Walter Hill’s 1979 gang film “The Warriors” has gotten plenty of buzz lately, owing in part to announcements regarding an upcoming 2006 remake by Tony Scott (he of the seizure inducing editing), as well as a video game based on the movie hitting Playstations and Game Cubes everywhere. There’s also an Unrated Director’s Cut DVD out for consumption — which is the version I am reviewing here, although how it differs from the original release is a mystery, as I never saw the original and do not intend to make comparisons. For those interested in the upcoming remake, one has already been made in Scotland called “The Purifiers”, a martial arts take on the same story.
How well does Hill’s movie hold up after 26 years? Not all bad, actually. Although I have to say, the film is better watched as an unintentional comedy, what with the gimmicky “looks” of the various street gangs featured. Let’s see, there’s the gang that wears baseball uniforms and carries bats, the lesbian gang, the sick-looking Orphans, and so on. One group even seems to all sport Farrah Fawcett haircuts (I’m not kidding), and then there’s the mime gang that dresses up in mime clothes and paints their faces white. Which begs the question: does the mime gang ever talk while they’re out “ganging” it up, or do they use sign language to bully people about?
Our story of gangs, mimes, and giant afros open with the Warriors, a Coney Island gang, being summoned along with every other gang in the city (there’s apparently a lot of gangs in New York ) to the Bronx . The destination is a pow wow called for by the charismatic Cyrus (Roger Hill), leader of the black gang, the Riffs. Cyrus has a plan — combine the gangs into one powerful force and take over New York City . It’s a nice little plan, except ol Cyrus gets shot before the meeting is over and the Warriors is blamed for the assassination. Before long, the Warriors’ chieftain, Cleon (Dorsey Wright) gets pummeled to death, leaving Swan (Michael Beck) to assume command over the objections of lovably bellicose loudmouth Ajax (James Remar).
With the cops on their tail (cops were there to bust up the meeting, which sort of makes Cyrus’ logistics and planning abilities a bit suspect, if you ask me), and the other gangs zeroing in, the Warriors must run the gauntlet through the Bronx and back to their homestead lest they be beaten to a pulp. And really, when you have a bunch of guys dressed as ’30s baseball players with bats chasing you, not to mention those damn mimes, you best haul ass, which is what our anti-heroes do. They even get not-all-that-able assist from mouthy Mercy (Deborah Van Valkenburgh), who is looking for a real man to satisfy her adventurous urges.
Although the decades haven’t made Hill’s vision of gang warfare “in the near future” (as the movie claims) a complete embarrassment, it’s nevertheless amazingly tame by today’s standards. Although Cyrus gets shot in the early parts, the film plays out mostly like a PG-13 kid’s adventure romp, so much so that when a character gets tossed into the way of an oncoming train and killed, it feels completely out of left-field, as if you were watching Barney the Dinosaur when someone decided to change the channel to “NYPD Blue”. On the plus side, the soundtrack is filled with synthesizers so common in the ’80s that still sound excellent today. The film’s action, even though overly sanitized to moviegoers raised on the umpteenth “Halloween” sequel and remakes of Asian horror films, is good clean fun.
Leading man Michael Beck is one of those silent but very capable types most ’80s heroes tend to be (and yes, I know “The Warriors” was released in 1979, but it’s very much an “’80s movie” in most respects). Beck plays Swan perfectly, with the right combination of cunning, intelligence, and stoic fury. He hates the Establishment, loves the thug life, but also has a certain depth — that “something” that makes you like him despite his thug credentials. After Cleon goes down, Swan immediately takes control, and you get the feeling that if only the rest of the Warriors would just follow his lead, they might get back home alive. The film’s other notable character is Ajax , played by a smart-alecky James Remar, who unfortunately leaves the story much too soon.
As a closing thought, I can now understand why Tony Scott is remaking “The Warriors”. There’s a lot of potential in the original story, and with the right tweaks here and there, a remake could make for an in-your-face action film with social implications. Take away the silly gangs (The mimes! Dear God, the mimes!), and set it in a hotspot of gang activity like Los Angeles (as the new film plans to do), and you have a war film set in the Inner City. The story is ripe for a grittier, edgier makeover, something Scott could do well if he’ll only agree to dispense with some of the insane editing tricks he’s become obsessed with recently.
Could a “Warriors” remake work? I can dig it.
Walter Hill (director) / Sol Yurick (novel), David Shaber, Walter Hill (screenplay)
CAST: Michael Beck …. Swan
James Remar …. Ajax
Dorsey Wright …. Cleon
Brian Tyler …. Snow
David Harris …. Cochise
Tom McKitt …. Cowboy
Marcelino Sanchez …. Rembrandt
Terry Michos …. Vermin
Deborah Van Valkenburgh …. Mercy
Roger Hill …. Cyrus