Times Staff Writer

Walter Hill's "Extreme Prejudice" (citywide) is as red-hot as a Saturday-night special, an ultra-violent action-adventure fantasy so macho that it verges on parody--on purpose. Sensational rather than serious, it is an exploitation picture but one with class: it has style, a point to make that happens to be highly topical and, thankfully, a dry, saving sense of humor.

Its elements would appear to be right out of a classic Western. Nick Nolte is Jack Benteen, a mustachioed, tin-starred third-generation Texas Ranger as square as his jaw, a man whose shirt is always buttoned right up to the collar. He is unswerving in his determination to bring in his childhood best friend Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe), now a white-suited drug kingpin headquartered just over the border in Mexico. In time-honored fashion, Jack and Cash have always been in love with the same woman, the sultry Sarita (Maria Conchita Alonso, lovely but in a role that's little more than a cipher) who even now is torn between the two.

But wait a sec. The time is the present, not a century ago, and it's no longer so easy to head for a "High Noon" showdown. Cash has already been targeted by a top-secret government mission, led by a ruthless major (Michael Ironside), whose team is composed of a group of young servicemen all officially listed as dead.

Amid escalating confusion, clashes of authority and the major's lethally spectacular high-tech maneuvers, Jack emerges as a moral compass in a world that has so lost its ethical bearings that right and wrong have become hopelessly muddled--the effect of which, of course, is to make him a decidedly endangered species. Hill's many writers, which include none other than Mr. Macho himself, John Milius, have also been fortunate enough to hit a timely Contragate nerve: the major's lack of accountability is an invitation to an unbridled lawlessness ostensibly exercised in the name of upholding the law. Besides, what's there to keep the major himself from turning bad? Cash had also once been an upstanding member of the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Hill, still preoccupied with defining masculine courage, is here exceptionally adroit in playing with the virile mythology of the Western to set off and clarify all these ideas, while at the same time turning out a rip-roaring, often tongue-in-cheek entertainment. "Extreme Prejudice" (rated R for considerable violence and bloodshed) is high, wide and handsome, its shifting moods keyed by Jerry Goldsmith's ominously elegant, Latin-tinged score. It's also a film of deceptively folksy twangs, the richest of which not surprisingly belongs to Rip Torn, cast as Jack's avuncular sheriff pal. There's just enough of the cynicism of Robert Aldrich's "Dirty Dozen" and the reflectiveness of Sam Peckinpah's "Wild Bunch" in "Extreme Prejudice" to hope for increasing substance from Hill in the future.

Never leaner or more chiseled, Nolte brings to Jack that precious extra bit of star magnetism that allows him to get away with keeping an absolutely straight face no matter what happens. Nolte's innate strength and presence kept Eddie Murphy, in a sensational debut, from stealing "48 HRS.," and here the same qualities anchor the bravura of Powers Boothe, exuberantly mocking the antiquated villain's role in which Nolte's square-shooter has so adamantly cast him.


A Tri-Star release of a Carolco production. Executive producers Mario Kassar, Andrew Vajna. Producer Buzz Feitshans. Director Walter Hill. Screenplay Deric Washburn, Harry Kleiner; based on a story by John Milius and Fred Rexer. Camera Matthew F. Leonetti. Production designer Albert Heschong. Music Jerry Goldsmith. Associate producer Mae Woods. 2nd unit director/stunt coordinator Bennie Dobbins. Film editor Freeman Davies. With Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Michael Ironside, Maria Conchita Alonso, Rip Torn, Clancy Brown, William Forsythe, Matt Mulhern, Larry B. Scott, Dan Tullis Jr., John Dennis Johnston, Luis Contreras.

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.

MPAA rating: R (under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian).

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