Friday, April 24, 2020


by Patrick Bromley
An action movie gem that was brand new to me.

This installment of Heavy Action was suggested by Greg Andersson @andersson_greg. Thanks, Greg!

Excessive Force feels like a movie written and directed by early '90s HBO. I say this not as a pejorative, but as a compliment. It is precisely the kinds of deep cut action films that HBO used to show during the early 1990s that turned many of us from casual action movie fans to die hard fans of #HeavyAction. Late night HBO staples like Extreme Justice, No Contest, and, yes, Excessive Force are what #HeavyAction is made of. And though this one did receive a very limited theatrical release in the summer of 1993 (where it grossed a paltry million dollars on a budget of $13M), it might as well be a classic of the DTV genre. It has all the makings. Again, I mean this in the best way possible.

I mostly know star Thomas Ian Griffith as a bad guy, having given memorable villain turns in The Karate Kid Part III and John Carpenter's Vampires. Here he plays the hero in a film he also wrote, which we'll get back to in a second. He's Irish cop Terry McCain, the kind of trenchcoat-clad, earring-wearing tough cop who plays by his own rules and gets the job done no matter what. He's determined to bring down Chicago's Italian mob, run by Sal DiMarco (Burt Young) and his son Vinnie (a young W. Earl Brown). A bust goes bad and Terry misses the chance to put DiMarco behind bars thanks to his use of excessive force; even worse, $3 million of the mob's money has gone missing, putting target signs on everyone's backs, including Terry's partner (Tony Todd) and captain (Lance Henriksen). Now Terry's got to solve the case of the missing money, protect his model girlfriend (Charlotte Lewis), and bring down the mob, and he'll do it...using Excessive Force.
Excessive Force is exactly my kind of loud, violent trash. The entire (amazing) cast is extra caffeinated and on edge, none more than Thomas Ian Griffith in the lead. He's the kind of cop who's not just ready for a fight, he's straight up looking for one. He's all swagger and attitude, but the movie never deifies his coolness the way, say, a Steven Seagal movie might. Sure, he's written as a Cool Guy Action Movie Cop, but that can be attributed to the fact that the star wrote the movie (and also produced). Speaking of which:

Ways I Know Thomas Ian Griffith Wrote This Movie:
  • It opens with a training montage where Griffith can show off his karate skills
  • He sits in on the piano at the jazz club owned by James Earl Jones that he frequents. This is a scene you only write in if you want everyone to know you play piano.
  • He roundhouse and high kicks every single person he faces.
  • He has sex with Charlotte Lewis.
Besides all the ways it provides Griffith a showcase to do all the stuff he's wanted to do in a movie, the script for Excessive Force is reasonably clever in that it introduces an element of mystery into what would otherwise be a standard cop-versus-gangsters structure. There is a question of who stole the $3 million to provide some intrigue just long enough for the film to start introducing a number of twists, none of which are terribly surprising but all of which are appreciated in that they demonstrate the ways in which Griffith's screenplay is more considered and ambitious than it needed to be.
I'm unfamiliar with most of director John Hess's filmography, the most famous of which includes the Dean Koontz adaptation Watchers (which I've seen, but it's been many years) and Alligator II: The Mutation. His work on Excessive Force could be described as workmanlike, but I think he goes beyond that -- he gets the material and plays everything 50% bigger than it might otherwise be because that's how the script is written. The movie lives up to its title in that it's excessive in every way, but it's exactly that excess that gives it its appeal for me. The dialogue is colorful and profane. People don't just fight -- they get the shit kicked out of them. People aren't just shot -- they're blown away in a bloody mess of squibs. Hess stages the action well and Griffith certainly has the goods in the lead. He's tall for an action star, more Dolph Lundgren than JCVD, giving his punches and kicks extra reach and making his agility all the more impressive. I don't know if Excessive Force unequivocally proves that he could have had a big career as an action star, but it certainly makes me willing to see him in more stuff. Sadly, that didn't really happen.
I loved Excessive Force, and I'm eternally grateful to Greg Andersson for suggestion I cover it in #HeavyAction. Despite having an HBO subscription in the early '90s, this isn't a movie that was on my radar. Its title sounds generic, its leading man something of an action movie C-lister. I'm happy to have discovered it, as, having already watched it twice in two weeks, I can see it now becoming a new favorite. While certain filmmakers have found ways to improve the genre in a number of ways, they simply don't make action movies like this anymore A sequel was produced two years later, Excessive Force II: Force on Force, which is famous for using the word "force" as three of its six words. It's unrelated to the first film in every way, but that's not going to stop me from tracking it down. Such is the mysterious drawing power of #HeavyAction.

