Forgotten Action Cinema: Black Moon Rising (1986)

Black Moon Rising (1986) Movie Retro Poster“Black Moon Rising” is one of those rare 80’s films that’s a bit of an amalgamation– it’s a B list film with an A list pedigree. The leads are Academy Award winner Tommy Lee Jones, and veteran thespians Linda Hamilton, Robert Vaughan, William Sanderson, and Nick Cassavettes. Even better, the script was conceived by the legendary John Carpenter, a man revered in most cinematic circles. Yet it’s from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, and helmed by a director who exchanged low budget films for television. So how does this cross pollination of differentiated talent bear out? Surprisingly well, presenting a diverting action film that’s the cream of the 80’s adventure genre.

The Black Moon of the title is a hyper advanced automobile, designed by NASA and capable of exceeding over 300 miles per hour. It’s also got an unexpected optional extra not factory installed–a computer tape secreted inside that implicates a powerful corporation in some very shady tax dealings. Jones plays Sam Quint, an ex-thief/government contractor who’s stolen the tape, but forced to stash it in the Black Moon for temporary safekeeping. Which turns out to be less temporary than he thought, since the car is heisted by prodigious car thief Nina (Hamilton); she’s working for a ruthless businessman who covets the dreamy wheels and secures it in his high security skyscraper. Now Quint has three days to deliver the tape to the government–but he’ll have to team up with Nina and pull off the heist of the century to do it.

Tommy Lee Jones is perfect as Sam Quint, all world weary and tough enough to pull off the impossible. “Black Moon” came out several years before Jones gained acclaim, but even in 1986 his talent and immersion in the role shows he was a star in the making. Post “Terminator” Hamilton is equally good, injecting her role with plenty of spunk and spirit, but never forgets to add a slight dash of vulnerability to her performance. Making you forget he was ever in the “Police Academy” debacles, which taught kids to have less respect for law enforcement than they already had, Bubba Smith reminds you the former NFL player really can be a tough guy. While he’s got little to do as a menacing thug, Nick Cassavettes makes the most of his screen time and exhudes a dangerous aura. Not someone you’d want to meet in a dark alley, (or even a well lit one). Notable actors Richard Jaeckel and Keenan Wynn also pop in, if anything to steal the occasional scene or two.

John Carpenter’s script might not be the most logical ever written, but that’s quickly forgotten with the screenplay filled with action scenes. It’s a pity that the film fell into the hands of Roger Corman, who couldn’t give it the budget to give things an adrenaline transfusion, but it’s still fun to watch. It’s a further pity they couldn’t find a more adept director than Harley Cokliss, who handles the actors well but directs the action scenes in an understated manner. They’re still pretty impressive, but still leave you longing for more. As the requisite corporate baddie, Robert Vaughan is adequate, he should be since he can probably play the role in a coma. Problem is, at times he seems like he’s doing just that; like he’s gotten so familair with the part, he’s put his brain on auto-pilot and is already thinking about his next job.

“Black Moon Rising” is almost an unknown gem of a picture. Sure it’s got a few flaws, but it’s still worth the time to gaze upon it. Buckle yourself in for this ride and floor it–you’ll be glad you did.

Harley Cokeliss (director) / John Carpenter, William Gray, Desmond Nakano (screenplay)
CAST: Tommy Lee Jones … Quint
Linda Hamilton … Nina
Robert Vaughn … Ed Ryland
Richard Jaeckel … Earl Windom
Lee Ving … Marvin Ringer
Bubba Smith … Johnson
Dan Shor … Billy Lyons
William Sanderson … Tyke Thayden

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