Movie review: ‘No Man’s Land’ (1987)

nmlYesterday I reviewed a Charlie Sheen film (the chick flick “Good Advice” – click here for my review) and as I looked through his filmography I noticed one that I enjoyed a long time ago and wanted to see it again. So, I’m writing today about “No Man’s Land” that co-stars D.B. Sweeney (remember him?). Thankfully it was a quick find (sorry, but you can no longer get the full version at YouTube.com). I can’t say that it’s a good or even adequate film – it has too many stereotypes to be taken too seriously – but it is watchable as long as you suspend your disbelief. Check it out: it’s about a car theft ring that deals in murder; it has car chases; good action; and at least makes an attempt at trying to rise above average.

‘No Man’s Land’
(1987; 106 minutes; rated R; directed by Dick Wolf and starring Charlie Sheen, D.B. Sweeney and Randy Quaid)

YOU’RE NEVER TOO RICH TO BE A CRIMINAL

No Man’s Land” is unevenly good – that is, when it’s good, it’s good; and when it’s not so good, it, well, stinks. In any case, it is a watchable film and although I’d like to say about Charlie Sheen here what I did in my review of “Good Advice:” I don’t believe this film would have been better off with another actor. Sheen is competent here and that’s all that’s necessary.

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The supporting cast is like a middle weight moving up in class – good, but not spectacular – and does a workman like job keeping the film together – especially turns by Bill Duke and R.D. Call as, respectively, Sheen’s business partner and business (and mortal) enemy.

In “No Man’s Land,” the cops are investigating a car theft and high-end chop shop racket run by Sheen, who plays “Ted Varrick.” One undercover officer has been killed investigating Sheen and now the lieutenant in charge has recruited D.B. Sweeney, who plays “Officer Benjy Taylor,” because he’s a rookie and “won’t act like a cop.” Sweeney is introduced to the Porsche repair shop that Sheen owns by a police snitch and starts to become close to him – the two men are about the same age and Sheen enjoys showing Sweeney the benefits of a rich lifestyle.

At first Sweeney doesn’t believe Sheen is involved because he doesn’t believe that such a rich guy would turn to crime (much less murder) but soon finds differently as Sheen truly enjoys stealing cars – but only one kind (he says to Sweeney after looking at a Lamborghini, “Italian trash … I only steal Porsches.”).

The plot is complicated by Sheen’s rival (Call, who plays “Frank Martin”), who is in an ongoing turf war with Sheen that will become even more deadly over time. As for Sweeney, he keeps getting drawn further and further into Sheen’s world (a “no man’s land” for him) and somewhat further away from his undercover role.

No Man’s Land” spins out with a twist on the plot about the murdered officer and the shooting of another cop and ultimately winds up in a showdown between Sheen and Sweeney after the whole thing has come crashing down around them. You can all too easily guess the outcome.

Sheen’s youth is his biggest asset here as he just shows a young man enjoying life on the edge. He gives off just the right amount of sophistication in the role and does his best work when he turns into the cold and somewhat distant criminal. Sheen has also been in “Hot Shots!” and was the outrageous boost that TV’s “Two and a Half Men” needed to become a megahit (before dropping to become complete dreck with the uniquely talentless Ashton Kutcher).

Sweeney was the perfect choice to play “Benjy Taylor” (or “Bill Ayles” as his undercover name). He’s young as well as youthful and begins to follow Sheen around something akin to being a puppy. Sweeney has also been in “Eight Men Out” and a variety of television roles.

Lara Harris plays “Ann Varrick” and is Sheen’s sister here and almost instantly becomes the love interest of Sweeney. She doesn’t know about her brother’s dark side and is the one who finds out that Sweeney is an undercover cop. Harris is smooth in this low-key role and while she doesn’t elevate the character to equal Sweeney and Sheen, she does a good job with the material. She has also been in “The Fisher King,” “Mannequin” and “Demolition Man” with Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes (click here for my review).

Randy Quaid plays “Lt. Vincent Bracey” he’s out to get who killed his friend at the beginning of the film. Quaid is really good here as the tough cop and supervisor who almost from the first realizes that Sweeney is getting too personally involved with Sheen. Quaid isn’t as good here as he was in “The Long Riders” (click here for my review), but he does a lot with not much screen time. He was also in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and its “Christmas” sequel (I won’t mention another knockoff) as well as “Independence Day.”

As I said, Duke and Call do a really good job here. As Sheen’s competitor, Call is tough, gritty and is ready to defend his turf with violence and even a little homicide. Call keeps his character calm and collected, but also giving off menace. Duke plays “Malcolm,” who, like Call, is tough-minded, calm and just a bit threatening. Call has also been in “Waterworld” while Duke did a notable turn in “Predator” with Arnold Schwarzenegger (which was also released in 1987).

The end is predictable, somewhat like an old-time western with its showdown, and that stereotype hurts, but it isn’t a fatal flaw for the film. Check this one out, especially since it’s so easy to find on YouTube.com.

No Man’s Land” was a bomb at the box office in 1987, as it came in 134th with an anemic $2.8 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Luckily it came in ahead of “Meatballs III” (yes, unfortunately they made this one with Sally Kellerman and Patrick Dempsey and it was 148th with $2.1 million). The No. 1 film was “3 Men and a Baby” with $167.7 million and other films I remember from that year are “The Running Man” (30th with $38.1 million – click here for my review), “Summer School” (32nd with $35.6 million – click here for my review), “Adventures in Babysitting” (35th with $34.3 million – click here for my review), “The Lost Boys” (38th with $32.2 million – click here for my review) and “Can’t Buy Me Love” (39th with $31.6 million – click here for my review). More recognizable and at or near the top of the charts were “Good Morning, Vietnam” and “Dirty Dancing.”

Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Then an uncredited “Waiter” and today’s superstar, Brad Pitt was in his second film release here after a TV series appearance and TV movie earlier in 1987. His first, which beat “No Man’s Land” to the screen by seven months was “Hunk” where he played “Guy at the beach with drink.”
  • An excellent second-tier actor here is George Dzundza, who plays Sweeney’s “Uncle Mike” and inadvertently discloses his undercover deception. Dzundza has been in the excellent, but little-remembered, “The Beast of War” (sometimes called “The Beast”) about the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. He played a tough-as-nails tank commander.
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “Charlie Sheen was injured when a squib hardened overnight and was detonated at the wrong time. He received lacerations to his face and was knocked unconscious. He received nine stitches, and was deaf in one ear for four weeks.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without
express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner
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full and clear credit is given to Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples
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