Lang. The freakin' villain from Avatar. How Wes Studi didn't land this role instead is well beyond me.

   Regardless, the group of teens have to survive the Everglades, and each other- with only Joe as their guide. This covers the first third of the movie more or less. The movie is super predictable, but that doesn't mean it's not fun. Obviously, the teens are gonna learn to work through their hate and their issues, and form a bond. Then, obviously, they go back to the city, and are faced with a new kind of challenge, but with a familiar objective: survival. Is there a more 80's premise imaginable? I don't think so. Surprisingly the movie manages to pull it all off, more or less.

  I was hard pressed to believe some of these guys were actually teens. Though the actors played their parts well, and I saw some familiar faces amongst them, which was really cool. What surprised me the most was how equally convincing they are in the beginning when there's nothing but hate between them all, and then later on when they've learned to respect and even like each other- becoming a small brotherhood. There's some decent dramatic beats, and some genuinely funny moments, but the movie isn't a comedy. Nor is it able to be a straight up drama either.

   The last act of the movie, which the entire thrust of the story has clearly been leading up to- is much less Gran Torino, and more... Commando. Any movie that has a band of teenagers, armed to the teeth with bombs and automatic weapons, taking on a local crime lord and the drug trade... cannot be taken 100% seriously. Nor should it be! This is escapist fantasy meets popcorn entertainment. It's dark, but it's also a feel good movie. The ultimate character arc for the teens is over partway through the second act. As Joe himself says, they've got self respect now, and respect for each other. They've got skills. They can survive. That was the goal the movie presented us with at the outset, and it accomplishes it with still half a movie left to watch.

   This is because the climax in a movie like this can't be an emotional one, it has to be an explosive one. Which is fine by me, but it does admittedly rob the movie of it's more straight-faced gravitas. Throughout the movie, James Remar is being built up as the vile crime lord. He plays the guy with an understated evilness that I don't think I've ever seen from him before or since. He makes a great villain for this little tale, and his demise is mighty cathartic- as is the movie as a whole. Band of the Hand is great 80's fun. It juggles a serious and dramatic concept with over-the-top cheese, and still comes away being entirely entertaining. What's not to like?

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