November 26, 2011

Street Hawk, episode 3: "The Adjuster"

Mitchel Elkins is a small time bookie who ran off with his boss's money and is looking to launder it in exchange for jewels freshly obtained by the Kurksey Brothers in a series of violent robberies. The three meet in an abandoned factory for the deal, unaware that Jesse spotted them while on a routine patrol as Street Hawk. He bursts into the scene, keeping the crooks busy until the cops show up, then takes off.

While lunching out with Norman, Jesse gets an earful from the engineer about bullet holes Street Hawk sustained. Jesse quickly ducks the issue by pointing out a gorgeous waitress that's been flashing Norman a come hither smile. Norman is stunned at the idea of a woman being attracted to him and, of course, freezes up before any kind of move can be made.

At Police HQ, Altobelli is furious that his boys spent a month getting ready to crack the Kurksey case only for Street Hawk to sweep in. Since Elkins is wanted for crimes in New York, an NYPD detective has flown out to take him in. Joseph A. Cannon (subtle name) is a concrete bulldog of a ruthless cop who instantly storms in, dismissing anyone and everyone who isn't essential to his case for their pretty Hollywood style of police tactics, and drags Elkins out by his collar. Jesse has a majorly bad vibe about Cannon, but Altobelli waves it off.

Before getting on their plane at LAX, Cannon ducks Elkins into a locker room, removes the crook's cuffs, and starts beating him around. It seems Cannon works for Mr. Girard, the crimelord Elkins swiped half a million from, and it's Cannon's job to get that money back. Elkins suddenly squirms free and escapes, Cannon's chase interrupted when he pulls a massive magnum and is halted by airport security.

Cannon heads back to the Police, hoping to use their resources to track Elkins down. Altobelli partners him up with Jesse, who's still suspicious, but knows the local contacts. The pair heads around town, hitting up snitches, bookies, hookers, and pimps for any info on Elkins. Almost every encounter ends with Cannon flying off the handle and Jesse having to drag the detective away. The two share some stiff words before Jesse ditches Cannon, calling it a night.

Cannon gives a call to Mr. Girard where we learn this man is an impostor and the body of the real Cannon washed ashore in a river, meaning "Cannon" has 48 hours or less before the corpse is I.D.'d and the jig is up. "Cannon" calls into HQ where one of Jesse's contacts, a pimp named Bobby, left word that he might know something about Elkins.

At Street Hawk HQ, Jesse and Norman bicker about vitamins before Jesse calls the precinct and learns about Bobby's message and "Cannon"'s call. Fearing the worst, Jesse pressures Norman into letting him take Street Hawk out to check things over. Sure enough, Street Hawk arrives to find Bobby a bloodied mess. After a scary motorcycle staredown, the pimp tells Street Hawk about the hotel Elkins has been hiding in.

"Cannon" is first to arrive at the hotel, cornering Elkins in an alley and drawing a bead on the crook with his magnum. Street Hawk suddenly appears, exchanging fire with "Cannon" and flipping the faux detective's car while Elkins scurries off.

After puzzling over things with Norman, Jesse heads back to Police HQ, where a battered "Cannon" is concocting stories of being assaulted by both Street Hawk and Bobby. Altobelli announces that Elkins has been spotted and cornered near the boardwalk, so Jesse and "Cannon" head out to get him. At Street Hawk HQ, Norman gets word that the real Detective Cannon's body has been identified and desperately tries to get in touch with Jesse.

At the boardwalk, "Cannon" catches a glimpse of Elkins and sneaks away, encountering the hood on a merry-go-round. Elkins is pleading with "Cannon", "If you kill me, you'll never find the money." "Cannon" doesn't care. This is apparently an issue of honor for Mr. Girard, who's more interested in making an example of deserters than recovering the cash. In a last ditch effort, Elkins tells him where the money is.

Jesse hears a gunshot and races into the building. Elkins is dead and "Cannon" is nowhere to be found.

At Police HQ, everyone is stewing over the revelation that "Cannon" was an impostor. With no options left, Jesse cuts a deal with the Kurksey brothers: a few years shaved off their sentence for everything they know about Elkins and the areas he'd been frequenting. With Norman's help, Jesse narrows things down to the Monarch Theatre, which is scheduled to be demolished that very day. Street Hawk hits the road.

At the Monarch Theatre, demolition crews set the final charges and prep the countdown. "Cannon" sneaks into the abandoned building and starts searching until he finds a mannequin stuffed full of the missing money. Cash spills all over the floor as Street Hawk roars into the room. Street Hawk offer "Cannon" the chance to escape and turn himself in, but the crook is too focused on the money to care about the countdown. Street Hawk finally turns tail and hyperthrusts out of the building as it collapses inches behind him. "Cannon" is killed.

