Friday, October 13, 2017

1980 Week: Defiance

          The sad decline of Jan-Michael Vincent’s career was well underway when he made this humane but unremarkable urban-violence picture. Vincent does passable work as a dude who stumbles into a war between ghetto dwellers and the savage street gang terrorizing them, and Defiance boasts slick direction by John Flynn as well as appealing supporting turns by Danny Aiello, Art Carney, and Theresa Saldana. Yet the story is predictable, and the action quotient isn’t high enough to satisfy the target audience. Furthermore, because Vincent reportedly spent a fair amount of the production inebriated, Defiance captures the moment just before too many ho-hum movies and too much booze depleted his movie-star capital. A few years after making this picture, Vincent took a job playing second banana to a helicopter on the TV show Airwolf, and things got much, much worse from there.
          In any event, Vincent plays Tommy, a seaman who temporarily loses his work license, forcing him to linger in New York City. He takes a tenement apartment and befriends neighbors including Abe (Carney), Carmine (Aiello), and Marsha (Saldana). These folks live in fear of the Souls, a violent gang led by Angel (Rudy Ramos). The Souls prey upon Tommy’s friends, but he says it’s not his problem until the villains cross a line, triggering Tommy’s violent intervention.
          Rare is the movie that deserves criticism for offering too much character development, but the first hour of Defiance meanders through one pleasant getting-t0-know-you scene after another, so it takes forever to get to the action. Had the picture gone deeper, for instance rendering Angel as a multidimensional character, this intimate approach might have worked. Alas, Defiance exists somewhere between the superficiality of a good B-movie and the substance of a proper dramatic film. Nonetheless, it’s a skillfully made project that benefits from extensive location photography, and Vincent conveys winning vulnerability as well as formidable physicality. He’s more of a presence than a performer here, but he wasn’t so far gone that his gifts had completely left him.

Defiance: FUNKY


Unknown said...

Quick housekeeping note: I may be the only person on Earth who notices this, but if I come here and click Sandcastles, I get Same Time Next Year instead -- just like clicking Same Time Next Year does and is supposed to. Anyhow, I remember this movie from 80s TV and got a mild kick out of it. White Line Fever, Vigilante Force, Shadow of the Hawk, Defiance, a TV movie which seems to be alternately called The Tribe or Tribes -- a Jan-Michael Vincent film festival may never be quite excellent, but it has its diversions.

greg6363 said...

Surprisingly, Vincent was the highest paid actor on prime-time television during that period of time between 1983-1986. His $250,000 per episode salary was higher than even Larry Hagman or Carroll O'Connor.

Guy Callaway said...

I spent some time on the set of 'Xtro 2' (1990), and can confirm what a mess poor JMV had become.
I thought I'd pass on some observations, but decided against it - suffice to say he could, amazingly, deliver his lines but beyond that... very sad.

By Peter Hanson said...

More recently, I Vincent lost a leg to disease -- as if the damage from several drunk-driving accidents wasn't bad enough. Last time I saw him interviewed, he was barely recognizable, his voice was a raspy whisper, and he demonstrated severely limited recall of his own life. Sad indeed.

Guy Callaway said...

Jeez, I wasn't aware of the leg.
He was up here (Vancouver) a few times, on 'Shadow Of The Hawk', and one of the incarnations of 'Airwolf' - shot in an ex-brewery. irony!