there are a lot of movies on our to watch list, so it’s difficult to choose one over another. when a movie comes up over and over again, it’ll move up on the list. while i’ve always been aware that trespass (1992) exists, it first came up during our die hard-ish month, which begets BRUCE’s last man standing directed by walter hill, who also did wild bill and red heat, both of which i finally saw for the first time this year. and here we arrive at hill’s 1992 die hard-ish trespass. i also thought it’d be funny to do two movies with the same title in one week but it was definitely funnier in my head. to sum up, i saw one good movie by the name of trespass this week. hint: nicolas cage is not in the good one.
bill paxton (streets of fire) and william sadler (hard to kill, die hard 2: die harder, tales from the crypt movies 1 & 2) play arkansas firemen who received a what looks to be a treasure map on the job. it thankfully comes with a newspaper clipping so they know just exactly where to go for said treasure. no need to look at the back of the declaration of independence or kidnap the president. meanwhile in “east st. louis, ILL,” a gang lead by ice-t needs a quiet place to settle some “g” thang. both parties congregate at the former church, now an abandoned factory.
i knew it’s going to be good right from the opening sequence with short succinct scenes setting up the background and characters in between big block letters appearing on screen, all set to the 80s action movie rock music that just warms my heart. the score is by ry cooder, who worked on most walter hill films up till last man standing.
like the opening credits, the movie itself also moves at a brisk pace, and brings back a certain nostalgia for me. in addition to the die hard-ish scenario, paxton and sadler have kind of the buddy cop partnership (except they are both white), with opposite personalities. there is also of course the action movie staple: the abandoned warehouse/factory/mansion, except instead of only appearing at the end of the movie, it’s the whole stage. trespass distills all these old favorite elements, stretch out and narrow them down to the most basic and maximize efficiency.
sadler seems to be more of the man with the plan, and equipment. he’s more of the shoot first ask question later kind of guy. someone who would do anything to get the treasure and survive. the movie didn’t mention this but he’s probably a big ayn rand fan, at one point he even complains about taxes. paxton on the other hand is more compassionate, innocent, idealistic and naive. he’s more about cautious and timid. he’s the alerting-the-authorities, let’s-wait-for-back-up, nobody-has-to-die kind of guy. he wants the treasure too but going to screw a lot of people over just so he can get it. so let’s call him a liberal.
besides the classic walter hill action scenes, which has everything from john woo doves/hong kong 80s action-ish shootouts, glass breaking, tough talks, it also could have worked as a western, except you know, with more prominent roles for black people. but what makes trespass stands out from the run of the mill b-movie is the character dynamics. the two firemen found a homeless man (art evans, who’s also in die hard 2: die harder) in the abandoned building early on, and there is a negotiation scene between the three of them that quickly establishes the relationship between them and the treasure perfectly.
another memorable scene that i don’t think i have seen in a movie before has to do with ice t‘s brother (de’voreaux white, i didn’t recognize him at first but it’s ARGYLE from DIE HARD 1) lucky, who’s been taken as a hostage by the firemen. for some reason they decided to give him only one leg. anyway, there’s a pretty unforgettable scene when he’s tied up and is going through withdrawal from drugs and, not wanting to untie him, he has to give our firemen instructions on how to cook crack and injects it in him.
the performances are overall good but the most entertaining has to be bill paxton. i don’t think it’s his acting but the naivete and innocence of his character leads to some pretty funny line reading. my favorite line is probably “fuck that plank!” and then there is part when the homeless guy calls him a hick and he said something like “shut up, you black son of a bitch!”
and that’s part of the charm of seeing the movie now, almost 20 years after it’s release. it would have stood out if paxton‘s character uses the n word, though it wouldn’t have been entirely out of character. but the thing is the n word does appear in the movie. and not just in the hip hop soundtrack either. just like now, it’s only socially acceptable to use the word if you’re black.
