Nighthawks (1981)

So another quiet Sunday was upon us and I wanted to write…something. I had toyed with checking out ‘Blade Runner 2049’ again or possibly ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, but since my lady had a 3 hour long test to take and our tiny dog has been a little mopey since her invasive trip to the vet yesterday, I opted to chill at home with her and find something I hadn’t seen to scribble about. While popping onto Amazon Streaming to check out ‘American Gods’ for the second time (very cool show!), I noticed that they’d Recently Added the 1981 Sly Stallone cop thriller ‘Nighthawks’. This was a movie that I was long aware of, as part of Sly’s filmography, but also part of the resume for brilliant Dutch actor Rutger Hauer (‘Blade Runner’). I had always been curious to check it out but for some reason, the opportunity never presented it itself…till today.
‘Nighthawks’ focus’ on a pair of undercover New York PD ‘decoy’ cops named ‘Deke DaSilva’ (Stallone) and ‘Matt Fox’ (the always great Billy Dee Williams) as they’re assigned to a multi-agency Anti-Terrorism Task Force, at the same time as a notorious and ruthless European terrorist named ‘Wolfgar’ (Rutger Hauer) sets his murderous sights on The Big Apple. A violent cat n mouse game ensues.
In doing a little research before I started scribbling, I came across several mentions of post-production problems and various cuts and versions that were tried before the theatrical was released…and it shows. But on that note, I’ll just hit this review in my ‘notebook scribbles’ format and…here…we…go.

-Awesome 70’s intro music!! Makes me think of CHiPs. Even though this movie was released in ’81, it very much feels like a product of the mid to late 1970s, which makes me appreciate movies like ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, which was released the same year, or ‘Apocalypse Now’, released two years earlier, and how ahead of their time those movies were…and still are today. The tunes in ‘Nighthawks’ were stuck squarely in the disco era. And yes…it made me think of the immortal theme to the 1970’s classic TV show ‘CHiPs’, one of my favorites as a kid.

-Creepy old lady mask on Sly. The opening scene has Sly and Billy Dee on one of their nightly ‘decoy sting’ ops and Sly is wearing this serial killer-looking mask, acting as bait to bring on a mugging. Just weird looking…even though it’s supposed to make him look all old n vulnerable (and female!). Instead he looks like he should be brandishing a bloody chainsaw!!

-Yea! Sly in drag! ‘You’ve got the hots for me.’ Classic! Yep, on top of the creepy old lady mask, he’s also in old person drag, which looks hilarious in the foot chase / fist fight that ensues. And yes, he say’s the line ‘You’ve got the hots for me.” in response to some stereotypical Latino dude brandishing a switchblade in his face. I laughed out loud.

-Aww Rutger…you blew up the hot chick! Creepy bastard. Our intro to the wickedly named ‘Wolfgar’ has him get all inappropriate with a sexy English shop girl in a department store, while he slides a time bomb under her kiosk, at her feet. Minutes later he saunters on out…as the place explodes. Asshole.

-Store explosion reminds me of ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’, incidentally also starring Rutger Hauer. 1987’s ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ was one of those hardcore 80’s classics that I’m surprised I was allowed to watch, given how unapologetically violent and un-PC they were Back in the Day. But I did…and I always remembered the scene where Gene Simmons’ (yes…THAT Gene Simmons) Arab terrorist character (hilarious…when you consider that Simmons is Jewish) plants a time bomb in a packed movie theatre (showing fucking ‘Rambo’!…if I remember correctly) and blows the shit out of it, killing tons of innocent All – American men, women and wee innocent children (they REALLY wanted to let you know he was The Bad Guy). As the place detonates, he gloats from outside while alerting the authorities at a pay phone. Same thing in ‘Nighthawks’. But ‘Nighthawks’ did come out 6 years earlier….so point in ‘Nighthawks’ favor.

-Haha! Nice Jive walking, Sly! This was just a shot of Sly and Billy Dee crossing a street in their ‘street’ duds, but Sly has this funny ghetto swagger (for lack of a better term) going on.

-Weird improvisational jazz score. The tunes in this one are pretty annoying. I generally hate improvisational jazz (now Big Band…that’s a different story!) and this score grated on my nerves in no time flat. Aggravating and weird.

-Damn! Billy Dee is unhinged! There’s a scene, right after the ‘jive walking’ where Sly and Billy pull a pair of pump-action shotguns during a raid (two person raid? yea…not smart, guys). In the course of the arrest, Billy Dee loses his shit on one suspect and looks like he’s about the splatter buddy’s dome but backs down…barely. He was definitely NOT ‘Lando ‘cool as a cucumber’ Calrissian’ here.

