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CROOKED (A.K.A. SOFT TARGET) is a film from late in Don Wilson's prime career – that is, from before his hiatus around the turn of the decade. Overall, it goes to show that it wasn't a bad time for him to take a break, not necessarily because he no longer had the stuff but because the DTV action circuit seemed to have left him behind. The movie is weak sauce, for despite its strong supporting cast, it's lacking in style and substance. I'll say it now: this one's for completionists, only.
The story: Two police detectives – Tyler (Wilson) and Yordan (Olivier Gruner) – are assigned to protect a witness to an underworld murder (Diana Kauffman), but their efforts are hampered by internal corruption.
The film's primary selling point is its cast, which also includes Gary Busy, Martin Kove, and Fred Williamson. However, don't get your hopes up: while Wilson and Gruner make the most of their team-up, Williamson and Kove have a combined screen time of maybe five minutes and Busey doesn't even get in on the action. Personally, I was expecting this – Martin Kove has particularly been irritating me for a long time with his reluctance to do fight scenes – but it could be very disappointing to someone who thinks they've come across a B-movie supergroup. That's not to take away from the memorable performances delivered by lead villain Michael Cavalieri and Martin Morales as a flamboyant pimp, and Gary Busy manages to be memorable, but it's not what viewers wanted to see.
Speaking of things unwanted, I'm sorry to say that the movie is ugly in more ways than one. Production-wise, the movie toes the line of an indie feature. The way it's been shot makes me think it had a very rushed schedule: endless nighttime scenes, shaky camera-work, inharmonious editing, and a lot of ADR lines. All of this amplifies the sleazy tone of the story, which really turned me off. Few of the characters are endearing, with Yordan in particular doing all he can for the viewer not to like him. Violence against female characters and sexist dialogue is recurrent. As usual, Don Wison's character is a paragon of morality, but he's on in his own in that regard, amidst all of these other slimy critters. Basically, this isn't the kind of film you watch to put you into a good mood.
The same is generally true for the action content, though it has its redeeming qualities and ends up being the one passable aspect of the film. There are four shootouts and five full-length fistfights, and while the former are overlookable, the latter can be decent. Don Wilson and Olivier Gruner don't fight each other and that's pretty disappointing (especially when the film teases it), but they do fight alongside each other and that's pretty cool. A direct comparison favors Gruner: even though both performers are former pro kickboxers and have been listed among the authentic "tough guys" of martial arts movies, Wilson plays his fights very safe with relatively slow choreography and a lot of cuts, whereas Gruner performs a more dynamic and rougher-looking style of brawl that more accurately conveys his real-life strength and ability.
CROOKED isn't a film for casual martial arts fans. It *might* pass for a slow night on cable, but that's only if you really want to see the two lead stars and are tolerant about shortcomings.
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