At the same diner from earlier, Jesse briefly broods over leaving "Cannon" to his death and never finding out the man's identity, but he can't help but smile when it turns out Norman finally scored with the hot waitress.


I've long had a soft spot for Marjoe Gortner, the child preacher turned whistle blower turned actor who really should have had a much better career in the 70s and late 80s than he ultimately did. I loved his striking looks, his natural charisma, his energy, and his amazing hair. Sadly, not much beyond the hair is on display here in the role of "Cannon". This episode came after his once promising career went belly-up, and his looks are fading and his charisma and energy have drained away. It's unfortunate, because I also love the character of "Cannon", an enigmatic, anonymous enforcer disguised as a hard-boiled Dirty Harry who's actually gone dirty. There's so many great twists to the story in the way he manipulates the police force from within as he clashes with Jesse over what seem to merely be excessive tactics, but are really the lethal machinations of an assassin. If only Gortner had really bitten into the role instead of delivering all his lines in a stiff Robert Stack impersonation.

This episode feels like it could have fallen into the "white guys in suits" trope, as it is mainly about hoods looking for a stash of cash, but they play it up as a true McGuffin, to the point where "Cannon" and his boss are literally willing to let the money disappear just to discipline an out-of-line employee and send a message to the rest of the network. Mr. Girard is only ever seen once, but his deep voice and hefty Alfred Hitchcock Presents silhouette leave quite an impression. He's not a person, he's a force, the rumble under the ocean that sends the wave of "Cannon" rippling forward. Elkins is the forgettable hood that he is, but that's fine as he's also not so much a character as the object everything revolves around as everyone is in a race to get their hands on him. By saying these two, and the unknown "Cannon", aren't really characters, I'm not knocking them, but they're straight out of a Walter Hill crime drama, where you don't know their pasts or their (full) names or their lives outside of what they do. All you have is the present as these noir cyphers meet on the field of battle, and our heroes are dragged along for the ride.

If anything, this leads us to the point where the story falls apart. Once Elkins is dead, "Cannon" is suddenly more interested in the money, which weakens his needle point motivation and leads into a ridiculous climax in an exploding building. Seriously, this brutal enforcer is literally reduced to ignoring a countdown to his destruction as he goes the typical bad guy route of desperately gathering the spilled money from the floor. I know the creators probably felt the show needed a big setpiece for the climax - and wouldn't be entirely surprised to learn it was shoe-horned in last minute when someone caught a notice for a building demolition and was all "Hey, we can use that!" - but this wasn't the way to go as it felt cheap. Especially when nobody, neither "Cannon" nor Street Hawk nor any other cops that Norman is likely calling to the scene, thinks to say "Hey, hold off a second while we clean this up!" All you have to do is be spotted going into the building and they'll call a halt to everything, and it's impossible to believe that Street Hawk could race up to the front entrance, motorcycle and all, and not be noticed by a spotter.

I also don't get why Street Hawk needs both a machine gun and a laser cannon when both are essentially used for the same thing, but Jesse and his wondercycle are again mostly well used. The action shots are as great as always, I'm still swept away every time hyperthrust kicks in and the world becomes a dancing blur of squiggling speed, and they even have the great scene with Bobby where Street Hawk gets to interact outside of action and use the mere threat of the motorcycle to resolve the situation. Jesse and Norman continue to have a great relationship as they've settled into the dynamic of two completely opposite personality types (the scenes with the waitress are fluff, but amusing fluff) whose fates have become entirely intertwined. If one of them fails, the other fails, and their successes are equally shared. There's still plenty of great conflict as Jesse gets too riled up over "Cannon" and starts taking risks that Tuttle counters with his know-how and patience. I also like that they've pretty much gotten Jesse past the leg wound and, instead of leaving him stuck in the P.R. department, they've made him a "Special Officer", which I guess is essentially a consultant who chips in and takes assignments when needed, like when Altobelli puts him back on the streets as "Cannon"'s temporary parter/handler. It's executed well, but they really are backtracking from their setup quite a bit, and are removing any justification for why he's no longer a motorcycle cop. Every episode so far has handled this aspect a little differently, so it'll be interesting to see what they ultimately settle on.

