Dakota Smith (Fred Williamson) is back in yet another sequel to b-thriller Night Vision. This flick was intriguing to the shitty movie fan in me because it’s a step forward when it comes to casting, compared to other films in the series. Besides Williamson, who also produced and directed, On the Edge features blaxploitation and/or football legends Jim Brown, Bernie Casey, and Ron O’Neal. Gary Busey returns to play a different bad guy than the one he played in the second Dakota Smith flick, Down ’n Dirty, while Ice-T appears as a slimy nightclub owner and smalltime hood. What a cast.
Willie Jo Harris (Derrick Franklin) is a young man on the rise. Raised by a single dad (O’Neal), Willie Jo is set to receive a full-ride basketball scholarship to State College, but the lure of the streets proves strong. Willie Jo took a package of drugs on consignment from Slim Jim (Ice-T) and didn’t make payment. Now there’s a contract on his life.
Two of the dumbest hitmen in film track him to the wrong house, and kill the wife and son of Vietnam vet Rex Stevens (Casey). When he learns what happened, Willie Jo goes to Dakota Smith, now retired from the police department, for help. Dakota tries to call off Slim Jim and his big boss’s ire, but they’ve already handed the contract off to a new hitman, Felix (Busey), who proves to be a much more effective killer. Realizing the danger, Dakota enlists the help of Rex fulltime, along with Willie Jo’s dad and local youth sports fixture Chad Grant (Brown) on a part time basis, to track down Felix and his mystery employer. They want the drugs off of the streets, Willie Jo safe from harm, and the killers of Rex’s family dealt with.
Like the other films Williamson directed in this series, On the Edge is a throwback to the blaxploitation films of the 1970s, in both tone and storytelling. Like Down ’n Dirty, Williamson loved the first take, as evidenced by how often performers flub their lines. It may not be good filmmaking, but it is efficient. Unlike Down ’n Dirty, this film has a much more flowing pace to it…right up until the film’s natural climax about two-thirds of the way through. After that, Williamson didn’t seem to know where to go with the film, illustrated dramatically by Dakota looking at Rex in one scene and saying, “I don’t know what more we can do.”
After this wonderful moment of b-movie schadenfreude, Williamson loses control of his narrative, limping along to the inevitable conclusion where the last bad guys finally get theirs, and the heroes, I presume, go back to their lives.
Any decent storytelling in this flick was a pleasant surprise, however. Shitty movie veterans will know that films directed by Williamson are not known for their strong stories. His films are character-driven, and it is Williamson himself who dominates this film. Dakota Smith is very much the man Williamson wants to be in real life, and he’s not too shabby out here in the real world already. But Dakota Smith saves lives and kills the bad guys, something a football player turned actor rarely gets to do. He gets a new lady every film, and isn’t afraid of letting a little of his junk show during a love scene. The best part about a Williamson performance is the gravitas, though. I can’t say that his acting is good, or even all that professional, but it is an interesting interpretation of profundity.
Students of shitty film will be enthralled by the dialogue, the leaps in storytelling logic, the quickness with which Rex gets over the death of his family, the not-quite-action-packed action scenes, but, most of all, with Williamson. Without Williamson, there would be no Dakota Smith.
On the Edge starts strong, but it doesn’t last. That hurts watchability, as does an overbearing soundtrack, knocking it down into the lower half of the Watchability Index, displacing Bunker: Project 12 at #252. Keep an eye out for Gloria Allred(!) playing a city councilwoman.