Picks and Pans Review: Black Moon Rising

updated 01/27/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/27/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

This crime caper has about as much redeeming social value as a vat of corn chips. But it is close to the quintessential Grade-B movie—fast, funny, sexy and thoroughly diverting. Tommy Lee (The Executioner's Song) Jones plays a professional thief hired to steal a computer tape needed to prosecute a tax case. Fleeing with the tape, he is forced to hide it in an experimental car that's making a gas station stop. When the car is in turn stolen by Linda (The Terminator) Hamilton, an operative for an auto-theft ring, Jones finds himself on a life-or-death quest. Jones, grittily amusing, and Hamilton, sly and sensuous, are backed up by a veteran cast that strikes just the right semiserious tone. Robert Vaughn's officiously nasty mode was first brought out in Bullitt, and he has been recycling it ever since. It fits exactly in this case with his role as the head of a car-theft ring, which is run with such corporate efficiency it looks as if it must have a pension plan. Richard Jaeckel effects an air of nerdy determination as the ex-NASA scientist who designed the experimental car, which is supposed to be hydrogen-powered and go 350 mph (the car is portrayed by a real 36-inch-high show car, the Concordia II, designed at Concordia University in Montreal as an aerodynamics project). Former jock Bubba Smith, who plays a government agent, dispenses with his usual buffoonery: He doesn't have to do a lot of acting to seem big and tough. Rock singer Lee Ving of Fear snarls convincingly as an enforcer for the tax dodgers. Nothing is overdone. Jones is clearly a good guy, but when he gets beaten to a pulp he doesn't get instantly revitalized the way most movie heroes do; he spends the rest of the film moaning about his injuries. John Carpenter, who has directed such films as Halloween and Escape From New York, co-wrote this one from his own idea. It was directed by Harley Cokliss, whose most impressive previous credit was as the second unit director for The Empire Strikes Back. He shows admirable restraint, knowing just how long to let his chases, fights and love scenes go on. While the ending forces the audience to suspend its disbelief from here just about to Bora Bora, Cokliss never really insults anyone's intelligence. It's as if he's saying, "All right: If we're going to look for escape, let's escape in style." (R)

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