A few stray thoughts:
  • I love the little moment of Elkins running through the airport, then calming down for a second so he can casually pass through the security checkpoint, then breaking into a run again.
  • Pop song! Tony, I'll let you take that one.
  • Richard Venture is growing on me a teensy tiny bit. They've moved Altobelli away from the barking commander he struggled to play earlier and are going for more of a down-on-his luck angle of a cop who believes in his job and hard work, who's nonetheless shown up time and again by this vigilante on two wheels.
  • Rachel is still there just to be there. There's nothing to her character and she does nothing but stand there for people to bounce thoughts off of.
  • The Kurskey Brothers are fantastic. They only appear in two scenes, and I already want to see a series built around them.
  • Love the location work here: the abandoned factory, the merry-go-round on the boardwalk, the theatre full of mannequins.
  • Those damn grocery stealin' hobos!
It's a slightly uneven but ultimately clever and entertaining episode. I love the central plot of "Cannon" and the mystery that will always linger around his character, though wish Gortner would have dug into it a bit more. It's the climax that loses me. I know this show needs to have its big moment of the hero triumphing over evil, but I choose to remember this story as ending on the death of Elkins, with the enigmatic assassin who briefly claimed to be Cannon once again slipping into anonymity as he takes on his next assignment from the shadowy Mr. Girard.


I have a few problems with "The Adjuster" - some minor, some major - but the biggest is that the plot doesn’t mesh well with the premise of the show, and that’s ultimately the biggest challenge you face in a series like this. You have this heavily armed, supped up motorcycle and it’s tough to come up with not only a suitable foe each week but a way to showcase the bike in the climax. Because let’s face it, that’s ultimately the selling point of the whole thing. Short of pushing things into the realm of the absurd by introducing a series of cartoon villains who also posses some sort of super weapon, you have to be really clever, as they were in the previous episode, “A Second Self”. It’s a bit disconcerting that by the third episode, they’re already going to the “bland white guy(s) in suits” pitch, because you ultimately end up having to concoct some outrageous scenario that allows Jesse to use the bike to save the day. Here, it’s hyperthrusting out of an imploding building. Not a bad idea in and of itself, and the execution is fine stunt-wise, but the set up and the reason rob it of its impact.

I like Gortner’s performance as “Cannon”, the Dirty Harry (Attitude) by way of Sledgehammer (Hair) cop, but it all falls apart once he’s revealed to be nothing but a hired thug posing as a cop. It undermines the tension between he and Jesse and their differences over tactics. Still, it could’ve been a nice twist if handled properly, but it’s wasted on a plot that goes nowhere. Who is this Girard and why do they go through all of the trouble to set him up as this mysterious figure when there’s no pay off to it and no real coda for his character? It would’ve been one thing if he’d been set-up as some sort of Blofeldian master mind, shaking his fist and vowing to return, but he’s essentially forgotten about in favor of “Cannon” suddenly turning into a Gollum-like character, dancing on the precipice with his “Precious” as the world literally falls down around him.

It’s not all bad, though. As Noel said, the relationship between Jesse and Norman has already gelled, with both actors giving a particularly lively performance during their “bonding” scenes that tells me they were really enjoying themselves. And someone must’ve poked Richard Venture, because he actually appears to be awake in this episode. His Altobelli is now gruff but likeable instead of merely gruff. The stunt work continues to impress and, once again, the bulk of the action, including the climax, takes place in the light of day. Personally, I think the visuals are much more dynamic at night, with Street Hawk cutting a wraith-like figure in the neon glow of L.A.’s nightlife, but I like that they’ve decided to mix it up.

Hyperlist in 5...4...3...2...1!
  • The pop song that Noel mentioned - which plays over a montage, naturally - didn’t sound familiar, and my searches came up empty. My guess is that it’s called “The Devil’s Side”. I’d be willing to bet that both it and “Jump On It” were demos from unsigned bands and neither song ever saw an actual release, hence why they’re still included here. Again, if anyone out there knows anything about either of these two songs, please let us know.
  • Plot holes aside, I like the switch in Jesse’s job. Though the P.R. officer gig did give his secret identity a certain Clark Kent/Superman thing, the job itself wasn’t very interesting and the plot seemed to be treading water whenever Jesse was at work. At least now Jesse’s day job is more action oriented and creates natural leads for he and Norman to follow up with Street Hawk.
  • This episode features the most blatant example of mannequin nudity I’ve ever seen on broadcast television. Near the end, as “Cannon” is searching for the cash amongst a group of dummies, we get a full two second shot of a topless female mannequin complete with painted pink nipples!
“The Adjuster” is a microcosm of the challenges one faces when you plug the fantastical into the real world. When it works, as it did in “A Second Self”, it really works, with the drama grounding the fantastical and the fantastical lifting the drama. But when it doesn’t, as is often the case here, the two elements work against one another in a sort of tug-of-war that neutralizes the impact of both.

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Street Hawk adventure in "Vegas Run".

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.

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