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Film review: Excessive Force

Published: Saturday, June 12 1993 12:00 a.m. MDT

Before hitting it big in the action genre, martial arts expert Steven Seagal was clearly a Clint Eastwood wannabe. But Thomas Ian Griffith hasn't set his sights quite so high. He is apparently a Steven Seagal wannabe.

Best known as the villain in "The Karate Kid, Part III," kick-'em-up martial arts expert Griffith has his first starring role in "Excessive Force," playing a tough Chicago cop — unshaven and sporting long hair, an earring in his left ear and a long black overcoat.

He's also — stop me if this sounds familiar — always at odds with his bombastic chief (Lance Henriksen) and his fashion-model girlfriend (Charlotte Lewis). Not to mention the drug-dealing mobster (Burt Young) he's trying to take down.

Griffth's character also playsjazz piano in the "Deja Vu" lounge, a dive owned by an old sax-playing friend (James Earl Jones). If that isn't enough eccentricity for you, he lives above the bar in a small rented room. This film is loaded with silly character affectations.

The main plot spins into action when Griffith busts Young's latest drug deal and a suitcase holding $3 million mysteriously disappears. Young's thug swears he didn't keep it, which does not please Young. The crooks who were killed or arrested didn't have it on them. And that leaves only Griffith and his two partners.

And when the partners are brutally murdered, that leaves only Griffith.

So, another maverick cop goes out on his own to find out who's setting him up, to get revenge and to bring the bad guys down.

Some action pictures revel in and have fun with their B-level roots. But "Excessive Force" simply rolls over one by-the-numbers cliche after another, in a predictable and boring fashion.

After 10 minutes, anyone who has ever seen an action movie knows every character who's going to die, every character who's double-crossing someone else — and especially who the kingpin behind all the mayhem really is.

The cliches are uncountable. Whenever glass comes into view — picture windows, car windows, glass tables — someone will be thrown through it. Whenever Griffith kills someone near enough, he'll use the victim's body as a shield.

Twenty years ago, another musclebound movie actor sold a screenplay he had written for himself, hoping it would be his ticket to Hollywood stardom. And for Sylvester Stallone, that's exactly what "Rocky" became.

But Griffith's script for "Excessive Force" is really dumb, with enough anti-Chicago one-liners to ensure he won't be invited to join the local Kiwanis Club. And the direction, by Jon Hess ("Watchers," "Alligator 2"), is extremely bland.

No, this film will instead simply be Griffith's ticket to video rental shelves, which are already lined with dozens of other generically titled Z-level flicks.

And my guess is that this one won't leave the shelves very often.

By the way, don't ask me about the climax. After more than an hour, I gave up and walked out. Even a movie critic has his limits.

"Excessive Force" is rated R for violence, sex, nudity, profanity, vulgarity and drug abuse, all of it excessive and unnecessary.

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