Beyond The Law (1992)
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Michael Madsen
Director: Larry Ferguson
Writer(s): Larry Ferguson
Studio: HBO Films
Running Time: 108 minutes
Official Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Sometimes it’s best to leave childhood favorites in your childhood. This might have been one of those cases. I would have been around ten to twelve years old when I first saw “Beyond The Law”, which also would have been my first exposure to the idea of biker gangs and such, and at the time I thought it was just about the coolest film ever made. It’s filled with loud Harleys, wild bikers, tons of groovy rock music, and plenteous obscenities, violence, and nudity galore! (Yeah, my parents probably should have been a little more picky here, but eh, I turned out half way alright…) I probably watched it at least a dozen times. It had been almost twenty years since I had seen this movie before watching it for the purposes of this review series, and while there were still joyful moments of remembrance, there were very many cringe and wince worthy moments that made me chuckle at what a truly ridiculous movie this is.
Is it possible for us to remember the old Charlie Sheen anymore? The version of him from before he became a pitiful self parody/celebrity train wreck seems to be a very distant memory at best. This movie catches him at what I’d say was the beginning of his decline from serious box office star from the late 80s and early 90s to the straight to DVD/Hot Shots parody guy he became in the years before he decided to try his hands at sitcom acting. Quality wise, this movie is at the far other end of the spectrum from his great performance in ‘Platoon’ and ‘Wall Street’. But to be fair, actors are to a certain extent slaves to their material, and the writing in this movie is clunky to say the absolute least. There are numerous lines here that make you scratch your head and go, “someone actually wrote that?”… Which is strange considering director/writer Larry Ferguson has been responsible for some really good stuff elsewhere in his career, but he’s also done some very entertaining “trash” (written lovingly) starring the likes JCVD and others of that ilk. Along with the lousy writing the directing/editing is very choppy and jumpy in that classic made for TV sort of way. Nothing is allowed to breath as we jump from major plot point to major plot point to climax to credits.
This movie is based, according to its own account, on a true story of a man who infiltrated an infamous outlaw motorcycle gang and took it down from the inside. This is basically Donnie Brasco on a Harley Davidson, although to be sure, Charlie Sheen is certainly no Johnny Depp in any way, shape, or form. Sheen plays Dan Saxon a.k.a Sid to the gang he infiltrates. Saxon is a cop with a troubled past, and a hot head that gets him fired fairly early on in the movie, which frees him up to take on this crazy undercover venture. Charlie Sheen gives a decent performance at times here, and he certainly looks the part of both a clean cut police officer and long haired scraggly outlaw biker when they are both called for. In the Al Pacino role here (and I am fully aware of the fact that while I am making this Donnie Brasco comparison that this movie predates that one by about five years or so) is a young and very menacing looking Michael Madsen.
For all the things in this movie that did not pass the test of time, I will say Michael Madsen was still just as cool as he seemed when I first saw this flick as a child. Madsen became famous playing the role of various rough enforcer types in Quentin Tarintino movies of the early to mid 1990s, but here he has what is essentially the second biggest role in the movie. He goes simply by the name of ‘Blood’ and leads this vicious pack of bikers as they raid and terrorize the local populace. Madsen has long been one of my favorite and most underrated actors. To me he is like a modern day Robert Mitchum, or at least a B-movie version of him, which is still pretty damn good mind you. Blood takes Sid in under his wing and basically teaches him the ropes of the outlaw brotherhood.
Linda Fiorentino plays journalist Renee Jason. She is the romantic interest for Charlie Sheen in this movie, and does a fine job with what she has to work with here. She is definitely the sexpot of this movie and is filmed accordingly. We see her bent over a pool table, in short daisy dukes, and various other suggestive attires here, even though her role is supposed to be that of a serious and respectable investigative journalist doing a piece on a criminal gang. This was a straight to HBO movie, made by HBO in the era before The Sopranos when they were not quite the bastion for quality TV that they became later on. And with that a lot of the nudity and violence here feels more than a little gratuitous, rather than completely organic.
Now with that being said, I do give this movie credit with giving a more accurate representation of outlaw biker gangs than you find in some other movies and TV shows. These guys are, Madsen aside, far from the Marlon Brando ideal, fat violent slobs with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. This movie employed a ton of extras as well which makes the scenes with the gang riding down the highway extra effective. Everything concerning the overall biker lifestyle, although I cannot speak on the realism, not being a biker myself, seemed to be at least very credible, or at the very least, entertaining in a very grimy and gritty sort of way.
With the aforementioned shaky editing, and laughable dialogue, one of things that helps this movie stand on its feet is the great music throughout. The soundtrack here is perfect for the kind of movie this is. From the montage when Saxon is getting his custom bike built, all the way until the end, this movie feels like a long drawn out 80s metal music video. Great cinema this surely isn’t, hell, it may even be a stretch to call it decent, but I find due to my childhood devotion that I cannot rag on it too much. If you’re bored and into this sort of thing, there’s certainly worse movies out there.