December 3, 2011

Street Hawk, episode 4: "Vegas Run"

After talking down her furious stage director, aging Vegas showgirl Linda Martin (Sybil Danning) is met in her dressing room by a pair of goons. Seems they caught wind that she's going to testify against mob boss Jimmy Pinard (Christopher Thomas), her ex-boyfriend, and they have orders to keep her under wraps until the trial is through. When a stagehand walks in, Linda uses the distraction to take off. She jumps in the nearest taxi and tells the driver to head for Los Angles. Pinard gets word of Linda’s escape and makes arrangements for his goons to continue their pursuit in L.A. Despite the prodding of his ruthless attorney, Pinard doesn’t want Linda to be harmed.

In L.A., Street Hawk wraps up his night patrol by taking out a mugger. Jesse bums a ride off of Norman for an early morning date the cop has scheduled, with Norman arguing with him about the unhealthiness of his sloppy lifestyle and how there's no way he can have the energy he does by burning the candle at both ends. All plans go out the window when Linda jumps in front of their car and flags them down. Seems her cab safely made it to her sister's apartment, only to discover Pinard's goons ready and waiting.

Our heroes get Linda away from the goons and stash her at Jesse's apartment. Norman is left to keep an eye on her - when he isn't fumbling all over himself at the sight of the buxom beauty, of course - while Jesse swings by the Police station to inform Altobelli he has a stray federal witness in custody. While the Chief tries to straighten things out with the Nevada D.A., Jesse tracks down Linda's sister, Donna, just as she's being dragged away by Pinard's goons. Jesse puts up a fight to stop them, but only wins a few bruises for his effort.

Pinard gets word of Donna's capture and tells his goons to hide her in a cabin while he waits for word from Linda. Pinard's lawyer keeps pushing the man to just kill her and be done with it, but Pinard continues to resist.

Jesse calls Norman to let him know about Donna's fate. Norman tries to hide this info from Linda, but she sneaks into the bedroom and listens in. Linda uses her considerable wiles to distract Norman and secretly calls Pinard, offering herself in exchange for her sister. He gives Linda directions to the cabin and she swipes Norman's keyes, hitting the road in his station wagon.

Jesse and Norman hook up and head to the Command Center. Norman has a custom security system in his car, which includes a tracking device. Jesse suits up and mounts Street Hawk, quickly following the signal towards the cabin in the first test of hyperthrust's effectiveness on off-road conditions.

Linda is finally re-united with Donna and the two launch an escape attempt, which is guaranteed when Street Hawk shows up to thwart Pinard's goons. With Donna safely headed towards a nearby ranger station, Linda once again gets behind the wheel of Norman's station wagon as Street Hawk escorts her along the road back to Nevada, where the trial is about to start.

Pinard gets a call and, in his desperation, can no longer argue back when his lawyer gives order to send out all available resources to kill both Linda and Street Hawk. As our two targets race down the desert road, the first attack comes in the form of two massive pickups that play chicken with the motorcycle. Then the two goons from earlier show up in a helicopter, lobbing grenades after grenade at Street Hawk's tail. Through his riding smarts and the motorcycle's gadgets, he thwarts them all.

Linda arrives at the courthouse where Pinard and his lawyer barely leap to safety as she plows Norman's station wagon into the front steps. She calmly steps out, tossing them a smiling "Nice day for an indictment," as she trots into the courthouse.

Jesse heads home where Norman gives him the news that the indictment was successful. Jesse, who's been running on full all day, keep going as he dances to some music, which prevents an exhausted Norman from dozing off.


Warning: This review contains bad Vegas puns and expressions. Reader discretion is advised.

They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. It’s too bad that doesn’t apply to this episode. Not even the joy of seeing the bodacious Sybil Danning, one of my childhood crushes - thanks to a combination of Skinemax and my parent’s laissez faire approach to my TV viewing - was enough to keep it from coming up snake eyes.

