Hop off Serpico’s heavily-disguised dick for a minute in the style stakes. 1981’s ‘Nighthawks’ (known as ‘Night Hawks’ in the UK, possibly to avoid confusion with the 1978 Brit-flick ‘Nighthawks’) is another long-hair NYC cop thriller that still holds up as a document of the big apple’s anarchic feel as a new decade developed, but also showcases some memorable attire. Mindless but smartly executed, they don’t make films like this any more. Curiously homoerotic undertones underpin the ultra-macho content, whether it’s a disco track produced by Keith Emerson, converting the phenomenal synthesised main theme into something that wouldn’t be out-of-place on the soundtrack of the equally foreboding ‘Cruising’, Rutger Hauer urging a scared plastic surgeon to beautify him or no less than two instances of Stallone in drag, dishing out punishment to bad guys.
Stallone is capable of fine performances. With ‘Rambo IV’ and ‘The Expendables’ impending, he’s seemingly accepted a spot as a mindless violence merchant despite years of bespectacled attempts to shake that. The former flick was superb, and his ensemble bullet-fest is something to look forward to, but remember that sense of anticipation post-‘Copland’ with the superior performance he never truly capitalised on? Those who saw ‘D-Tox’ can attest to that failure.
‘Lords of Flatbush’,’F.I.S.T.’ and ‘Rocky’ set a performance precedent. ‘First Blood’ as a ‘Nighthawks’ follow-up was a shrewd move too. Then potential seemed to be squandered until his deaf cop turn. ‘Nighthawks’ is ultimate Stallone. Come on, Sylvester and Billy Dee Williams (fresh from his first turn as Lando), pursuing a terrorist played by Rutger Hauer? That’s a classic in the making. Shot on location in 1980 NYC, that’s the visual clout that all the CGI in the world couldn’t top. New York in 1980 feels like another world, and a place waaaaaay more treacherous than Bespin.
Between repeat viewings of this and remembering FUCT’s.’Symbionese’ Champion sweat, it’s forgivable that one could get nostalgic for a time when leftist terrorism had folk shook. Conversely, it’s depressing that attacks on urban environments seemed far-fetched too. Hauer’s smooth criminal doesn’t rant on murky leaked broadcasts. He’s like Billy Drago’s Frank Nitti, but with finesse, all bombs in briefcases slid from view and exploding department stores, only losing his cool during a subway pursuit on foot and (alas, a graffiti-free) train that rivals ‘The Warriors’ for kinetic breathlessness. And they really are running around a functioning underground station. Hauer would play the pursuer in ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ (“Fuck the bonus“) hunting Kiss’s Gene Simmons as a hands-on terrorist mastermind with equally fiendish schemes but significantly less finesse.
Severely cut, (Stallone claims it was packing ‘Taxi Driver’ levels of bloodshed), ‘Nighthawks’ is still a brutal film, and the wardrobe achieves a curious middle ground between odd and utilitarian. Berets are a no, but the militaristic trenchcoats, variety of leathers, that cardigan and Stallone’s hefty sunglasses still look fresh. Alas, given the era, flared, striped slacks occasionally kill an outfit. These are maverick cops, and Deke DaSilva and Matthew Fox’s outfits are appropriately maverick. For all his cold-blooded antics, Hauer’s Wulfgar gets less love on the costume front until he wields his MAC-10 aboard a cable car towards the film’s conclusion with layered rollneck ruthlessness.
‘Nighthawks’ director Bruce Malmuth passed in 2005. He deserves respect for helming this classic, the Seagal vehicle ‘Hard to Kill’ (“This is for my wife—fuck you and die“) and bizarrely, for playing the ring announcer in the original ‘Karate Kid’. This isn’t a call for the Criterion treatment, but if those deleted scenes are anywhere, a DVD special edition would be welcome. That’s word to Billy Dee Williams’s Superman t-shirt.