If there's anyone who's going to be able to make me rise up and revolt against crime it's Fred Williamson and his opening line where he proclaims "I'm tired and I've had it up to here" is all the convincing I'd probably need. Meant as a homage to Italian revenge thrillers by director William Lustig; Vigilante is a grimy, sometimes unpleasant, time that takes parts of the serious message in Death Wish and mixes it with the outrageous bloodshed of The Exterminator.
Much like Larry Cohen has made a career of bringing the flavour of New York City to his films, Lustig has also dwelled there, preferring the unforgiving underbelly of the city as seen in such films as Maniac Cop and Maniac - he's not afraid to toss brutal, sometimes disturbing, violence at the viewer and there's such moments here and even though it doesn't quite deliver on the promise of its poster art it's a solid revenge flick starring a pretty bad-ass Robert Forster.
Forster plays Eddie Marino, a down to Earth factory worker who's happily married and has a toddler son. Though he's well aware a group of his co-workers, led by the tough-as-nails Nick (Williamson), have formed a vigilante group to get rid of all the pimps and criminals in the neighbourhood because the police seemingly have no interest in doing so, he's not big on the idea of joining them on their crusade. That's all about to change when, after stepping forward to stop crazed gang leader Rico (Willie Colon) from bullying a fellow customer at a gas station, Eddie's wife is visited later by Rico and his thugs who proceed to kill her son with a shotgun blast (one of the film's most "holy shit, did they just have the balls to show that?!" moments) and leave her for dead after they've raped and stabbed her multiple times.
Upon the capture of Rico, the case goes to court and Eddie gets a first-hand look at the failed justice system when Rico walks without any punishment. After choking the judge in a rage, Eddie ends up spending thirty days in jail where he decides, in between us seeing Nick and his group taking care of a few drug dealers and general scum, that he's going to go after everyone who hospitalized his wife and murdered his son.
As a revenge flick, Vigilante is a moderately entertaining time with lots of high-powered squibs and gunshot effects (one girl even goes flying with great force through a shower curtain), a simply done but great synth-driven score by Jay Chattaway, and gets a lot of its mileage from the main performance of Forster who makes Eddie become more and more like those he's hunting down with it all culminating in an over-the-top finish that needs to be seen to be believed. The script by Richard Vetere is, for the most part, simply told with a few mild "screw the system" undertones but his attempts to have two parallel stories - Nick's street-cleaning rebels and Eddie's retaliation - could have probably used a tad more character development because later in the film there's hints of looming gang warfare that just isn't to be - at least during this flick's 89 minutes.
It's definitely easy to dig Forster in the hero role since he was a lot of fun to watch in such fare as Stunts and Alligator but he's also surrounded by an able cast of recognizable character actors. Williamson and his tough words wasn't given enough screen time for my liking but he's still almost as awesome as he was in the various blaxploitation flicks he starred in during the 70s while Joe Spinell (Maniac) gets to steal a few scenes as a corrupt lawyer who takes a payoff, Rutanya Alda (Amityville II: The Possession) makes a fairly convincing upset/distant victim as Eddie's wife, and Woody Strode plays Eddie's only friend and protector while he's in prison.
While I don't view Vigilante with the same reverence as fellow revenge flicks Death Wish, Rolling Thunder or Ms. 45 it's still easy for me to recommend fans of moderately sleazy 80s exploitationers to give this a look. Director Lustig hasn't made a lot of movies over his career, instead focussing on bringing us fans some great obscure treats to DVD by running Blue Underground, but every one of them has been an enjoyable, well-made time - this is no exception. (Chris Hartley, 6/17/10)
Directed By: William Lustig.
Written By: Richard Vetere.
Starring: Robert Forster, Fred Williamson, Richard Bright, Rutanya Alda.