In the police vehicle lot, we meet Jesse Mach (Rex Smith) - yes, whose name is pronounced like the measurement of speed - a former teen dirtbike racing champ turned motorcycle cop, and his partner Marty (Rebert Beltran). Marty is taking bets while Jesse, in stars-and-stripes helmet and cape, pulls an Evel Knievel as he jumps his bike over four squad cars. Just as they collect their winnings, they're busted by no-nonsense Lieutenant Commander Leo Altobelli (Richard Venture), who suspends the duo for two weeks.
The two buddies, deflated but not defeated, head off to their favorite off-road racing range for a little fun. Marty messes with Jesse's bike and races off, knowing there's no other way he could possibly beat his friend. While Jesse hurriedly repairs the motor, he's approached by Norman Tuttle (Joe Regalbuto), a nebbish engineer who wants to recruit Jesse for a clandestine federal program called Street Hawk. Jesse brushes him off and races in pursuit of Marty. While this has been going on, Marty accidentally stumbles across the same black SUV, owned by local drug lord Anthony Corrido (Christopher Lloyd - yes, that Christopher Lloyd), which is passing the stolen drugs to a plane. The SUV roars off in pursuit of Marty and he's dead in a field by the time Jesse discovers him. Before Jesse has a chance to react, the SUV runs him over, too.
Jesse survives, but his left knee is completely destroyed, leaving him hobbling with a cane. Unable to ride a motorcycle, he's bumped over to a job in public affairs where he works under press secretary Sandy McCoy (Jayne Modean). With the thrill of the race crushed in his heart, Jesse starts blowing off work to instead dig into the murder of his partner, the official investigation of which has been buried under Internal Affairs red tape. Jesse's actions catch the attention of the Commissioner (Lawrence Pressman), who passes word along to his business partner: Corrido.
Tuttle once again contacts Jesse, who's suddenly a bit more willing to hear about Project: Street Hawk. Tuttle leads him to a seemingly abandoned warehouse that hides a Batcave, complete with supercomputer and workout room, as well as a super duper tricked out spectacular motorcycle filled with jet boosters, lasers, and an ejector seat. Jesse signs on to the projected and goes through the extensive and exhaustive training, which includes rebuilding his knee with an experimental prosthesis. Despite this, Jesse is told to maintain his job in the public relations department, wearing a brace to maintain the illusion of his wrecked knee so no one will suspect his involvement in testing out the bike.
Jesse finally completes his training and takes the bike out onto the streets. Despite Tuttle's insistence that he's only supposed to test out the features, Jesse can't help but stop a little crime, which quickly spreads to the media. All they can talk about is this new Street Hawk fella, which has Altobelli up in arms against what he considers a dangerous vigilante, and Tuttle angry because this could threaten his dream of seeing a bike like this fighting crime as part of every police station in the country. It's not long before Jesse is in pursuit of the dirtbikers when they pull yet another drug heist on a police van, chasing them both over and under the streets, racing through sewer tunnels before leading them right into the waiting custody of police.
Sandy, though miffed at the amount of work Jesse's been missing, agrees to help him look for his partner's killer and tracks some paint scraping of Corrido's SUV to a custom body shop where she also encounters the Commissioner. His cover blown, he takes Sandy hostage and brings her to Corrido's mansion, where the druglord is planning to flee the country following the arrest of his bikers.
While chasing the bikers, Jesse caught a glimpse of the SUV, recognizing it as the vehicle that nearly killed him. Tuttle plays back the view from the Street Hawk helmet, recovering the license plate number and matching it to Corrido. Tuttle doesn't want Jesse compromising the bike over a reckless vendetta and plans to pass the numbers to the proper authorities, but Jesse locks the scientists in the workout room, disables the supercomputer, and races off with the bike.
Jesse makes it to Corrido's, rescues Sandy, and gets into a fire fight followed by a massive chase once the police arrive. Corrido recognizes Street Hawk as Jesse and tries running him down. Jesse uses a supposedly impossible combination of his bike's gadgets to pull a full backflip over the black SUV, landing safely behind the vehicle as it plunges off a cliff, taking Corrido with it.
The day is saved. Sandy and Altobelli are left dealing with the wave of media interest in Street Hawk while Tuttle confronts Jesse for his actions and continues to disbelieve that such a backflip was possible.
Let's be honest up front: this didn't entirely exceed my expectations. While, no, it wasn't a money laundering scheme, the central criminals were still stiff white guys in suits lounging around a mansion the production rented for the day. While it's neat seeing Christopher Lloyd in a time between his iconic roles in both Taxi and Back to the Future, he underplays the role to a fault here. Yes, his gaunt features and height do make for an imposing villain, but he mostly drones things out in a monotone that lacks any real spark or distinction. While there is a great scene of him threatening a man by taking a screwdriver to a paint job, it's a little hard to be frightened of the man when you see him in a really ugly fur coat and a tiny blue speedo.
Yes, Christopher Lloyd in a blue speedo. Don't just imagine it, soak it in.
I also have some big problems with the Street Hawk program. First of all, why heal Jesse's leg? That seems like a problem that should continue to haunt the character, a reminder of his limitations which returns every time he steps away from the awesome power of his wonder bike. By removing the injury, you rob him of the complexity and pathos we'll see when we eventually get around to covering M.A.N.T.I.S.. Secondly, why is it so important for Jesse to retain a cover identity at the police headquarters where he has to hobble around pretending his leg is still injured? It's a secret identity for no other reason that to have a secret identity. Tuttle says it's a way to keep people from connecting Jesse with Street Hawk, but if that's all you want, you could just have him pull an early retirement where he can still fake his injury, but won't be bound to a 9-to-5 schedule and people who constantly notice he's skipping out on work.
