Label: Mill Creek
Region: A, B
Released: January 10, 2017
Synopsis: Five troubled youths are given a second chance to earn respect and save a local block from drug lords.
Special Features: (none)
When Miami Vice (1984-1990) became a hit on TV, executive producer Michael Mann realized there were assorted opportunities to exploit the specific visual and aural style of the show in other series (Crime Story), mini-series (Drug Wars: The Cocaine Cartel, L.A. Takedown), and feature films, regardless of the period setting (the WWII supernatural shocker The Keep), but while Band of the Hand isn’t tied to any characters of Vice, it’s very much a separate story that could’ve taken place within the show’s world, largely because almost everyone packed into the production had done time on Vice.
The original TV trailer consisted of a giant palm print advancing towards the camera, wiping into another fast-cut action scene, making it hard to figure out the core story, but Band is ostensibly a familiar tale of a rebel do-gooder – vague Native American Joe (Crime Story’s Stephen Lang) – who hand-picks troubled youths and puts them through a grueling ordeal in the Florida Everglades; those who fail die (making the whole ‘programme’ ridiculous, and thoroughly illegal), and graduates get a chance to prove their new kinship by rebuilding troubled communities house by house, then block by block.
That’s Joe’s plan for the five punks (John Cameron Mitchell, Danny Quinn, Leon Robinson, and Vice’s Michael Carmine and Al Shannon), but when funding is cut by superiors (represented by Crime Story’s Bill Smitrovich and Vice’s Paul Calderone) because some kids did die, he’s forced to pull the plug, pronounce his new quintet as free to apply their rebuilding / bonding skills elsewhere, and enjoy their second chance and new freedom. Naturally, they choose to finish Joe’s mission and fight for their block against a drug dealer (Laurence Fishburne, sporting one bad haircut), himself just a foot soldier to local cartel leader / silent shadow Nestor (James Remar), a classic Mann archetype who speaks little, walks softly, and threatens with widening eyes and silence.
Joe’s philosophy stems from his time in ‘Nam, where he formed ‘a band’ among his buddies, each holding out their palms in an old photo. As he tells the boys, each man is a finger, and together they form a hand.
When the boys are forced to fight solo, they too hold out their palms, but never touch, because the mantra isn’t about machismo; it’s spiritual; noble; empowering, based on friendship, respect, and self-worth.
Leo Garen and Jack Baran’s script is nothing out of the ordinary. Band is just a slick-looking B-movie elevated by the Vice style, peppered with familiar faces from series casting agent Bonnie Timmerman (Martin Ferrero, often cast for comedic relief, appears unbilled as a pest control merchant), use of Miami’s beautiful Art Deco buildings, and for Nestor, a classic 1980s industrial estate that’s all white-painted steel, glass blocks, and each storey decorated with modern, highly uncomfortable furniture, glass and steel art, and paintings with geometric shapes.
Whether or not it was overtly decreed by Mann, Band is part of the Vice universe, and Paul Michael Glaser’s direction is as slick and punchy as his own Vice episodes, which include fan favourites “The Prodigal Son” and “Smuggler’s Blues” (both 1985). He knew the requirements of the house style, and doesn’t disappoint with the same imagery and colours, ludicrous clothes and hairstyles, and every character pulsing attitude even when they’re asleep.
Mann also tasked Manhunter (1986) composer Michael Rubini to pen the handful or original cues (some of which seem patterned after Tangerine Dream’s Flashpoint, of which that score’s main title was tracked into the TV spot), and the film bears the same care for song selection as the series: contemporary hits and new material (like Manhunter, Shriekback music is prominently used in a key scene) where the lyrics and tone are perfect matches for screen action, character subtext, and scene rhythms. Newly commissioned is a title song by Bob Dylan which is played thrice to help push the soundtrack album (which was packed with songs and one Rubini cue).
Vice rarely offered women memorable roles: in most cases, they were kingpin molls, drug addicts, hookers, wives to be slapped around, long-suffering girlfriends, bitches, or innocents brushed and scarred by crime. In one rare episode (“Definitely Miami”), Arielle Dombasle is a femme fatale who moves man-to-man when her partner (Ted Nugent) is killed. Band’s story has one woman – Nikki (Lauren Holly) – who’s supposedly 16, and becomes Nestor’s girl until she turns on him and rejoins her Band-of-Hand former boyfriend.
As a time capsule representing the Vice universe and then-chic style crafted and imposed on film and TV episodes by Mann, Band is wholly fascinating. (Part of the show’s style mandate was to makeover hotels and houses and cars with pastel paint jobs, add trendy geo-patterned wallpaper or abstract strokes, and furniture that blended classic streamline and Art Deco with 80s geo-patterns, including triangles and zebra patterns. The same obsessively is evident in every Band scene.)
The gunplay and explosions were given bigger budgets, so while the drama is facile and the characters clichéd Vice archetypes, the band’s ‘assault’ on a drug processing plant is highly kinetic, with graphic sounds and imagery. Even the street assault on the band’s ‘clubhouse’ has the former hotel turned to Swiss cheese and roasted. Seething bad attitude was the all that lay in the subtext of a Vice episode; everything else was style transformed into pure carnage.
The proof lies in drug dealer goons in pricey suits getting their stomachs blown out, fancy and classic cars reduced to ruin, and street urchins somehow managing to balance gaudy jewelry with print T-shirts and strategically torn blazers and leisure jackets, or wear hats and shirts with strips of impractical mesh.
The hyper-unreality of Mann’s Vice world meant it was influential in its time, and passé when it’s time had passed, but even as B-grade film, there’s much to admire in Mann’s use of colour, architecture, modernism, minimalism, and clean images where even white comes off as a colour. Reynaldo Villalobos’ cinematography in gorgeous in this lovely HD transfer from budget Mill Creek, and the editing by Jack Hofstra (Crime Story, The Specialist) is sharp in the action scenes.
The plus side of Mill Creek’s release is its price and a nice transfer with okay stereo sound, but it’s a shame no effort was mad to contextualize the film with a commentary, publicity gallery, or a collection of P.R. material with vintage thoughts from Mann and Glaser. All of the label’s releases are extras-free, but Sony’s high quality transfer makes this maligned, goofy attempt to building within the Vice universe a welcome, especially to series fans.
Director (and former Starsky and Hutch actor) Paul Michael Glaser would direct The Running Man (1987) and the cult figure skating / hockey love story The Cutting Edge (1992) before his last feature to date, Kazaam (1996). In an interview taped for the Television Academy Foundation, Glaser spoke about directing Band and Vice for Mann:
Co-writer Jack Baran also penned Jim McBride’s sultry The Big Easy (1986) and cartoon biopic of Jerry Lee Lewis, Great Balls of Fire! (1989).
After Manhunter, Mann would director the TV movie L.A. Takedown (1989), and rework the terrible teleplay into a cinema classic as Heat (1995).
© 2017 Mark R. Hasan
Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review