Sleek cars, hot women and life in the fast lane...what rookie cop wouldn't be tempted to go bad? Charlie Sheen (Wall Street), D.B. Sweeney (Spawn) and Randy Quaid (Independence Day) star in this pedal-to-the-metal, full-throttle thriller that's your best bet for curve-hugging, edge-of-your-seat entertainment!
Benjy Taylor (Sweeney) is a wide-eyed 22-year-old with an eye for cars and a heart for police work. But when he goes undercover at a Porsche garage that doubles as a chop shop, the seductive world of his target, Ted Varrick (Sheen), may be his undoing. The midnight joyrides, ultra-slick parties and Varrick's sexy sister help sway Taylor into believing that his new fast friend has the kind of life he wants...even though Varrick may be guilty of much more than car theft...and Taylor may be in much deeper than he thinks.
Tell me if this sounds familiar to you. A rookie cop gets his first break: to infiltrate and expose an underground criminal empire, then gets in too deep and forgets which side he's really on. No, I'm not talking about The Fast and the Furious or Point Break. I'm talking 1987's No Man's Land of course. Never heard of it? Well, don’t be ashamed. Even yours truly had nearly forgotten about it until the opportunity to review it popped up.
D.B. Sweeney plays our lead protagonist as the incredibly bland Benjy Tayler. He's a cop that happens to know everything about cars, so he is a perfect choice to take down a gang of mechanics who boost cars in their spare time. If that seems like a silly version of a popular plot device, don’t worry, that is the least of the problems here. Sweeney doesn’t have the presence of a Keanu or even Paul Walker, and that is saying something. Though he is still working in the industry today, he has the screen presence of a block of wood here. Absolutely nothing that happens in No Man's Land causes Sweeney to let go of the soulless look on his face. At this point in his career, Sweeney should be playing a couch potato smoking a dooby, not in this role, to the detriment of the movie.
And who is his more charismatic but criminal counterpart? Who is the Patrick Swayze to Sweeney’s Keanu? Charlie Sheen is Ted Varrick, the leader of our carjacking gang, and I have to say he does a pretty damn good job selling this here. In this role, you see why he was so highly regarded when he was younger, because at the time he actually brought a lot to his roles. He is the only actor in No Man's Land who has any onscreen presence. If stealing DVD players was a ridiculous criminal act for Vin Diesel, then a garage owner by day, carjacker by night is equally ridiculous for Sheen. But like Diesel, Sheen handles the material with heft and charisma. Sheen carries the relationship of Ted and Benjy on his back, and it seems a little more believable when they are sharing the screen together.
There are also surprise cameo performances: Randy Quaid as Lieutenant Vincent Bracey, and Lara Harris as love interest Ann Varrick, but it feels like too little, too late. Just because No Man's Land was made before the better films stated above, that doesn't mean it feels fresh or original. Because of the overall laziness of this script and the miscasting of its lead character, this movie feels disingenuous. Actors (especially our lead) appear to be too young and inexperienced for their roles, almost like they raided their dad's suit closet and had no idea how to wear it with confidence and bravado. As Sheen shows, there is a way to own the implausible nature of this film, but sadly, no one else here has that skill. In the end, No Man's Land is a needless entry in an enjoyable genre, which should have been renamed No Fly Zone, because there is no need to see this pale precursor of much better films.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Kino Lorber brings No Man's Land to Blu-ray with the blandest of packaging. No slip cover here. Just a straight up hard cover keepcase with a single layer BD-25 Blu-ray. No digital code or DVD copy present. Once we hit play, we are presented with no pre-menu trailers. We are brought straight to the still image menu that lets you navigate from there. The only asset to this packaging is the wonderfully retro poster on the front.
No Man's Land hits the gas and blows a gasket on Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode that simply feels inconsistent and a bit lackluster. Take clarity, for instance. On one hand, we have daytime close ups, which are reasonably well done with a decent amount of clarity and detail, while wider, more establishing shots appear to be murky with very little of that same clarity and detail.
Night scenes have a very natural color palette, with decent black levels and shadow definition as well. Unfortunately, this isn't the cleanest transfer, featuring an unhealthy amount of dirt on the negative, and film noise in those same night scenes, which undercuts the good here. All of these issues are signs of taking a bad negative and not cleaning it up properly. As a result, we are left with an uneven transfer which does have its strong point, but also has serious defects that hinder the overall presentation.
Kino Lorber trots No Man's Land onto Blu-ray with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that requires very little effort. This is a stereotypical 80's flick, with fast cars and cheesy music, and I wanted to immerse myself in that cheesy deliciousness. Unfortunately, that is not what we are given, and it leaves quite a bit to be desired. Sure, dialogue is clear and audible, and speaker separation is fine, but I have come to expect more in 2017. I have reviewed a whole slew of audio mixes like this with a lazy 2.0 track, but I think this is the most recent film to get the treatment. It wouldn’t have been difficult to give us at least a 5.1 track here, and for that, I can't help being more than a little underwhelmed.
Audio Commentary by Steven Mitchell, Producer – Director King Cohen & Film Historian Nathaniel Thompson - This was an interesting interview style commentary. Obviously, Thompson loves this film and loves the 80's LA setting. This film doesn't scream LA to me, but it is interesting how he draws the setting out of the movie.
Interview with Star D.B. Sweeney (HD 16:15) - This featurette is actually the most engaged I have ever been with D.B. Sweeney. Hearing him talk frankly about his relationship with the cast and how the production was a chaotic one was very interesting and rare.
Interview with Director Peter Werner (HD 15:58) - Another great interview, this time from our director as he talks about being brought into the production just four days before filming and how that affected his relationship with the cast. I appreciated the honesty of both interviews here and wish more interviews were in this vein.
No Man's Land Trailer (HD 1:43)
The Last of the Finest Trailer (HD 2:08)
Freeway Trailer (HD 1:36)
The Park Is Mine Trailer (SD 2:08)
Assassination Trailer (HD 1:57)
Watching the special features for No Man's Land, everyone involved talked about how they were so proud of this being a genre film, and how rare they are today. I agree, they are rare today. But there is a difference between a good or not so good genre film, and this is most definitely the latter. It's an archetype that other, better films used to greater success. D.B. Sweeney seems like a down to earth guy who knows a great deal about the industry, but here he is so much younger, inexperienced, and it hurts the film because he is our guide into this world. Honestly, I would have loved to see this world through Ted's eyes. How interesting would it have been to see things through the criminal's point of view and seeing Benjy's reveal as a cop to be a surprise. Think of how different that would feel. Unfortunately, that is not what we were given, and the quality of the disc isn't any great shakes either. If you are the one person who is pining for No Man's Land to finally hit Blu-ray, then go for it. For everyone else, skip this limp installment of a genre that only gets better from here.