NIGHTHAWKS—twenty quick years before real-life terrorism came to New York City, this fast and furious 1981 action thriller presents a pair of free-ranging (and exceptionally attractive) international mayhem makers with the opportunity to wreak havoc. A pair of the NYPD’s most butt-kicking detectives are tasked to bring them in, preferably dead. The screenplay by David Shaber (Last Embrace,The Warriors) is textbook hogwash, but momentum carries the day and the cast puts ample energy into it, with the door prize going to one of the villains.
Badass detectives ‘Deke DaSilva’ (Sylvester Stallone) and ‘Matthew Fox’ (Billy Dee Williams) aren’t known for their gentle approach, so perhaps they’re the dudes who can find and dispatch icy and ingenious ‘Heymar Reinhardt’, alias ‘Wulfgar’ (Rutger Hauer) and ‘Shakka Kapoor'(Persis Khambatta), his partner who has “no maternal instincts“. Casualties mount as it gets increasingly personal between parties. Will Wulfar be so callous as to go after ‘Irene’ (Lindsay Wagner), Deke’s estranged wife? If you have to guess you may as well not take the test.
Taking a break between ‘Balboa’ bouts and after two dramas, Stallone’s first foray into the action thriller zone saw him take over a chunk of the direction as well as acting after the first director (Gary Nelson) was fired and his replacement (Bruce Malmuth) had a rocky (so to speak) start. Contention over the editing played a blame-game factor. Stallone and Williams do expected partner sparring, ‘bud’ form, get to cuss with fervor and engage in a lot of running (no car chases this time, gratefully). They handle the stunts and gunstuff well. Wagner has a thankless throwaway role, shoehorned in to add some standard cop-with-homelife-trouble material.
Khambatta also has little to do other than look and act convincingly fierce, which suffices for her secondary role as ‘exotic foreign threat’. Who really takes charge of the movie is the arresting Hauer, the handsome and charismatic Dutch actor making the most of his introduction to a Hollywood career. All mass-murdering most-wanted types should be so polite, assured and lethally charming.
Complimenting New York City’s long reign of unease, Keith Emerson’s score provides a sort of Death Wish‘y feel to the 99 minutes. Made for $5,000,000, the domestic audience response placed it 57th in ’81, taking $14,900,000, with another $5,000,000 tackled abroad.
Featuring Nigel Davenport, Joe Spinell, Hilary Thompson, Tony Munafo (who had a great role that year in a real cop story, the superb Prince Of The City), Catherine Mary Stewart and porn star Jamie Gillis, who somehow was allowed into a mainstream movie.
* According to 1981 movies, The Big Apple was rotting: this joined Fort Apache The Bronx, Escape From New York and Prince Of The City as an anti-advertisement. Throw in Wolfen.
Or, for the waggish, Nighthawks was the gig where Rambo and Lando fight the replicant from Blade Runner and the bald chick from Star Trek while The Bionic Woman waits on the sidelines.