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Written and directed by George Armitage, the man who would later give us Miami Blues and Grosse Point Blank, 1976's Vigilante Force takes place in the small California mountain town of Elk Hills. Since the oil has started flowing in the area this otherwise quaint, all American community has started seeing its fair share of trouble: bar brawls, prostitution and brazen robberies to name only a few. As such, the local sheriff, Harry Lee (Judson Pratt), and Mayor Bradford (Brad Dexter) are stretched pretty thin. It's decided then that the police department will contract and sanction some extra muscle to come into town and straighten things out and local tractor repairman Ben Arnold (Jan-Michael Vincent) knows just the guy for the job… his older brother Aaron (Kris Kristofferson). He's a former soldier, a Vietnam Vet with a past but Ben convinces Harry to give him a chance and before you know it Aaron and his team of enforcers are cleaning things up and making the world a better place.
And it all goes fine, at first. Aaron hooks up with a foxy bar maid named Little Dee (Bernadette Peters) while Ben chills out and drinks PBR with his girlfriend Linda (Victoria Principal). Everyone's happy until some of Aaron's guys start shaking down local businesses for protection money. From there, Aaron and his men start taking advantage of the opportunity they've been given leaving only one man capable of handling it… his little brother Ben.
Surprisingly violent for a PG rated picture, Vigilante Force we produced by Gene Corman (Roger's brother) and in a lot of ways it's a typical seventies drive-in action movie. We don't break a lot of new ground here and the concept of pitting brother against brother has been done before and with a lot more depth than it's handled with in this film. However, if fun is what you're after this one will deliver. We get bar brawls aplenty, quirky characters and bit part players (look for both Dick Miller and Loni Anderson to appear in small parts), some fun locations and sets and most importantly some pretty solid action set pieces, particularly in the last twenty-minutes when it all hits the fan.
As far as the leads go, neither Victoria Principal or Bernadette Peters are given a whole lot to do here aside from standing around and looking pretty. Their characters are forgettable and serve only to prop up the respective men in their lives. This isn't a movie with strong female characters, not by a long shot. Vincent does okay here though. He's not really stretching as an actor nor is he cast against type but he plays his part just fine, though in many ways he's second fiddle to Kristofferson. Here we see Kris playing the heavy and he does it well. He handles the more dramatic side of the movie well enough and does just fine in the action scenes (he was a boxer in his younger years so when he throws those punches, they look like they could do some pretty serious damage).
The movie builds quite well. We can see where it's heading fairly early on, the movie doesn't really try to trick us, just to hold our attention and it succeeds even as we're aware of the destination fast approaching. There's enough character development here to matter though a bit more between the two brothers before the big finish would have helped to make this more than just an action movie. It's a bit light in that department. But hey, there are shoot outs and fits fights and brawls and once Aaron and his gang of good ol' boys head down the wrong path, the tension does start to mount. If Armitage isn't reinventing the wheel with Vigilante Force it almost doesn't matter because the movie, as simple as it is, delivers plenty of fun and entertainment value. Those looking for high art or deeply introspective and well thought out characters need not apply but if you can get into a good old fashioned seventies drive-in action movie? This is your bag.The Blu-ray:
Vigilante Force is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Interior scenes shot heavy grain that can look a bit noisy in spots while exterior shots look almost perfect, so the transfer is a bit of a mixed bag in that regard but it's likely due to original elements and shooting conditions more than anything else. Colors look nice, skin tones are fine and black levels are good. Detail varies a bit from scene to scene but it is typically pretty decent and the image is free of any obvious compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction. Minor print damage is evident throughout the movie, but there aren't any massive scratches or big ugly blemishes, really just little white specks and things like that. This isn't a reference quality picture but it does present a decent HD version of the movie with reasonable depth, detail and texture.Sound:
The English language DTS-HD Mono Master Audio track is fine. The banjo-heavy score sounds pretty good while the dialogue stays clean, clear and easy to understand even if it is occasionally a little on the thin side. There are a few spots where you might notice a bit of hiss or crackle but odds are pretty good that if you're not specifically listening for them you probably won't notice them. This isn't a fancy mix by any stretch but it suits the movie just fine and it gets the job done without any issues.Extras:
The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary with writer/director George Armitage moderated by Elijah Drenner (who directed the documentary That Guy Dick Miller) that starts out with Armitage talking about how this film came to be and how it was pre-sold on the title and how it was his idea to stage the film around the bi-centennial. They discuss the locations in the film, who the real soul of the movie is, working with Kristofferson and Vincent and the elder man's role as a real life tough guy. There's quite a bit of talk about Kristofferson in here, which is pretty interesting, including the importance of the way he works out in the stunt and action scenes in the movie. There's also some talk about the shooting schedule, working off of the script and working away from the script, what it was like dealing with producer Gene Corman and more. It's a busy, active and involving track. Armitage has a great memory and Drenner has a good sense of what makes this movie fun and interesting as well as a solid knowledge of the picture, making him a great moderator. This is definitely worth listening to and it's a great document of the history of this particular film and a really interesting look at Armitage's career.
Aside from that we get a trailer for the feature, a vertically stretched trailer for Convoy and a trailer for Defiance as well as static menus and chapter selection. We also get some neat reversible cover art.Final Thoughts:
Vigilante Force isn't deep but it is entertaining. The film has the right mix of interesting, quirky characters, small town charm and solid action and it moves at a good pace too. Kristofferson is the one to watch here, he's great as the heavy, while Vincent and the rest of the supporting cast are all decent enough to make this work. Kino's Blu-ray looks decent and sounds fine and as an added bonus we get a pretty cool commentary track too. If you like seventies action movies, this is one worth seeing. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.