Saturday, May 23, 2015

Street Law (1974)

          An Italian-made vigilante picture informed by the same zeitgeist that produced Death Wish—which hit U.S. screens only weeks before Street Law debuted in Europe—this nasty little movie has gained a minor cult following. It’s an exciting thriller with tremendous forward momentum, and leading man Franco Nero gives a relentless performance that approaches self-parody, especially because the film’s dialogue was shot in phonetic English and then dubbed during post-production. Other significant flaws include the perfunctory and sexist portrayal of the protagonist’s wife, a greasy musical score shot through with disco colorations, and a fetishistic portrayal of violence. Nonetheless, energy is energy, and Street Law has plenty of that. Accordingly, even though Street Law is so simplistic from a narrative and political perspective that it makes Death Wish seem subtle by comparison, the picture has a crude sort of visceral power that cannot be denied.
          When the movie opens, straight-laced engineer Carlo (Nero) visits a bank for a simple business transaction. Three armed robbers enter the bank, beating anyone who stands in their way, including Carlo. While making their getaway, the criminals abduct Carlo as a hostage, beating him even more along the way and forcing him to endure a terrifying car chase. Eventually, Carlo gets away, only to discover that the police have little hope of catching the crooks and that Carlo’s wife, Barbara (Barbara Bach), expects Carlo to move on with his life. Ashamed and humiliated at the way the criminals treated him, Carlo vows to find and kill his attackers. Yet instead of taking the Death Wish route of annihilating random thugs like they’re symptoms of a disease, Carlo gets methodical. He uses deception and surveillance to infiltrate the underworld, eventually identifying the bank robbers. Later, in a plot twist that strains credibility, Carlo bonds with a crook named Tommy (Giancarlo Prete), who provides Carlo’s ultimate entrée into the world of the bank robbers.
          Street Law is almost a mood piece in the way it strings together larger sequences, some of which are aimless driving montages, and some of which are symphonies of suffering. Carlo gets his ass kicked repeatedly, somehow emerging more resolute each time. The movie offers very little in terms of characterization (Bach, for instance, is barely in the movie), and the whole narrative stems from the iffy notion that a man who won’t fight back isn’t a man. Still, some of Carlo’s resourceful moves are quite clever, and director Enzo Z. Castellari knows how to generate brutal excitement, so nearly every scene in Street Law feels as if it concludes with an exclamation point.

Street Law: FUNKY

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