Wanted: Dead or Alive (1987)
Wanted: Dead or Alive was a popular western TV show from the fifties starring Steve McQueen. It told the story of Josh Randall, a Confederate war veteran and bounty hunter. It ran for three seasons and is mainly notable for launching the career of its star. The 1987 action movie, Wanted Dead or Alive, starring Rutger Hauer, tenuously links to the television show, however that’s where the similarities end. Ex-CIA operative turned bounty hunter Nick Randall (Hauer) at one point shares a brief anecdote about a Grandfather who used to tell him tall tales of the old west. That is the only reference to the television show that the movie makes. Beyond that, Wanted: Dead or Alive is pretty much a standard eighties action film with a better than average script and cast of supporting actors. It also features the decades most ubiquitous plot device, the stereotypical group of fanatical Arab terrorists.
Director Gary Sherman has made some interesting films during his career. This includes such cult classics as Death Line, Vice Squad and Dead and Buried. All are low budget features that manage to offer a different take on stock movie tropes and story lines. Here he assembles some good character actors such as Robert Guillaume, Jerry Hardin and Hugh Gillin, playing an assortment of duplicitous company men. The plot has a little more depth than most brainless action films of the time. Not only is there the excitement of a straight forward man hunt but an extra political layer showing the divisions within the various security services, each with their own agenda. This perhaps compensates for the celebrity miscasting of Gene Simmons of KISS fame, as the terrorist Malak Al Rahim. His performance is questionable and yet it’s also the sort of eye rolling, scenery chewing excess that fans of this genre like.
The modern audience may find the action scenes somewhat low key but that’s the way it was back then in the eighties. Large budgets and excess were not as abundant as they are now and there is a cogent argument to be made for more minimalist vehicles of this kind today. At least all the stunt work and prosthetics are genuine in-camera effects. It is also fun to see what passed as cutting-edge technology backing the mid-eighties, with car phones and non-windows based computers. Rutger Hauer provides a suitably laid-back performance and his presence lifts the movie above the mundane. The witty one liners and banter do not mitigate the story's point. Wanted Dead or Alive also benefits from a bravura ending with one of the best pay off lines of the decade. Watch if you are an eighties action film fan or a Rutger Hauer aficionado.