The early 1990s were very much a weird time. It was an extended hangover from our experience of the ’80s, and movies reflected that. As important as music was in redefining style, and giving the younger Gen-X slackers senseless purposelessness, there was still a fair amount of big hair and mullets out there alongside the flannels and unkempt coiffures. In shitty cinema, sharp suits, tight skirts, and cocaine were still the rage, while out in the real world, alternative rock had rediscovered heroin. Movies were playing a game of catch-up when it came to popular culture, resulting in some films looking like anachronisms.
1993 saw the release of No Escape No Return, a cheap buddy cop flick that takes all the well-worn clichés of the last decade-plus and stirs them into a shitty mush. Charles T. Kanganis handled writing and directing. More importantly, Joseph Merhi, a Shitty Movie Sundays Hall of Fame inductee, was one of the producers, adding this film to an impressive list of subpar accomplishments.
Rather than the normal two buddy cops, the most familiar arrangement of the trope, No Escape gives us three. They are bad boy and former Marine Sloan (Maxwell Caulfield), martial arts expert and former Navy SEAL Cuff (Dustin Nguyen), and lethal sexpot Ali (Denise Loveday). Viewers will see, in an opening photography montage, that the three grew up together. There is a lot of messiness when it comes to these characters’ backgrounds. They were friends for a long time, grew apart, decided to become cops together, and then drifted again. Kanganis plays fast and loose with their respective timelines, enough so that it can cause one to be thrown out of suspension of disbelief should they dwell on it too much. The good news is, this is a shitty action flick, so thinking is the last thing a viewer should be doing.
Viewers are introduced to the characters one at a time, and we see how they approach the job of policing. In short, all three are bloodthirsty maniacs. Their intros result in all three being suspended from the force, but then they are assigned to an undercover operation by the corrupt DEA agent Dante (Michael Nouri). Dante takes his orders from drug kingpin Malcom (Kevin Benton), who wants revenge on the three because Sloan killed his brother. Why all three needed to be involved in the revenge plot makes no sense, beyond it getting our three heroes together for more bloodshed.
The undercover op results in a massacre at a nightclub, and the public, along with FBI agent James Mitchell (John Saxon, RIP), are aghast at the behavior of the three cops. As should viewers be. These three are terrible police officers. All they want to do is shoot people, and they have zero regard for anyone who gets in the way. Dante set them up to be killed during the nightclub op, but he underestimated just how psychopathic these three are.
Kanganis’s interpretation of the buddy cop trope is missing a countervailing force. There is no one to keep these folks grounded. There is no good cop, bad cop routine with these three. They are all bad, and the audience is supposed to root for them as long as the targets of their insanity are bad guys. That doesn’t work. At all.
But, for the shitty movie fan, all is fine. There are gunfights galore, ass-kicking, car explosions, angry cop bosses yelling, double pistol-wielding, shotgun blasts to the chest, neck-snapping, defenestration, big shoulder pads, even bigger hair, bad acting, bags of flour standing in for cocaine, sets that look like the inside of storage lockers, and helicopters firing rockets. All that’s missing is gratuitous nudity. It’s an inexplicable absence amongst all the other shit.
My personal favorite moments of shitty come via the costume department. Nguyen is not a big man, and he was in a film with a small budget. The costume department didn’t appear to have suits in his size, in some scenes resulting in a look akin to that seen in the film Stop Making Sense. It’s that kind of je ne sais quoi I look for in a shitty movie.
No Escape No Return is a dog, but it’s a lively one. Kanganis and company made sure none of us would get bored. It sneaks into the top half of the Watchability Index, displacing Dracula 3000 at #126.