March 29, 2011

Justify My Netflix: The Warriors

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

The Warriors

Today's movie: The Warriors, 1979 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

Why I added it to my queue: Because a recent recap of this at the New York Times film podcast reminded me that it's been decades since I've seen this cult classic and '80s cable television staple, a comic-book-style retelling of a Greek myth regarding a group of soldiers stuck far in enemy territory, told here via cartoonish street gangs in a post-apocalyptic New York.

The reality: "Warriors!" CLINK CLINK CLINK! "Come out and PLA-EEE-AY!" Ah, come on, you just knew I was going to lead my review with that quote; in fact, that's probably the best-known thing about The Warriors, and the thing that made it a cult classic to begin with, is that it's chock-full of instantly quotable lines, and a kind of hyperstylized look that takes as much advantage as possible of the very real apocalyptic state that New York had actually degenerated into by the late 1970s. (In fact, this would make a fine double-feature with The Wiz from just a year previous, two very different sides of the same crumbling-'70s-New-York-as-dark-fantasyland coin.) Combine that, then, with what turns out to be a remarkably strong storyline, which only with this adult viewing have I realized is actually full of modern nods to the ancient Greek original -- it features furies (a terrifying rival gang, and an homage to director Walter Hill's dual obsessions of baseball and KISS), sirens (Mercedes Ruehl in one of her first roles, an undercover cop who lures would-be rapists in Central Park), an exposition-spouting chorus (Lynne Thigpen as a hip nighttime radio DJ, spreading the news across the city about the Warriors' progress down the entire length of Manhattan, the journey that takes up the vast majority of the film), and a lot more -- and you have a film that still holds up surprisingly well here in 2011 as a legitimate piece of cinema, even if its late-'70s details are now sometimes so specific as to be laughable. (How do you know that the Orphans are only a minor gang? Because they don't have ridiculously foppish hats like the major gangs do, of course!) The debut of Hill as a producer, a role that would eventually also bring us the "Alien" movies, Tales from the Crypt and Deadwood, and a film that sparked actual violence when it first came out, among real-life rival gangs showing up at movie theaters at the same time, this is blessedly one of the few cases where it's not nostalgia forming a waxy haze over my memories of a teenage favorite, but rather a mature and remarkable film that still easily holds its own as a piece of smart, kick-ass entertainment. It comes highly recommended, especially with there being news these days of a high-profile Hollywood remake in the works.

Strangest piece of trivia: Ronald Reagan was such a huge fan of this film, he once called the lead actor to let him know that he had just finished watching it at Camp David.

Worth your time? CAN...YOU...DIG IT?!

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:20 AM, March 29, 2011. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |