Neither the stylish direction of Richard Sarafian nor a take-charge Gary Busey can keep "Eye of the Tiger" (citywide) from becoming just another routine vengeance exploitation picture.
Fresh out of prison on an unjust murder conviction, Busey heads home to his wife and little daughter in a small town long ruled by corrupt sheriff Seymour Cassel, who had framed him in the first place. Cassel is now in partnership with a bunch of drug-running bikers, headquartered in a desert compound and led by a very fierce, shaven-pated William Smith. Busey kills Smith's rapist brother. Smith et al. murder Busey's wife. And the war is on in earnest.
This violent revenge fantasy has been staged so often by now that the real story, the one that either writer Michael Montgomery doesn't tell or was chopped out, is why the townspeople have put up with Cassel all this time.
We understand that now they're paralyzed by fear, but what about the framing of Busey by Cassel, who was afraid that a tough, four-square Viet vet would provide the leadership to drive him out of office? Why didn't anyone speak out for Busey when he was railroaded into prison? Why hasn't anyone contacted the state police? Is it a question of fear or apathy or both? We'll never know the answers.
In short, "Eye of the Tiger" (rated R for heavy violence), said to have been inspired by the "Rocky III" theme song, is all action and no thought. Sarafian makes the most of the first, and if the film has nothing much else besides Busey, it does have a firmly controlled energy that explodes on target.
As for Busey, it's great to see him back in shape, having shed 60 pounds, and as galvanic as ever. He makes a great, rawboned blue-collar hero, and the film serves notice that he's back in top form. Even when nothing special is demanded of them, it's always a pleasure to watch pros like Cassel, Remsen, Smith and Yaphet Kotto, cast as Busey's pal, a police sergeant nearing retirement but not surprisingly prepared to risk all in coming to Busey's aid. Just by their presence, Busey and his co-stars bring dimensions to material that doesn't have any of its own.
'EYE OF THE TIGER' A Scotti Brothers presentation in association with International Video Entertainment. Exec. producers Herb Nanas, Ben Scotti. Producer Tony Scotti. Director Richard Sarafian. Screenplay Michael Montgomery. Camera Peter Lyons Collister. Music Don Preston. Art director Wayne Springfield. Stunt coordinator Gene Hartline. Film editor Greg Prange. With Gary Busey, Yaphet Kotto, Seymour Cassel, Bert Remsen, William Smith, Kimberlin Ann Brown, Denis Galik, Judith Barsi, Jaime Gil.
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.
MPAA rating: R (Under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian).