Wanted Dead or Alive Review
Wanted Dead or Alive’s arrival on DVD (for the second time, its previous release having been panned and scanned) will no doubt appease eighties nostalgists. A brash actioner from 1987, the film contains all of that decade’s worst excesses. On offer we have wanton, gratuitous violence, Rutger Hauer’s golden mullet, vague Middle Eastern terrorism, casual racism, techno-fetishism, Gene Simmons of Kiss fame in the psycho role (following up his adversarial part opposite Tom Selleck in Runaway), Mel Harris of Thirtysomething as the thankless love interest, and testosterone soaked foul mouthed dialogue (“Next time you decide to fuck me Lipton, kiss me first”).
Thus Hauer is “a fuckin’ bounty hunter” and Simmons “a fuckin’ scumbag” and their two paths cross when the latter heads into L.A. with the sole intention of causing as many casualties as possible. That some of these include those close to Hauer also sets in motion a personal revenge motive, yet this is ultimately a faceless piece. When Hauer takes care of a cop killing redneck during the opening reel, it could be anyone in the role - Steven Seagal, Chuck Norris, even Nick Nolte or Gary Busey - and this is Wanted Dead or Alive’s essential problem. It gets down to business with a sense of assuredness and a sense of humour, but there’s nothing to distinguish it from any other violent eighties thriller.
Trying to identify exactly where this fault lies, however, is a difficult prospect as there is nothing about Wanted Dead or Alive to raise it above the unexceptional. Gary Sherman directs without any sense of genuine style (though he’s proficient), whilst the screenplay in which he had a hand seems content to stay vague and never stray too far away from the next explosion. Hauer’s history amounts to him being a Vietnam vet and there’s a mention of “Beirut. February, 1978. Remember?” as the sole explanation of his mutual hatred of the CIA and the levels of corruption. Moreover, the casting favours loosely familiar faces - Jerry Hardin, Robert Guillaume - in essentially faceless roles, which only serves to heighten the sense of déjà vu.
Yet if engaged with on its rather basic levels then Wanted Dead or Alive proves itself to be undemanding entertainment. Of course, given its abundant similarities to numerous other actioners, the options of a better film are most certainly there. And as such it would most likely serve as a rental prospect rather than a sure-fire purchase, an element enhanced by the disc itself. Its visual presentation is absolutely fine - a slightly grainy print, but largely clean and rendered anamorphically (at a ratio of 1.78:1) and perfectly watchable - as is the audio side of things. Anchor Bay have provided their usual optional DD5.1 and DTS alongside the original stereo, all of which present no problems though there is little need to go for either upgrade, but then their extras amount only to a vintage trailer and a handful of reasonably in-depth cast biographies.