Nightstick (1987)

New York City, 1980s. Crime runs rampant. It’s up to one man, a cop-on-the-edge, to… wait, is that Leslie Nielsen? Robert Vaughn? John Vernon? Holy crap, this movie is more Canadian than a syrup-covered fistfight at a Maple Leafs game, with extra poutine.

Bruce Fairbairn plays Calhoun, a tough cop in a tough city that takes no prisoners and regularly has Internal Affairs pissing in the wind. He’s asked by his boss to investigate robberies at several chemical warehouses, but he soon pieces together that bomb making materials were stolen. Meanwhile, a group claiming to be a Lebanese terrorist organization called the United Front blow up some buildings and threaten a banking conglomerate president, even going so far as to rape his wife. But Calhoun discovers it’s not the United Front at all, but a trio of brothers out for revenge after our favorite super cop had put them away a decade before. Now he’s in a race against time to stop the bomber bros, save his girlfriend, and prevent Manhattan from being leveled.

Fair warning, Nightstick is a made-for-tv film, yet it’s a surprisingly watchable one. Calhoun may not be allowed to go all in for an R rating, but he’s willing to be as rough around the edges as he can be in this kind of film. For example, one drug dealer he interrogates after beating his goons up with a metal pipe hidden in a rolled-up newspaper. In another scene, he basically sets up a guy to go for a gun so he can shoot him. There’s little blood despite the shootings and a surprising amount of cocaine gets dumped down sinks, on rooftops, and wherever else you might think to get rid of it. He also drives like a maniac and makes a lot of threats, so I’ll give him credit for being as bad ass as he could possibly get away with for the small screen.

One surprising element is just how much food there is in this film. It’s like Nightstick wanted specifically to highlight the food scene of New York City, especially Chinese food. Multiple scenes take place with Calhoun getting a meal, including one exchange with Leslie Nielsen where the two are eating and sharing as Nielsen explains what the super cop’s new assignment is. “Investigate the warehouse robberies, and also try this squid, it’s amazing.” Later, Calhoun’s drinking Johnnie Walker and claiming it’s Irish in yet another Chinese restaurant. Bars, diners, and restaurant storefronts appear repeatedly. Hell, after one meeting in an arboretum of some kind, Nielsen just pulls out a box and offers Robert Vaughn a random slice of pizza. Where did that box come from? Why is half this movie apparently about lunch?

One key element is Calhoun accepting that people can actually change. There is a recurring character who was formerly part of the United Front terrorist organization but left to live a normal life. Calhoun interrogates him but quickly realizes he’s not a bad guy and even congratulates him on the child he’s expecting as well as helps him when another United Front member tries to get out. Sure, Calhoun’s getting info, but when folks say they’re out of the game, he takes them at their word…unless they deal drugs at schools and run diners. Then you better bet Calhoun is all up in there, probably both to stop crime and grab a sandwich or something.

Also, Calhoun’s girlfriend is some kind of psychiatric doctor named Malone, and she’s both considering a move across country and totally fine with his killing people, as evidenced by her not saying a word after he gets that guy to go for the gun so he can blow him away. It’s an interesting relationship, tame enough to be shown on TV, but with implications of intimacy. She’s not even scared when she gets taken hostage, she pretty much shrugs it off and even gives Calhoun backup when he’s talking down the bombers. I guess there really is someone for everyone out there.

Of course, it’s a made-for-TV cop flick from Canada. Of course the only trailer I can find is in French. Dig that soundtrack though.

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