For the second straight week, they failed to come up with a mission worthy of Street Hawk. When your premise is about a heavily armed, top secret super-bike and you use it to escort a showgirl witness to a no consequence trial... it’s like using a sledgehammer to swat flies. Sure, they try and up the ante by pulling out the 4x4’s and the helicopters at the end, but given the plot, it makes it feel that much more absurd. At this point, I’d prefer they go all in, giving us larger than life villains for our larger than life heroes.

Things get off to an inauspicious start with the mugging scene, where Street Hawk corners a purse snatcher against a tree until two other joggers show up to restrain the man. First of all, why is it there? It serves no purpose save as a cheap gag. And why in God’s name is this little old lady out walking her dog at five in the morning? And furthermore, why are these two extras from a Right Said Fred video out jogging at that hour? The whole thing is just too silly, even for a mid-80s action show. And then there's the now familiar WGIS (white guys in suits). Actually, let me take a moment to explain the hierarchy of the WGIS. You have your standard low-level henchman, typically wearing ill fitting pastel suits a decade out of fashion, who compromise the bottom rung. Next up, you have the lieutenant, who wears an off the rack J.C. Penny suit and offers advice to the top of our ladder, the boss. His suits - which come in three colors: charcoal gray, dark gray, and black - are tailored to accentuate his sedentary middle-aged paunch. It’s his office. His pool. His major financial scheme. And no super-advanced sci-fi doohickey is gonna stop him! Needless to say, at this point, I’m looking for a villain who doesn’t look like Charles Schwab. Having effectively watched the episode twice now, I still don’t know what Pinard is being indicted for.

There are moments when “Vegas Run” hits blackjack, though. I was pleasantly surprised to see Danning show up in such a large role. Known primarily for her B-movies and D-cups, a guest starring role in a prime time action show aimed at kids was probably a bit controversial by 1985 standards. Still, obvious assets aside, Danning gives a really good performance as the tough and world-weary dancer. Her scenes with Regalbutto, who takes Norman’s social awkwardness to a new level in this episode, are funny and sweet. And Smith hits his stride as Mach, delivering his lines with a devil may care charm and a twinkle in his eyes. And though I may have my issues with the set-up, the road action as Street Hawk and Linda race to Carson City is fantastic. The 7-10 split leap Street Hawk does over the 4x4s, the mid-air 360s, the battle with the chopper. It’s on par with anything you’d get in a Bond movie of the era. Maybe better, since you don’t spend half the time worrying that Roger Moore’s hairpiece will fly off at any second.

List be a lady tonight!
  • There are a couple moments when I think there’s music replacement used. One is during the radio battle between Jesse and Norman, and the other is the establishing shot of the beach outside of Jesse’s apartment. It’s either that or the original music was just really, really generic and bad. There is a bit of familiar pop music that shows up, though it’s instrumental and not from the original artists. As Jesse arrives at the hamburger stand where Donna works, we hear “Walking in L.A.”, which was originally recorded by new wave pop group Missing Persons.
  • Altobelli isn’t given much to do in this episode, but his personality seems to have settled more into exasperated territory rather than gruff. And, once again, Jeanie Wilson’s Rachel Adams character is on the sidelines. She appears briefly to patch up Jesse after his brush with Pinard’s thugs and again to drop a little exposition on us. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if she started bringing Altobelli his coffee.
In the end “Vegas Run” offers tight stunts, tighter shirts, and a loose story. Now I fold and give the table to my buddy, Noel.

White Guys In Suits Conspiring Around a Pool Count: At one and holding.


Here's where I have to launch a big disagreement with Tony.

In Automan, where the hero is literally a god of sorts and has the power to make any and everything he can think of happen with the wink of a Wagner smile, having him go up against mundane detective show crooks feels extremely limiting and uninspiring. Street Hawk is not Automan. Aside from the ridiculous speed of Hyperthrust - which still has limitations and is used outside combat merely to get from point A to point B - the titular motorcycle has a feel of plausibility to it. While, yes, it's a conceit that an air jump cannon, a machine gun, rockets, and a laser can all be squeezed into a single compact vehicle - not to mention having enough room left for the hyperthrust computer and the engine itself - none of these tools are of a fantastical nature outside the realm of possibility. Hell, even the laser itself is realistically used as a cutting beam instead of a scifi style "pew pew" weapon.

