The presence of cult director Joseph H. Lewis in a brief bit as a semicoherent habitue of Fat Jack's bar is clearly prescient; at its best, LEATHER JACKETS, a crime melodrama about a group of young losers on the run, has all the merits of one of Lewis's energetic little B pictures of the
1940s and 1950s.
Small-time criminal Dobbs (Cary Elwes) and cohorts Carl (James LeGros), Big Steve (Christopher Penn), Sammy (Neil Giuntoli) and Anthony (Jon Pochran) rip off and kill a Vietnamese drug courier. Meanwhile, former gang member and Dobbs's longtime friend Mickey (D.B. Sweeney) quits his construction
job and overcomes his shyness to propose to friend and neighbor Claudi (Bridget Fonda), who had earlier had an affair with Dobbs. The couple make plans to head for Los Angeles, where a job is waiting for Mickey. Dobbs and the gang refuse to flee the area, which would alert the police to their
guilt, and hole up at Fat Jack's (Jon Polito), where they have planned a going-away party for Mickey.
The head of the Vietnamese cartel hires Tron (Craig Ng) to exact revenge, based on information passed to him by the corrupt cops. After drowning Anthony and using a deadly samurai blade to behead Sammy and Carl, and the latter's wife (Lisanne Falk) and child, Tron winds up at Fat Jack's as the
cops arrive. In the ensuing shootout, the cops are killed, but Mickey, the wounded Dobbs and Big Steve escape, with Tron and his thugs in hot pursuit. They pick up Claudi and head for LA. Hours later, exhausted, they break into a motel room; Tron ambushes Big Steve, lops off his head and kills
Dobbs, but, at the point of terrorizing Claudi, is dispatched by Mickey, using Dobbs's gun, although he is fatally skewered by Tron's blade. Soothed by the distraught Claudi, Mickey dies as the sun finally comes up, ending the long night of violence.
Produced by Cary's brother Cassian, LEATHER JACKETS is one of the truer exercises in modern film noir, with its existential storyline, relentlessly seedy production design and James Chressanthis's shadowy, color-drained cinematography. The picture unfolds almost in real time, most of it at night;
as Claudi, cradling the dead Mickey's head, looks up into the rising, unseen-till-now sun, it's like a clear, fresh burst of salvation.
Debuting writer-director Lee Drysdale's film is much more explicitly violent than anything in Lewis's (GUN CRAZY, THE BIG COMBO) oeuvre, and oddly wordier, especially during its middle section, in which the trio Mickey, Dobbs and Claudi thrash out their past and present relationships. Even though
this long sequence slows down the frenetic pace expertly established by Drysdale, it is well written and performed by his three attractive leads.
While she hasn't been given that neurotically feisty quality of many of Lewis's heroines, rising star Bridget Fonda (SINGLES, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE) quietly establishes her growing strength and clearheadedness as she describes her love affair--her first--with Elwes and her decision to end it.
Likewise, actors D.B. Sweeney (MEMPHIS BELLE, THE CUTTING EDGE) and especially Cary Elwes (THE PRINCESS BRIDE, BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA), whose constant acerbic needling of Sweeney hides his jealousy that, unlike himself, the former has finally broken out of his losing rut of a life, fighting through
the petty macho posturing holding them both back.
The story is fairly standard--again one thinks of Lewis, Don Siegel or the early Roger Corman--but Drysdale's brisk direction efficiently delineates the awful early bursts of violence which set his quartet on the run, then matches it with an equally suspenseful action finale. The plot still has
its stumblers: the fourth member, played by Christopher Penn (FOOTLOOSE, RESERVOIR DOGS), is given very little to do, and the relative ease with which Sweeney wipes out three cold professional killers is a bit unbelievable.
The secondary performances are also good, particularly Craig Ng as the icily sleek, pony-tailed, black raincoated killer whose name signals his machine-like efficiency. Also memorable is Coen brothers' favorite Jon Polito (MILLER'S CROSSING, BARTON FINK) as the unfortunately oportunistic bar owner
who tries to put the bite on Dobbs for the money and is knocked down a flight of stairs.
Unaccountably left on the shelf for several months, perhaps because of its downbeat ending, LEATHER JACKETS was released theatrically abroad during 1991, then went straight-to-video in the US the following year. (Violence, substance abuse, profanity, nudity, sexual situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: The presence of cult director Joseph H. Lewis in a brief bit as a semicoherent habitue of Fat Jack's bar is clearly prescient; at its best, LEATHER JACKETS, a crime melodrama about a group of young losers on the run, has all the merits of one of Lewis's en… (more)