Not much, other than having an African-American star and Vietnam as a plot point, but that’s enough for Shout! Factory to pair them on a single-disc double feature. The former isn’t your average blaxploitation picture; the latter is your below-average cop film.
Directed by veteran actor Ossie Davis (from TV’s “The Defenders” to Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” to the cult hit “Bubba Ho-Tep”), it stars Paul Winfield (“Sounder”) as Gordon Hudson, a Green Beret coming home to Harlem after a four-year stint in ’Nam. While he was gone, his beloved neighborhood was overrun by heroin dealers and/or pimps. Even his wife was one of the casualties.
When he’s told that “it would take an army to get dope out of Harlem,” he assembles one with his buddies, despite one of them being to “tell a difference between a fart and a .45.” Whether felonious or mere misdemeanors, their cleanup methods involve spray paint, an infrared scope, fisticuffs, piss-poor fashion sense, urine, aerosol deodorant, guns, chains and good-ol’-fashioned street smarts. Did I mention the pee-pee?
“War” actually takes a sobering tone and works on two levels: revenge picture and a love letter to a lost Harlem.
Conversely, “Off Limits” doesn’t work at all, other than aggravating a viewer with its own brand of possibly misogynist ’80s excess. By the time it hit theaters, writer/director Christopher Crowe had already helmed an episode of “Miami Vice,” Willem Dafoe earned an Oscar nomination for “Platoon,” and Gregory Hines had a hit with Billy Crystal in the buddy comedy “Running Scared.” Somehow, Crowe combines elements from all three, but without their respective pizazz, gravitas and jokes, not to mention combined critical adoration.
Dafoe and Hines front the flick as military cops stationed in Saigon out to investigate the murder of a dead hooker with a mixed-race infant. The great Keith David (TV’s “The Cape”) has a brief bit to let them know a “high-rankin’, scrambled-eggs motherfucker” (whatever that means) is to blame, which sends them on a trail of men with “drippy dick.” Don’t ask. In fact, don’t watch.
Fred Ward (“Tremors”) sports a 1970s ’porn stache, while Amanda Pays (TV’s “The Flash”) is a nun. And James Newton Howard delivers an aggressively ’80s synth-and-sax score à la “Lethal Weapon” that makes the viewer long for the sweet, earnest ballads that bookend “Gordon’s War.”
If you’re keeping track, that leaves the DVD score tied at 1-1. But the disc is inexpensive enough to buy just for its older, better, classier half. —Rod Lott