The entire point of the Street Hawk program is to fine tune what's ultimately intended to be used as an everyday tool in every police precinct in the nation, so I see nothing wrong with having it go up against everyday criminals so as to explore the effectiveness this will have. And now that they've settled Jesse into being a "Police troubleshooter" instead of a hobbled P.R. rep, I love that we get to see his down-to-earth crimesolving techniques more prominently displayed with Street Hawk being the big guns that he saves for when it's most needed. Yeah, the exploding theatre in the last episode was clumsy, but the final act here, where Jesse has to escort the federal witness across a desert road, her enemies attacking from all sides, is beautifully staged and builds naturally out of the narrative instead of feeling tacked on. It fully shows the power and potential a tool like Street Hawk could have in the course of daily law enforcement and protection.

This is what the show wants to be and I feel it delivers. Sure, the baddies are white guys in suits, but they aren't the stiffs using [insert profession] to launder money like they were in every episode of Automan. The Pilot villain was clunky, but "A Second Self" had a crook obsessed with revenge over the death of his brother and an old friend of Jesse who'd gone down a wrong path; "The Adjuster" had an unknown assassin so desperate to recover the lost loot and dignity of his shadowy employer that he killed a cop and took his place so as to infiltrate Police HQ itself; and "Vegas Run" has a gangster torn between jail time and the woman he still holds a candle for, the ruthless lawyer willing to go to any extremes to protect the client who's fall would take him down as well, and the feisty Vegas showgirl who's tired of being fed a raw deal and wants to take a stand before she's just another washed up has-been.

These are all compelling human stories of everyday crime that spiralled out of control to a point where Street Hawk makes a decisive difference in how they ultimately conclude. Imagine what changes such a vehicle could make if it actually does achieve the visionary future of being on every police payroll. Who knows, maybe that's what they had in mind for future seasons. And maybe then Tony could get his more powerful villain in the form of re-purposed bikes or something new as the criminal element escalates the conflict. Only then would it feel like a natural part of the story.

[steps off soapbox]

Now, on to the episode itself. I freakin' love this episode. No, seriously, I was completely blown away by the unexpected depth and skill on display this time around. The script (by an obscure freelancer named Deborah Davis, who's other work I'm now very eager to track down) was perfectly structured, building this great drama about Pinard and his vindictive old flame, Linda, and weaving Street Hawk in and out of it beautifully. There's genuine depth to the characters, like Pinard being a surprisingly decent guy who has to be bullied into going the lethal route, Linda's feistiness (more about this below), the great Odd Couple argument between Norman's view of a structured life and Jesse rolling with the wild side as it comes and goes, and even Altobelli finally settling into a great father figure of a Captain, with the great recurring bit of him walking into his office and casually telling Jesse to get the hell out of his chair. And the direction captured every moment of this script perfectly. Virgil W. Vogel, a decades old industry vet (made his debut with the MST3K classic The Mole People), brings all his accumulated skills to the table and absolutely nails it. There's no jarring scene transitions, no wasted moments, the character interactions have warmth, the climactic road battle is stunning and exciting, and he's even not afraid to linger on little moments other people would typically cut for time. Like Jesse and Norman's duel over the car radio. Or the chopper going down in a violent explosion and the camera lingering on Jesse's face as he once again has a sour taste from the fact he was pushed to the point where he had to take lives in order to save the day. Or the final bit where we think Linda is going to make all those efforts go to waste as she seems ready and willing to run Pinard and his lawyer down before they even make it into court, but then it turns into pitch-perfect comedy as she instead ends up making one hell of an unforgettable entrance.

