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August 10, 2011


(1992, Dir. by Walter Hill.)

If you asked me to name my favorite genre directors, it wouldn't be more than 20 seconds before I mentioned Walter Hill.  I guess he's not really at the top of my list with the likes of John Carpenter and William Friedkin and Sam Raimi, but he's always there in the periphery of my mind.  The unique thing that keeps him there, I think, is the fact that Hill has his own niche and his own style that I love - but he's never really branched his "genre" efforts into horror cinema.

Of course, I'd be a fool if I didn't point out that Hill had his hand in one of the most popular pieces of horror of the late-'80s/early-'90s - as an executive producer and three time director of Tales from the Crypt - and that he kind of was a driving force behind a little film called Alien and a little sequel called Aliens.  But when it comes to directing, Hill's forte has certainly been action thrillers - ranging from the gangland epic The Warriors to the rocktastic Streets of Fire and beyond.

One of the lesser known of his urban warfare films is Trespass, a cat-and-mouse siege picture that takes us into an abandoned warehouse in East St. Louis.  It's a film that stars two Bills (Paxton and Sadler) as firefighters who find a treasure map that leads to said warehouse, and stars two Ices (T and Cube) as "businessmen" who need a secluded place to conduct some "business" - and by "business", I mean to kill a brother who ain't been keepin' it real.  Since an abandoned warehouse is a nice secluded place, the Icemen head there with their associates (including Tiny "Zeus" Lister as a guy who wears baseball cleats and kicks/cuts people with them) at the same time the Billmen are looking for hidden gold...which leads to a standoff.

BTW, I need to talk to Bill Paxton for a minute here.  Hey out there? OK, good.  Look man...I dig your work.  You're a cool dude.  But when you see a dead fella crashing through a skylight and falling toward you...don't just stand there and wait for the people who sent him down to look down and catch ya.  Seriously dude...just MOVE.  You move ten feet, and the movie's over.  You and Sadler keep lookin' for Gold and dealing with that homeless dude (played by awesome character actor Art Evans of Die Hard 2 and Fright Night), the Ices move on - and everyone lives....except the dead dude, that is.  But you had to just stand there, didn't you?  As you once said - Game over, man.

So, now we've got Mr. Paxton and Mr. Sandler in a room with a homeless dude and a hostage, and a group of African-American entrepreneurs who prefer not to be called a gang surrounding them.  Ice T is the clear leader of the group as the wise boss with the Biblical moniker "King James", but his second in command - Savon, played by Ice Cube - has his own ideas at times and likes to speak his mind.  Since there's a guy running around with a video camera - a character who's aptly named Video - most of the concerns thrown around about the chain of the command are documented, and in-fighting between the Ice Brothers (who aren't really brothers) becomes a interesting side plot while the Bills are fighting their own battle of righteousness (Paxton) vs. greed (Sadler) in the other room.

I think that's what most draws me to Trespass - everyone in the movie is just so gosh darn angry and not afraid to share it.  Even Paxton and Evans - who play the two characters who are morally grounded - get in on the action, and once the film hits its stride everyone seems to be yelling at everyone all the time.  It's not annoying yelling either, because these characters are given unique (if not stereotypical) voices, and it's pretty easy for the viewer to relate at some level with each of the characters on differing sides of the battle.  The performances work well, though Paxton is far less interesting as a nice guy than he is in more sinister roles, and the actors really up the tension throughout the film simply through their interactions with each other.

Trespass reeks of the early '90s and the budding rap culture of that era, from the neon green wiper blades on a Jeep to side characters using phrases like "Run tell dat!" that we don't often hear these days, but I still find it pretty fresh considering the simple set up and the limited setting of the film.  The characters dialogue (from a script by the Back To The Future duo of Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis!) features flashes of brilliance, and moments like King James telling his crew 'They askin' for cops. If they askin' for cops, they can't be cops." show a respect for the logical skills of a character that could have been written as a stereotype gangster.  Sadler's character is also very well written, as his unethical ideas in the name of treasure keep the viewer wondering about both sides of the film.  Neither the Bills or Ices are totally "good" as a unit, and Hill and company use the ambiguous characters to build our interest in the film's predicament.

Trespass is certainly not among Hill's greatest hits - his run from Hard Times in 1975 to Streets of Fire in 1984 was darn near flawless - but it might be the best offering from the last part of his career.  With interesting characters and a fast-paced plot, the film never loses the viewer's attention and keeps us entertained for 90+ minutes while not insulting the intelligence of anyone involved.  Like John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 before it, Trespass is a sharp look at gangland politics and a fun action picture at the same time.  If you're a fan of Hill like I am, this one is definitely worth seeking out.


Ricky said...

A very under-rated movie.

Marvin the Macabre said...

For whatever reason, I never remember this movie exists. I remember it mostly from the soundtrack (I was big into rap in the 90s). But now that you're reminding me of the actual film, I can say that I found it genuinely tense and enjoyable. But since crime dramas really aren't my genre, I'm disinclined to take another look at it.

P.S. - Another great confirmation word: "brang," As in, "I brang the Pabst, you was supposed to bring the caviar." Or somesuch.

Bärrÿ said...

I never realized Hill directed this film. I haven't seen it in such a long time and thanks to this piece, will have to revisit it soon.