Full disclosure: I was recently on vacation in Dallas, Texas and during my time there, I got a bit of a neo-western fever. This may have gerrymandered my choice of which film to highlight the inimitable Rutger Hauer who recently passed away. Hauer surely contributed to one of cinema’s most gracefully existential monologues in ‘Blade Runner’ but I doubt he’s a household name. In fact, Hauer was always more of a twinkling-eyed character actor than a star. Therefore, the Dutch journeyman’s leading roles were rarities. One exception was the contemporized adaptation of Steve McQueen’s gunslinger launching pad from 1958-1961.
For the most part, this film is relatively obscure nowadays other than people’s recollections of KISS band member Gene Simmons as the scurrilous terrorist. However the coup de grace is (SPOILER ALERT) his exit from the film with Nick Randall (Hauer) pulling the pin on a grenade, cramming it in his mouth and stoically swaggering away before his head erupts into debris and his beheaded body lifelessly flops on the ground. To be certain, this is a gratifyingly graphic death and it is completely warranted after the premeditated murders of Randall’s sergeant friend and girlfriend.
Under the remorseless direction of exploitation maven Gary Sherman, Hauer is a Teutonic bounty hunter with an unflappable attitude which is not diametrical to Simmons’ Islamic fortitude. If people were guffawing at Denzel’s Muslim beard in The Equalizer, they’ll be uncontrollably chuckling at Simmon’s Hassidic disguise and the offensively faux-Middle Eastern motif in the keyboard score.
Aside from the warehouse reclusiveness, the soldier-for-hire occupation and a fleeting reference to his grandfather Joshua during the days of frontier justice, the film merely despoils the moniker of the television series. I suppose the motorcycle is a modernized horseback for Nick and that is truly overanalyzing the tenuous connections between the film and its forefather.
In the age of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Norris and Dudikoff, Hauer’s energy is much more low-key and surprisingly sensual especially in the houseboat scenes with Terry (Mel Harris). He’s not an automaton and underneath a Chicago Bears T-shirt, his physique could conservatively be called paunchy. Some viewers might jostle at the abstinence from urban warfare until the midpoint but Sherman is nimbly greasing the wheels before the inevitable fallout.
This isn’t a race-against-the-clock picture before the next detonation in a public arena. Sherman relishes the procedural elements as Randall broodingly interrogates the connections to the “ragheads” responsible for the movie theater explosion. Instead of a scowl, Hauer is always verging on a wily smirk.
Since this is technically a slow-burn thriller more than a high-octane action movie, the brevity of the set pieces vouchsafes that the ones featured here are brutally unflinching (ex. After a cataclysmic car chase, Randall continues to casually drive his car with a shattered windshield and a blood-speckled corpse in his passenger seat).
Simmons mesmerizes despite the fact that he is assaying the same somnolent, drowsy-eyed indifference and weariness that Isaac Hayes exhibited in Escape from New York. Although an inordinate amount of runtime is devoted to Nick absconding from bureaucratic tails, Wanted: Dead or Alive is increasingly vesuvian, genuinely shocking (the instantaneous dual incineration of Randall’s allies) and culturally brackish in regards to its Arab antagonists.