Got a movie you'd like to see covered in a future installment of Heavy Action? Let us know in the comments below!


  1. The good news: Excessive Force II: Force on Force (now with 50% more force!) is a $2 rental/$5 purchase on iTunes in HD. The bad news: Excessive Force 1: Considerably Less Force is not available on iTunes. Shameful.

  2. It's been a few years since I watched this but I remember thinking Thomas Ian Griffiths watched Hard Boiled just before writing this. The piano playing felt very similar to Tequila's sax interludes.

    Anyway, I'd love to recommend a Gary Daniels movie for Heavy Action, I don't think you've covered any of his films. He's basically a British kickboxer turned actor like JCVD. Any of his 90s stuff is worthwhile: Rage, Riot, Bloodmoon, Fist of the North Star.

    Think of him like a prototype Scott Adkins.

    1. I've seen Gary Daniels in a number of movies but I'm not sure I've ever seen a "Gary Daniels movie."

    2. This is a good suggestion, Jack! Recoil and Rage are my favorite PM Entertainment flicks of his!

    3. Yeah he's very much a supporting character or villain nowadays which is shame because he was a solid DTV leading man in the 90s. Anytime he's the lead nowadays the budgets are way too low to be enjoyable.

      Here's a quick run down for my suggestions if you can't decide:-

      Riot - sort of a non post apocalyptic Escape from New York where he's teamed up with real life boxer Sugar Ray Leonard (from action/stunt studio PM Entertainment).

      Rage - a kind of prototype Crank where he plays a school teacher accidentally injected with super soldier serum and goes on the run (another PM movie).

      Bloodmoon - one of (if not the only) martial arts serial killer movies. From Seasonal Films who made No Retreat No Surrender. Hong Kong style action with ludicrous plot.

      Fist of the North Star - low budget adaptation of Japanese manga and anime. Essentially Mad Max meets Bruce Lee. Production design is pretty great but action is shot a bit ropey. Kind of gory and directed by Hellraiser II's Tony Randel.

      Oh and Chaybee's suggestion is pretty good too. Recoil is your typical cop thriller with one of the most punishingly long car chases. Action direction by Spiro Razatos.

    4. Gary Daniels, Malcolm McDowell, Costas Mandylor, Downtown Julie Brown, Dante Basco, Melvin Van Peebles, Clint Howard, Chris Penn Chris Penn and Tracey Walter. Im going to have to watch Fist of the North Star just for that cast.

      For a second there I thought you were saying No retreat No Surrender had a ludricous plot before I realized you were talking about Bloodmoon. Nothing ludricous about a Karate Kid rip off featuring a Evil russians fighting high schoolers and Bruce Lee's ghost as the surrogate Miyagi.

    5. Bloodmoon and White Tiger are both great, but if you can find it I think Cold Harvest is Daniels best. It stars him, Bryan Gennesse and Barbara Crampton, and it's directed by Isaac Florentine, which should basically make it Heavy Action Hall of Fame

  3. This sounds great, and I will definitely try to track it down. Your review alone is giving me some serious early-90s nostalgia.

    Also, I don't know if you've already covered it but I remember watching The Perfect Weapon (1991) constantly on HBO during this time and thinking it kicked ass (this is coming from 11-year-old me), and it would probably fit right in with this column.

    1. Just saw that you already covered it - nevermind!

    2. It was a good suggestion though. Everyone loves Speakman.

  4. After reading Patrick's review was wanting to get my hands on it. But have Burt Young is in it. So it's top of the list.

  5. Loved him in Karate Kid. I must have seen this before, but I need to see it again.

  6. I'm pleased that you've lately resumed your Heavy Action
    Columns as I've always enjoyed reading them; they've
    helped me to familiarize myself with a genre that I was
    not well versed in.

    I wonder if you would consider devoting a future column
    to a comparative consideration of both versions of the
    action thriller The Mechanic, the 1972 version with
    Charles Bronson and the 2011 version with Jason