-Nice juxt. between cops ‘street’ persona and private lives. There’s a subplot involving Stallone’s ‘DaSilva’ character making moves to get back together with his ex, which I thought was a nice twist on ‘the usual’ and what we get out of it was a good glimpse at the actual cop character, in comparison to the ‘decoy’ self he’s usually forced to live. It’s too bad this subplot felt really underdeveloped, which could be due to all the edits and test screenings this one went through.

-Disco scene is SO disco. I…I don’t think I need to elaborate on this one. It’s all there in that sentence…and I think you know what I mean. Moving on.

-Wait, they JUST HAPPEN to spot Rutger the first time at a certain disco?! Cuz disco is Wolfgar’s weakness! Haha! Again, this is something that just felt too abrupt and convenient. Sly’s spidey sense just happen to pick this terrorist, whose face has been surgically altered, out of the lights and shadows of this bumpin club? Hmmmm…not sure about that.

-Music is hilarious. No theme, just weird jazz. Obviously this is just another complaint about the strange, fucked-up score.

-Not Billy Dee’s face!! Endless ‘You’re fuckin dead!!’ from Sly. Pure gold. After they happen upon ‘Wolfgar’ in the disco and he shoots his way out, an extended foot chase ensues, which ends when Rutger slices Billy Dee’s visage with a dagger. As Sly cradles a shocked and bloody Lando Calrissian, he bellow’s ‘You’re fuckin dead!!’ after the escaping ‘Wolfgar’. It was hilarously over-the-top.

I like the ex wife angle. Just another scene where the idea of two people trying again, instead of the usual ‘meet-cute’ for the first time and a budding romance as the story plays out. It was a little refreshing. But again…a victim of editing, I’m sure.

-Another cool villain for Hauer. This, coupled with Blade Runner’s lethally existential ‘Roy Batty’ and the psychotic ‘John Ryder’, from 1986’s superb ‘The Hitcher’, makes for a nice trifecta of villainy for Rutger Hauer’s resume.

Haha! Obvious blanks being loaded! There’s a scene where a group of police snipers are preparing a trap and we see shells being loaded into a bolt-action rifle, only the ‘shells’ are clearly not real bullets (not even empty dummy rounds), but actual blanks, which have a specifically crimped nose.

-Nice bus jump! Ok, I’ll give them some credit. This stunt was cool. ‘Wolfgar’ again shoots his way past the NYPD, using a bus as a battering ram. The bus is shot to shit (by those blanks we saw loaded earlier) and he ‘high speeds’ it off a short jetty into the river. Looked like a real bus jumping into a real river to me.

How’d they figure out ‘Wolfgar’s hideout?! No reason given. After the bus escape, we suddenly cut to cops searching through ‘Wolfgar’s safe house…with no mention having ever been given about them having a clue where he was! This HAD to have been another casualty of some very liberal editing as something was definitely missing. Just sloppy.

-Of course, Sly back in drag. For some reason, again probably cut out, ‘Wolfgar’ somehow founds his way to ‘DaSilva’s ex’s place (when up to this point he didn’t even know of her existence) where he’s about to pounce on her with a blade as she does the dishes or something, only to have her spin around and be…Sly Stallone!! In Drag!! Again!! This time brandishing a mammoth revolver we saw him playing with earlier, and blasting Rutger out onto the front steps. And…

-Abrupt end. Not enough build-up. …roll credits. No bullshit. Rutger crashes out through the front door a bloody mess, and collapses awkwardly. Sly stoically walks out and sits down beside the fresh corpse…freeze frame…roll credits. The 3rd Act felt so rushed and impatiently paced that there is no disputing the post-production trouble this flick had…you can feel it in how the narrative plays out. There needed to be more ‘flesh’ on this story.

All in all, ‘Nighthawks’ was fun way to pass a boring Sunday afternoon, but I’m not sure I can honestly recommend it. I’d be curious to see the original cut, if it ever comes out, or even see this one remade…however ‘cops hunting terrorist’ is hardly a new plot-line. There’s some fun stuff here, several of the better stunts are actually done by Stallone himself, Rutger Hauer is always entertaining as a bad guy and seeing Billy Dee Williams as someone who’s not ‘Lando Calrissian’ or ‘Harvey Dent’ is cool. But the music is grating, the story is clunky and is clearly missing key material, and the pacing in the 3rd Act is awful. It’s not the worst movie ever…but from that time period (early 80’s) there are FAR better flicks that you’d be better off wasting your time on.





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