Bill Lustig makes low-budget genre pictures that in my opinion deserve even better visibility than the beloved cult status they currently enjoy. Lustig is a B-movie auteur, not quite at the level of a Sam Fuller but not too far removed either. Just look at some of Lustig’s better-known films: MANIAC is a skin-crawling voyage into a nocturnal netherworld of violence and perversion. VIGILANTE is a prickly screed, brimming with emphatic arguments concerning vengeance and justice. MANIAC COP is a weird, eerie, occasionally dreamy whodunit giving a wild spin to the slasher film.
RELENTLESS gives you a little bit of all three in the same movie. It’s a two-hander, equal parts the story of the Judd Nelson character, an LAPD-reject-turned-serial-killer, and the story of the Leo Rossi character, a recently-promoted homicide detective pushed to the wall by this particular case. Both actors are solid in their roles, particularly Nelson, spookily playing against type as a wide-eyed psychopathic murderer with a genuinely disturbing backstory.
Still, neither lead actor feels exactly perfectly-cast. Leo Rossi fires off some great wisecracks with enthusiasm – he resembles a smirkier version of Robert Z’Dar (star of Lustig’s MANIAC COP). Yet when things get serious, he doesn’t quite adjust smoothly to the tone change. And while Judd Nelson convinces as a cruel and unhinged killer, he still can’t help but register as the petulant delinquent from the teen roles he’d only recently been playing. He’s not as threatening as he maybe should be. He’s no Joe Spinell, but to be fair, no one is.
The greatest pleasure of RELENTLESS is of course legendary character actor Robert Loggia, in his gravel-gargling prime, careening around the movie like a wrecking ball forged from spite and belligerent charisma. Robert Loggia may actually be one of the most underrated presences in movies. No one else makes toughness nearly as ingratiating. He makes RELENTLESS snap to attention when he’s onscreen, and makes the movie suffer when he isn’t. Lustig and screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson (who made FIELD OF DREAMS the same year!) provide Loggia with plenty of combustible dialogue to blow up. If you’re half the connoisseur of Robert Loggia character turns that I am, this movie is primo vintage, and if somehow you aren’t a fan yet, you’ll be one when it’s through.
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Tags: Angel Tompkins, Edward Bunker, George "Buck" Flower, George Gallo, James Lemmo, Jay Chattaway, Judd Nelson, Leo Rossi, Los Angeles, Meg Foster, new line cinema, Phil Alden Robinson, Robert Loggia, William Lustig