But lets push all that aside for the moment as I admit I really quite enjoyed this pilot. As with any show, the heart comes from the bond of the leads, and you get that in heaps from the My Two Dads figures of Jesse and Tuttle, and their shared offspring, the motorcycle. Tuttle is the bookish and calculating father who wants to make sure his child is cared for and developed properly. Jesse is the brash man of the streets who wants to take the kid out to experience life first hand. Instead of this being a show about brains vs. brawn, it's a competition of parenting skills where the two completely turn on one another in the moments leading up to the climax.
I'm also very impressed by the actors playing the two leads. I said in my last piece that I'm not the world's biggest Joe Regalbuto fan, but I think he may have just won me over with his delicate dedication to his dream of creating the perfect tool to benefit all of law enforcement. As for Rex Smith as Jesse, he wasn't the empty stud I was expecting. He's got some gangle to his trim build, some boyish wonder to his eyes, some "Aw, shucks!" drawl to his delivery that really brings this character down to earth and keeps him from being either stiff or overly wild. In the supporting department, Richard Venture as Altobelli is a little flat, hitting all the notes of a Commander who barks at the reckless cops while throwing back coffee mugs filled with Pepto Bismol. Jayne Modean is decent as Sandy McCoy, but she also hits the old notes of looking pretty, rolling her eyes at the hero, and getting kidnapped. Typical token supporting female. I'm curious to see if her replacement in the next episode gets a chance to do any better, or if it's par for the course.
The main centerpiece of the show, the motorcycle itself, looks a little clunky and mocked up when it's sitting there in good lighting, but once Jesse climbs on in that great jumpsuit and helmet, and it's racing through the streets at night, there's some fantastic imagery. Yeah, it does the old trick of hitting slow mo and showing people gaping in awe as it pulls off simple jumps with epic whooshing noises, but the production makes up for it with some really impressive stunt crashes and racing shots. My favorite is when the hyper thrust kicks in for the first time, the super computer taking over as pilot to maneuver the bike through traffic filled streets at several hundred miles per hour. The lights become a time-lapse smear, reflecting off Jesse's black helmet as he holds on for the ride of his life.
I think I'm going to enjoy this show. I doubt it's going to break any formulas, which will prevent me from loving it as a lost classic, but I'll bet the next twelve episode have enough slick action and fun character banter to keep me entertained.
With the above in mind, I really enjoyed the pilot movie for Street Hawk. There are a few problems specific to this episode, but the basic core of the show is strong. Right from the opening credits, it shifts into high gear with a satisfying blend of exciting, well-choreographed chase sequences, humor, and slick MTV-era imagery all set to a rocking synth soundtrack.
I agree with Noel about the cast. Smith and Regalbuto make for a pair of likeable leads and share a natural, unforced chemistry. Incidentally, I was glad to see that Noel changed his opinion on Regalbuto, because a poor man’s Matt Frewer is a poor man indeed. Richard Venture (tee hee hee) already seems bored, lacking the spark Gerald O'Loughlin brought to his similar role as Captain Boyd on the previously reviewed Automan. And Jayne Modean, we hardly knew ya. It’s a thankless role (see 80s hot Roxanne Caldwell, also from Automan) and Modean adds nothing to it, often looking as though she just stumbled in off the set of The Facts of Life. I was pleasantly surprised to see the great Christopher Lloyd’s name in the opening credits, but his performance as the villain isn’t just subdued, it’s inert. The screwdriver scene is awesome, though.
The plot feels a bit weak for an origin story. They hit all the hero notes with almost Campbellian perfection - the call, the refusal, the supernatural aid, the crossing of the first threshold - but the scope of the villain’s plan and his own personal menace feel a bit meh, and trying to make it personal by having the villain injure the hero and kill his best friend, while they’re off duty, is a bit too convenient.
But a show like Street Hawk is made or broken by the action, and it’s here that it really delivers. In this Michael Bay world we live in, it's really refreshing to see chase sequences that are not only exciting, but always give the audience a clear sense of geography. The jumps, of which there are many, are also well executed. There’s something a bit more majestic about seeing a motorcycle fly through the air, as opposed to a car.
It’s only one down and twelve to go, and I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but the pilot of Street Hawk already rises above many of its contemporaries - including Knight Rider - eschewing the cheesiness and camp of the latter in favor an attitude that’s a bit more... cool.
Thoughts and observations:
- The prologue (which, in all fairness, isn't attached until episode two) says that Jesse Mach was injured in the line of duty. But Mach was actually injured while racing through the desert with his buddy while on suspension from the force. The prologue also says that Mach is a police troubleshooter, but in the pilot he works for police public relations. It makes me wonder if they tweaked a few of the origin details between the pilot and the first actual episode.
- Use of licensed pop music is almost non-existent in the pilot, but there are a few instances where I'm guessing that music has been replaced for the DVD. In one scene near the beginning, we hear an instrumental synth version of Kenny Loggins' "Footloose", and in a workout montage as Jesse rehabs his injuries, we hear a generic synth track that I can almost guarantee was an actual pop song during the original broadcast.
- Noel's My Two Dads analogy is brilliant, but a pox on his house for making me think about Paul Reiser.
- I'm pleased to announce that I'm dusting off the 'ol White Guys Conspiring Around a Pool Count, which now stands at 1.
Tune in next Saturday Morning as we take a closer look at the pilot episode of Street Hawk, through both the novelization and the unaired alternate cut.
If you'd like to watch along with us, the entire series is available in a DVD set which can be purchased through Amazon US, Amazon CA, or Amazon UK.