|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 01 June 2004|
When Don Johnson tried to restart his big-screen career after his TV hit ‘Miami Vice,’ perhaps he should have chosen something other than a police thriller. There’s nothing wrong with ‘Dead-Bang,’ but it’s got few genuinely memorable bits. Seen at home, the movie is easily confused with a well-shot, handsomely produced episodic drama.
In ‘Dead-Bang,’ Johnson plays LAPD Detective Jerry Beck, a man with a rotten personal life (his vindictive ex-wife has a restraining order preventing him from seeing their kids) and a drinking problem. Investigating a cop-killing, Beck finds a trail that leads to the murder of a black grocer and on to a white supremacist group with adherents all over the country.
There is a real Det. Jerry Beck, who co-wrote the film’s story with screenwriter Robert Foster. ‘Dead-Bang’ becomes more interesting when seen in this light, though it’s unclear how much is based on fact and how much is invented; this is one DVD that would benefit from supplemental production notes on the disk. Certainly the Beck we meet here has had some unpleasant run-ins with his colleagues at the FBI. A scant 10 years later, it’s hard to imagine that Federal law officials were (if this depiction is in any way accurate) so utterly reluctant to explore the possibility of connections between home-grown hate groups in the U.S. This aspect of ‘Dead-Bang’ is potentially fascinating, but Foster and director John Frankenheimer work as if under a mandate to roll from action set-piece to action set-piece. It makes for steadily lively viewing, but it also makes ‘Dead-Bang’ resemble countless other cop-tracking-killer tales.
The sound on the ‘Dead-Bang’ DVD is of extremely high quality, with breaths and footfalls as crisp and audible (albeit not as loud) as the gunshots and explosions. Chapter 13 has an especially punchy firefight, with a powerful mixture of weapon sounds, revving engines and music. Chapter 19 provides similarly distinct work with breaking glass, screeching tires and a visually striking nighttime fire -- that is of course somewhat marred by the 1:3:3 framing (which also reinforces the impression that we’re watching a TV episodic).
‘Dead-Bang’ is entertaining in a popcorn-munching way and shows off Johnson’s cranky appeal to good advantage. Viewers seeking a serious examination of the battle between armed U.S./civil law and murderous racists should look elsewhere; those who just want a well-made shoot-‘em-up with a real-life issue or two in the background will be quite content.