Movie review: ‘No Man’s Land’ (1987)

I reviewed the Charlie Sheen film “Good Advice” (click here for my review) and, as I looked through his filmography, I noticed one title that I enjoyed a long time ago and wanted to see again. So, I’m writing now about “No Man’s Land” that co-stars D.B. Sweeney – remember him?. Thankfully it was a quick find – I got it 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 and the screenwriter’s pedigree in crime stories is impeccable. Check it out: “No Man’s Land” is 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. It’s not perfect by any means, but, as I already noted, it’s watchable!

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

YOU’RE NEVER TOO RICH TO BE A CRIMINAL

(NOTE: I expanded this review with the correction of a horrible error in originally misidentifying the director as well as giving additional opinion and trivia and the updating of links on March 30, 2020.)

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 have 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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An interesting note is that the screenwriter is Dick Wolf, who would go on and be a megastar in the world of writing and production for the “Law & Order” franchise(s) that saw the first kick off in 1990. Wolf’s touch is evident with how the criminals play out their crimes in this one.

As for the actors other than Sheen, 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 Benjamin ‘Benjy’ Taylor,” because he’s a rookie and “won’t act like a cop.”

Sweeney is introduced as “Billy Ayles” 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 played by Call, who is “Frank Martin” in the film, and who has 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, but that doesn’t spoil this film in any way.

Now, let’s look at some of the cast …

  • A Golden Globe winner and two-time nominee (not for this one), Sheen has his youth as his biggest asset in this one: He’s a rich young man enjoying life on the edge – sounds like Charlie in real life at the time, huh? Sheen 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 it became complete dreck with the uniquely talentless Ashton Kutcher replacing him. Sheen received is Globe nominations for that great TV comedy series and won for “Spin City” in his 45 episodes with Michael J. Fox. Of course, he was in “Wall Street” with Michael Douglas and pretty much flopped in the post-“Two and a Half Men” era with FX’s answer to “TAAHM” called “Anger Management.”
  • Sweeney was the perfect choice to play the rookie cop. He’s not just young, but also youthful and energetic. He 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 as well as the dramatic movie “Gardens of Stone” with James Caan and about the war in Vietnam and “Memphis Belle,” a film about a B-17 bomber crew in Europe in World War II. You’ll find his work solid just about at every turn. Interestingly, a project in which you’ll find him is the post-production effort titled “The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre.” Wow. Just about every lame name (Manson, midnight and zombies) in one title. I hope it’s worth it!
  • 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 quiet and 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” (click here for my review) and “Demolition Man” with Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes (click here for my review).
  • An Oscar nominee (really, but not for this one), Randy Quaid plays “Lt. Vincent Bracey” and he’s out to get who killed his friend at the beginning of the film. Quaid is solid 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 (click here for my review and I won’t mention another knockoff that takes place in Las Vegas) as well as “Independence Day.” He won his nomination for the exceptional “The Last Detail” (it had two other nominations) with Jack Nicholson and Carol Kane and he is a Golden Globe winner for “LBJ: The Early Years” and nominee for “The Last Detail” and the TV production of “Elvis” from 2005.
  • An excellent second-tier actor here is George Dzundza, who plays Sweeney’s “Uncle Mike” in an uncredited role and his character inadvertently discloses his undercover deception. Dzundza was a vicious, nasty tank commander in the excellent, but little-remembered, “The Beast of War” (sometimes called “The Beast”) about the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Dzundza was also solid as “Sgt. Max Greevey” in his 22 episodes in the first year of the original “Law & Order” on TV.

As I already noted, 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. He was in “Waterworld,” “Last Man Standing,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and in the Robert Duvall L.A. gang movie “Colors.” Call did a bunch of TV show episodes, too, and he died at 70 in February 2020 in his home state of Utah.
  • As Sheen’s lieutenant in crime, Duke plays “Malcolm” (I’ll never understand why some characters get one name and others a full name). Like Call, he is tough-minded, calm and more than just a bit threatening. Duke did a notable turn in “Predator” with Arnold Schwarzenegger – which was also released in 1987, click here for my review – and was killed by Arnie in “Commando” (click here for my review). He was also in “Action Jackson” as well as being not-too-good of guy “Leon James” in “American Gigolo” with Richard Gere.

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.

I initially identified Wolf as the director in this review in 2014 and now have corrected that pitiful error. Here’s the fact: Peter Werner directed this movie and, of his 96 credits as director, only “No Man’s Land” and “The Good Policeman” from 1992 with Ron Silver are motion pictures. The rest are TV movies or episodes of TV shows that he directed. Obviously, he has more of a talent for TV, but he didn’t veer off course very far in this one.

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 like from that year “Good Morning, Vietnam” and “Dirty Dancing.” Here are the films from 1987 that I’ve reviewed:

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • The “D.B.” in D.B. Sweeney stands for Daniel Bernard and the actor was born on Long Island. Obviously, despite the initials, he’s no relation to B. Cooper, the world’s most elusive skyjacker!
  • An uncredited “Waiter” for this film and a superstar today, Brad Pitt was in his second film release after a TV series appearance in 1964 and a TV movie in 1980. 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.” My last review of a Pitt film was “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” (click here for my look at that one).
  • Want to see Pitt? Here’s where you’ll find him in the film: “Brad Pitt, as a fancy party waiter with a mullet hairdo, can be seen very clearly the second after Charlie Sheen says, ‘Welcome to the lifestyles of the rich and aimless.’ He’s in the middle of the room and then walks off-screen to the left.”
  • 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.”
  • Click here for IMDb.com’s limited trivia page for the film …

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014, 2020.
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