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Our rating: three lava lamps.

Information about this film in the Internet Movie Database.

It would be easy to miss Nighthawks on the shelf of your local Mom & Pop video store; the cover doesn't do much to distinguish it from any other early 80's cop film, especially since Sylvester Stallone's face is hidden behind a beard for the entire movie. The title doesn't inspire much excitement either. But we rather enjoyed Nighthawks, especially since our initial expectations were low.

Nighthawks stars Sylvester Stallone as Deke DaSilva, and Billy Dee Williams as Matthew Fox. DaSilva and Fox are partners in the New York Police Department in the Decoy Division. This means that Stallone walks around dark subway stations in drag, waiting to get mugged. Then the pair of them then beat up the muggers and read Miranda warnings in between punches. Seeing Stallone in drag (twice!) is particularly amusing, since he has so much facial hair. But then, everyone in this film has a lot of facial hair -- even Rutger Hauer, to begin with.

Finally, a disguise that works!
Hauer as Wulfgar.
Hauer enters the film as a rather goofy-looking international terrorist named Wulfgar. He looks this way because later in the film the character will have plastic surgery to turn him into the pretty-boy Aryan we all know and love. The combination of beard, nappy hair, and brown contact lenses was so good that we had an argument over whether that was actually Hauer playing the pre-op Wulfgar. (It was. Chris lost the bet.)

When Wulfgar's cover is blown and his face is finally revealed to Interpol, he has the aformentioned surgery. True to form, he kills the surgeon afterwards. Because his credibility is now shot, Wulfgar travels from London to New York to rebuild his reputation by blowing up United Nations representatives.

Peter Hartmann, an Interpol agent and Wulfgar's opposite number, deduces Wulfgar's next move and recruits local police to help him in his anti-terrorism efforts. In a serious of heavy-handed lectures, he urges his new (and less-than-enthusiastic) recruits to cultivate their own killer instincts so that when it's time to kill Wulfgar, they can do so without hesitation. He browbeats Deke into submission by mentioning that Deke's wife (Lindsay Wagner) left him because of his beat-cop mentality. DaSilva doesn't react well to this, and nearly quits.

To make a long piece of plot exposition short, Wulfgar takes a group of U.N. delegates hostage on the Roosevelt Island sky-car (you know, the ones suspended from cables) and it's up to DaSilva to stop him. All of this leads to a final climactic scene in which an old action-film convention is resurrected: a skill displayed by our hero at the beginning of the film comes in handy at the end of the film. There's little doubt from the start of the movie that Wulfgar will die a bloody death at DaSilva's hands, and the road to that death is a decent piece of storytelling.

Stallone and Williams in full early 80's regalia.
This movie also exhibits another time worn cliche of action movies with low ambition: The title that makes no sense. After watching this film, we're still not sure who the Nighthawks were. Were they some shadowy secret organization who were manipulating everything, so secret that they never appeared or were mentioned in the movie? Was there some sort of ornithological subplot cut from the final edit? Maybe we'll never know. We'll just add it to the list of other mysterious action movie titles like Last Action Hero, Maximum Risk, and The Specialist. Maybe we just think too much during these kinds of films.

Ever on the alert for fledgling actors making their big breaks in films like this, we did a little checking on some of the more interesting actors. Here's what we found.

Persis Khambatta, who plays Wulfgar's partner, is another one of those b-movie-to-Star-Trek-fame actors: she played the very bald Lt. Ilia in Star Trek: The Motion Picture two years prior to Nighthawks. As of this writing, this brings our Star Trek count to three (along with Andy Robinson and Don Stark).

Joe Spinell, who plays the argumentative Munafo, has made a career out of New York cop and mafia films. First appearing as Willy Cicci in The Godfather (uncredited), he later went on to play more bit parts in Taxi Driver and Godfather Part II and a score of other bad crime films. He also has a history with Stallone: He played Gazzo in Rocky and Rocky II. Oh yeah, and he also co-wrote the 1980 film Maniac, and starred as its pyscho serial-killer villain. Our Videohound tells us that Maniac is for "very strong stomachs only."

Tony Munafo, who plays Big Mike, also hung on to Stallone for as long as possible. Munafo is an associate producer of nearly every film Stallone has made in the last decade, and also secured walk-on parts in most of them. You can see him as "Canister Truck Driver" in Daylight, and as "Prison Guard" in Rambo: First Blood Part II. Although the IMDB doesn't mention it, we figure he's related to Sly somehow.

As for those people who made their own careers without Stallone, Howard Stein heads the list. Stein was the assistant effects editor on The Empire Strikes Back a year before Nighthawks, and probably made friends with Billy Dee Williams. At any rate, his walk-on part of the Disco Manager gains him the most excellent line: "Don't hassle the customers." Stein later became the head visual effects editor for E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial and Return of the Jedi. Things came to a crashing halt in 1986 when he did the effects for Howard the Duck.

Kudos to Zoya Leporska, who played "Mugged Woman" so well in 1980's The Exterminator that she was given the part of "Subway Hostage" in Nighthawks. This sums up her film career.

Nighthawks is better than your average action flick. The actors are high-profile but not above taking some chances, the story is simple enough to hold water, and the action scenes are exciting without being overblown. Plus it's got Rutger Hauer before he started to suck.

Rent or Buy from Reel.

Review date: 4/16/97

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