Even though New Line is going through the motions with a spotty, regional theatrical release, “Excessive Force” appears headed down the express lane to homevid, where it may find favor with undiscriminating action fans.
The best that can be said for the Chicago-shot, medium-budget opus is that it certainly lives up to its title. During the course of this otherwise unremarkable cops-and-killers melodrama, gang boss Burt Young expresses his displeasure by shoving a ballpoint pen into an underling’s ear; another mobster crushes the legs of a captive cop with a baseball bat; and nominal hero Thomas Ian Griffith, playing a martial arts-trained cop, breaks enough arms, dislocates enough shoulders and cracks enough heads to keep an emergency room staff gainfully employed for weeks.
There’s even a scene in which James Earl Jones — who’s usually treated with a modicum of respect, even while he’s picking up easy money in B-movies like this — gets slapped around when he arouses Griffith’s worst suspicions.
Griffith plays a two-fisted (and two-footed) Chicago narcotics cop who dives into hot water after $ 3 million disappears during his raid on a Young-financed drug deal.
Griffith also wrote and co-produced “Excessive Force,” which he no doubt hoped would be his ticket to the major leagues of action movie stardom.
Right now, though, he’s strictly a minor-league heavy hitter — far less graceful than Jean-Claude van Damme, and not quite as personable as Steven Seagal.
Griffith and his two partners are marked for death by Young, who thinks one of the cops pilfered his loot. After the other cops are reported dead, Griffith decides to launch a preemptive strike against Young’s headquarters. In this, he gets surprising support from his straight-laced superior (Lance Henriksen), who normally disapproves of Griffith’s maverick tactics.
It comes as no great surprise that Henriksen has good reason to want Young dead, and even less of a surprise that he wants to frame Griffith for the crime. In fact, the only thing that is surprising about this by-the-numbers effort is the talent squandered in supporting roles.
In addition to Young, Henriksen and Jones (as the owner of the jazz club where Griffith hangs out), cast includes Charlotte Lewis as the mandatory estranged girlfriend and Tony Todd (“Candyman”) as one of the marked-for-death cops. All perform well beyond the call of duty.
Director Jon Hess keeps the action moving briskly and predictably, allowing Griffith numerous opportunities to beatpeople who, in most cases, deserve to be beaten. The fight scenes are mildly impressive, the chase scenes less so. Tech credits, including Donald M. Morgan’s exceptional cinematography, are first-rate.