And let's take a moment here to single out Sybil Danning for praise. Yeah, there's the prerequisite T&A as the cleavage that made her such an exploitation B-flick icon is often prominently on display, but I applaud her and the writing for the way they acknowledge and incorporate into the character that she's an aging sex symbol struggling to stay relevant against an increasing amount of younger competition in a time where most her peers have quit or turned to the easy out of silicone enhancement. There's a weight she brings to the role of a woman who isn't proud of all the choices she's made, even as she doesn't hesitate to own them and make of them what she will. And she's also impressively strong and intelligent. Instead of being a mere damsel in distress, she's constantly outwitting both the heroes and the villains. Even when she's finally kidnapped by Pinard's men and locked in a room with her sister, the first thing she does is keep the other woman calm and focused, then starts scoping out the room for other points of access or anything she can use to her advantage. And then she launches an escape. A clever escape that has her sister out the back door while she's using a large metal lamp to kick the crap out the of the same goons that left Jesse on the street with a black eye. And then she's out the front door and totally would have made it to the car even if Street Hawk hadn't shown up. I don't know that she would have gotten much further than the road, given everything Pinard's lawyer sends her way afterwards, but she deserves full props for doing as much as she did on her own. If anything, the episode is missing a final tag between her and Norman, but I'm more than content with the great "Nice day for an indictment," bit.

A few thoughts:
  • Rachel is still a nothing character, there only to apply medicine and correct Altobelli while he's on the phone.
  • The protein shakes. We haven't mentioned the protein shakes. Norman keeps making them and foisting them on others only to get constant scowls of disgust in return.
  • Yeah, they obviously attached the motorcycle to a crane and spun a camera around it, but the moment where Jesse pulls a midair 360 so his cameras can map the terrain is still awesome.
  • The belligerent director of the Vegas show? He grew up to be president.
So, yeah, I completely disagree with Tony and hold this episode up as the best of the series so far. This isn't a kids show. This isn't some scifi fantasy that's being restrained by its focus on crime. This is a genuine cop show about genuine crime and two guys testing out a new tool in the hopes that it'll make a difference. The aim and focus is different, and there's skill and intelligence on display that Automan could only dream of, so I definitely don't feel it's making the same mistakes.

Granted, we still have nine episodes left to go to see how well they hold true to that.

Tune in next Saturday Morning for another Street Hawk adventure in "Dog Eat Dog".

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.


Tony Williams said...

Exceptional review, Noel. As usual you make your points with clarity and reason. It's just too bad you're wrong :p.

Honestly I'm a bit surprised just how much we disagree on this one.

The belligerent director of the Vegas show? He grew up to be president.

How did I not realize that was Gregory Itzin!?

NoelCT said...

Exceptional review, Noel. As usual you make your points with clarity and reason. It's just too bad you're wrong :p.

In what way, exactly? :)

Honestly I'm a bit surprised just how much we disagree on this one.

I know, right? The last thing I expected from Street Hawk was you growing disinterested while I'm all THIS SHOW ROCKS YOU GUYS!.

Tony Williams said...

In what way, exactly? :)

As well made as your case is, I still don't buy that this heavily armed super bike isn't made for more than escorting showgirls. It would be like Blue Thunder writing parking tickets.

NoelCT said...

A showgirl who's a key witness in taking down a mafia don and his organization. Yes, that is something Street Hawk would do. Especially since conventional law enforcement, even Jesse himself, was unable to protect her and her family, causing our side to escalate the situation by breaking out Street Hawk, which causes them to escalate by throwing everything at it.

I love how, back in episode one, I argued in favor of more pathos and human crime drama, and you said "But that's not this show. That's not Street Hawk." And yet that's exactly what the show turned out to be. :p

While, yes, it has many of the same elements we disliked about Automan, I find them a better fit here and executed with far more skill.

Tony Williams said...

I love how, back in episode one, I argued in favor of more pathos and human crime drama, and you said "But that's not this show. That's not Street Hawk." And yet that's exactly what the show turned out to be. :p

I know, right? I'll admit I did not see that coming.

While, yes, it has many of the same elements we disliked about Automan, I find them a better fit here and executed with far more skill.

I won't argue with you on that.