1987 in Film – Wanted: Dead or Alive

Release Date: January 16th
Box Office: $6,000,000

Now, I remember having this on VHS when I was a kid. Well, I say me. My Dad bought it and it was on the shelf so I probably watched it when they were out or something. There are only a few things I remember about it:

  • The cover with a pretty cool looking Rutger Hauer and some fancy gun he had
  • The bad guy cutting some guys throats whilst dressed as a rabbi
  • How the bad guy gets killed in the end

Pretty much the rest of the film is a blank slate which makes it a good one to go back to. I mean, writing all this stuff about films shouldn’t be a chore.

So we have Rutger Hauer as bounty hunter Nick Randall going around bounty huntering people and going back to his house which is basically a warehouse with one corner used for home stuff. The rest has some cars, a gun range and a room full computers and more guns.

Yes, Hauer is your textbook lonely good guy who hates what he does and yet is really good at it. You can tell he’s good at it because his shotgun has a laser sight. Only the really cool people, and Terminators, used laser sights in the eighties. Although, a laser sight on a shotgun? Anyway, even without though he has a remote keypad in his car that he uses to open up the door to his warehouse-house. And he has a sat nav in his car in 1987, admittedly a green screen one but it still counts.

Whilst this is going on, we have Gene Simmons’ Middle Eastern terrorist Malak Al Rahim sneaking into the country disguised as a rabbi. Before you know it he’s bombing stuff all over the place, Hauer’s CIA past is revealed as he is tasked with finding Ah Rahim which he is more than willing to do as they have previous history with each other. Yep, Hauer killed a few of Al Rahim’s buddies and he’s still not happy about it.

If it’s not clear, it’s daft with as many cliches as it can carry. Hauer does his best trying to give his character a bit of depth, after all he is ridiculously too good for this material. You can easily seeing Randall being played by a Norris or an early Arnie role as, on paper, he’s that shallow. Hauer elevates it somewhat and makes him a character. When the CIA uses him to set a trap for Al Rahim which ends up getting Randall’s best friend and girlfriend killed you can see the benefit for having a really good actor in that role.

Simmons, however, is a plank of wood. Somehow, this isn’t that bad because he’s supposed to be this near mythic terrorist as focussed as a laser beam. The fact he barely changes expression during the film ends up actually helping.

The film isn’t bad at all; you get some big explosions, Rutger Hauer walking around covered in guns and a great killing the bad guy moment. It’s strange that this film gets kind of brushed over in Hauer’s filmography but you can see why; before this was his iconic turn in Blade Runner (1982) and then in The Hitcher (1986). After this you have things like Blind Fury (1989) and Wedlock (1991) and Split Second (1992), the really properly cult stuff. Wanted ends up falling between those two stools, despite being the film that helped Hauer transition from Bad Guy to Hero.

Which means it’s good but not good enough to be amongst Hauer’s best and not dumb enough to get a true cult following. And also, the damaged hero with a past would get done properly later on in the year which would totally overshadow most other action films. It’s a shame. Wanted Dead or Alive isn’t a necessity but it’s worth your time at the very least.

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