Terrible Ideas Executed Superbly
John Frankenheimer’s Dead-Bang has the most tired of all plots; beaten down, alcoholic cop (played by Don Johsnon), divorced and grizzled, gets yelled at by his superiors and screws up whenever he can. He runs down a ruthless criminal traveling from state to state trying to join with a well funded group of KKK members. The story is boring, predictable, and doesn’t make a lot of sense (how is an LA cop going from state to state? Isn’t he out of his jurisdiction?). But the amusing touches are everywhere.
Johnson chases down a suspect (who turns out to be innocent) and he runs for so long that when he catches up to him, his exhaustion and hangover cause him to puke all over the guy. And then does it a second time. When he tries to interrogate the guy and can’t get the answers he’s looking for, he threatens more puke, so the guy talks.
Bob Balaban is highly amusing as the parole officer who reports Johnson and doesn’t appreciate being dragged around in his jogging outfit on Christmas day because he got tricked into talking to the suspect. His initial conversation with Johnson on the phone is hilariously impatient and profane.
William Forsythe plays the useless FBI agent, following Johnson around but doing nothing to help even throwing away obvious leads, except when he wants to take credit. His scene where he ignores all the concrete evidence Johnson presents him with, and decides he won’t listen to what he has to say because he’s a Christian, and Johnson won’t stop with the profanity, is pure genius.
Johnson is pulled off the case because of his supposed recklessness, though nothing he did seems out of the ordinary in a cop genre film. His boss forces him to see a psychiatrist. When he gets there, it becomes apparent to the audience that the casting choice is a strange coincidence. But even Johnson is aware of it. And can’t stop laughing, because the shrink looks exactly like Woody Allen. When Johnson points it out, the guy gets pissed off, and Johnson threatens to ruin his life if he takes the fact that he looks like Woody Allen personally and holds it against Johnson.
When they get to the final meeting place of the KKK, and Johnson is trying to prove to Forsythe that it is in fact the correct location, he shows him the shooting range, which have targets with faces on them. There’s a black guy’s target which has been shot off, and another one in the distance has a rabbi on it.
The last shootout is long and rather dull and takes place in an underground tunnel which is murky and visually unexciting. But, it ends with a great line between Forsythe and Johnson. After being snuck up on by another villain, the brother of the guy Johnson was chasing, they are forced to drop their guns. The brother aims at Johnson, wanting to take revenge. Johnson convinces the brother [incorrectly] that it was Forsythe who shot his brother. Johnson uses the momentary confusion and distraction to kill the guy.
Johnson: “What the fuck were you doing? A cop never gives up his gun. You broke the #1 rule.”
Forsythe, ungrateful and self-righteous, says: “You told him I killed his brother! I didn’t. You did.”
Johnson: “Well it worked, didn’t it?”
Forsythe, incredulous: “You were risking my life”
Johnson: “He was going to kill us both anyway.”
Forsythe: “You don’t know that. Besides, you made him turn towards me. What if he killed me? You were willing to take that chance?”
Johnson: “Well, yeah.”
The movie is filled with these great, over the top moments, turning what is quite routine and ridiculous; into deliberate over the top hilarity.