it was kind of an interesting time for this movie to be released too. it dropped on christmas day of 1992, about eight months after the l.a. riot. the title was changed from looters to trespass. there are many reasons why any film flops but i am kind of glad i didn’t see it in theatres. it would have been too easy and unfair to project any social or political thoughts and real life emotions to the movie. it also would have taken away the fun of any (b-)movies. i also like the fact that it came out during that time when hollywood finally realized the “urban” movies can make money. by that time we’ve already had a few spike lee movies, king of new york, new jack city, boyz in the hood, south central, and lee’s malcolm x had just came out a couple months before…etc it’s good to have a simple effective b-movie in there for variety sake in the genre.
it was a blast when i watch it last week, though there are some small problems in the third act when the geography and motives of the characters lose some logic. the dead body in the closet and the specific locales seem pretty unnecessary. they could have been in the same city from the start. there are also some pretty pointless video camera footage though it’s not as annoying as some of the movies we get later. it’s still not as bad as shaky cam. ice t and ice cube each get a monologue scene via the camcorder. none of these scenes add anything to the movie except reminding me of music videos and perhaps the over and over showing of the rodney king footage in the media. i don’t know if it is coincidental or intentional that the camcorder scenes are in the movie. one of the gang members, played by tommy “tiny” lister (universal soldier, dolph’s men of war, friday, things to do in denver, jackie brown, dracula 3000), who is actually tinier at the time, is shown wearing cleated shoes but nothing really come of it. and despite having both ices’ in the movie, none of the songs on the soundtrack are that memorable.
but those are pretty minor complains though, it’s a pretty entertaining fast-paced action-packed 100 minutes. without any major stars or a big budget, it’ll probably be direct-to-video if it was made now. makes me nostalgic for the days when quality b-movies can actually made it to theatres, a time before b-movies are made with ten times as much money and big name movie stars as major studio’s weekly box office sweepstakes as tentpole movies.
the pitch: die hard in a former church/abandoned factory
bruno, the mcclane surrogate: bill paxton and william sadler as two firemen. paxton’s character recreated the fire hose around the waist/jumping off building scene from die hard.
the gruber factor: ice t
the hans objective: the gang didn’t have a specific objective, other than not leaving witness to their score-settling. it’s a pretty nice twist that their goal keeps changing during the movie.
wrong place at the wrong time: every character arrives at the location on purpose but they did meet the other party through an unfortunate coincident.
the help: a cop car shows up and everyone’s watching it from above. the cops leave eventually but unlike die hard, i think they actually want the cops to leave. though the firemen takes the homeless guy hostage, he eventually turns out to be their sidekick. the gang calls in backup.
the family element: in another interesting twist on the die hard formula, it’s actually the “heroes” of the movie who takes the gang leader’s brother hostage.
bonfire of the weaponry: uh pretty much guns of every kind, metal detector, bombs, molokov cocktails, cleated shoes.
last man standing: another twist on the “hero vs. villain” formula. though there is kind of a one-on-one type situation at the end, it’s not who you expect it to be.
unbearables: quite a long list. director walter hill also directed BRUCE in last man standing. co-writer robert zemeckis (yes the same robert zemeckis who thinks of movies as fast food) directed cast away (die hard on an island?) and BRUCE in death becomes her. bill paxton is in u-571 and vertical limit. william sadler is in die hard 2: die harder and later reunites with ice t in stealth fighter (1999). the hobo is played by art evans, who’s also in die hard 2: die harder, he’s also in the great white hype with samuel l. jackson from die hard 3: with a vengeance. ice t later appears in the die hard-ish surviving the game, mean guns, and final voyage. ice cube shows up in anaconda, which is kind of die hard-ish. gang members also includes as mentioned, argyle from die hard 1, and glenn plummer, who’s also in things to do in denver, and gets his vehicles taken by two different white men in the two speed movies. cleated tommy “tiny” lister also appears in the die hard-ish runaway train and blast (2004), walter hill’s extreme prejudice, universal soldier with jcvd and dolph, both of whom have die hard-ish movies, and dolph again in men of war, and as the president in BRUCE’s fifth element. he also reunites with ice t and william sadler in the 1999 andrew divoff movie stealth fighter.
trespass 92 is currently available on netflix instant, and on youtube.