MOVIE REVIEW : ‘Trespass’ a Comic Shocker


Making jokes about hell is risky business; the audience may assume you’re a devil yourself. Walter Hill’s ferocious, comic crime thriller “Trespass” (citywide), doesn’t entirely avoid this trap. It’s deliberately outrageous: a tale of a standoff between a vicious gang of black drug dealers and two treasure-hunting white Arkansas firemen in a huge, crumbling East St. Louis textile factory.

“Trespass,” once known as “Looters,” has been shelved for a year, out of fearsit might stir up post-L.A. riot tensions. You can see why. It’s a morality playwith little morality, an action movie with no heroes, “Yojimbo” without Toshiro Mifune. Hill and his writer-producers, the Robert Zemeckis-Bob Gale team, whip up a nightmare riff on racial paranoia, a wired-up comic shocker. Action-movie fans should like it, others may recoil.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Dec. 26, 1992 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 26, 1992 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Column 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong date--Universal Pictures decided on May 5 to pull “Trespass,” formerly titled “Looters,” from its summer 1992 release date. A review in Friday’s Calendar erroneously stated that the movie had been “shelved for a year.”

In the film, the firemen, accidental witnesses to a murder, have a gang member as hostage. The gang has them pinned down in an upper room. But we can’t cheer either side; they all have dirty hands. The firemen are there to dig up a hidden cache of stolen gold religious ornaments, the gang to kill a troublemaker. And there are only two real innocents: Bill Paxton--the sweet, gung-ho sheriff of “One False Move"--as the ingenuous, nice-guy fireman Vince (he’s just as good here as he was in “Move”), and Art Evans as Bradlee, a homeless derelict who’s been squatting in the factory and becomes a target of both sides.

The locale and situation are obviously symbolic. That gutted gray hulk of a factory, with its trash-strewn halls, freezing cul-de-sacs, catwalks, broken windows and heaps of jagged rubble could stand as well as anything for the economic wreckage of the “go-go” '80s and the great S&L; swindle. The business has crashed, the owners are gone, and the scavengers left in their wake--the two rival groups blazing away at each other--aren’t even vaguely portrayed as movie heroes or villains. They’re rival bands of human rats, killing each other in the ruins.


But they’re funny rats. Hill’s recent movies have often had flat characters and papery dialogue--the curse of the ‘80s. But “Trespass"--tight, compact and fiercely single-minded--is a return to his best late-'70s form, to the hard, flashy style of “Southern Comfort.”

Like “The Warriors,” it’s a fable, but a more robust one. The form resembles an old-fashioned siege Western, like “Rio Bravo” or “3:10 to Yuma,” but there’s a once-upon-a-time touch to the storytelling. Zemeckis and Gale have Vince murmur that he feels 10 years old again as he and his more brutal partner, William Sadler’s Don, crash the factory yard.

“I’m a businessman. These are my associates ,” says Ice-T, in his terrific turn as the flamboyant fancy-dan gang leader, King James. He puts a deadpan comic flourish on the line that cracks you up. So do the hard-guy gallery behind him: a crew of traitors, squabblers and psychopaths that includes the perpetually glowering Ice Cube (as the hothead Savon), Glenn Plummer (as the trigger-happy Luther), Bruce A. Young (as the turncoat gunrunner Raymond), De Voreaux White (as the junkie hostage Lucky), Stoney Jackson (as Wickey) and T. E. Russell (as Video, a camera-toting cinema verite gang member--who may be Zemeckis’ and Gale’s forced little Spike Lee joke).

All the actors rock-and-roll with these gang parts; they seem to be holding down chuckles under every line. And there’s a crazy logic to Ice-T’s position. Constantly harassed by cellular phone calls, trying to cool out his gun-waving “associates,” King James is a businessman, his cocaine dealership his own brand of trickle-down, or sniff-down, economics.


Underneath all this swaggering machismo, bloody sadism and callous brutality is an arrested adolescence, not only on the part of the characters, but also of the audience watching them. The two sides in “Trespass” are like Lost Boys with guns, a kid’s dream of gangsters, and the attitude toward them--the mix of fascinated horror and comic gusto--is a less complex variation of the way we view the murderers in “Reservoir Dogs” or “GoodFellas”: as depraved, comic killer-clowns.

Two of “Trespass’ ” stars, Ice-T and Ice Cube, are rappers, but the movie’s soul is hard rock, and Hill’s frequent composer, Ry Cooder, laces the soundtrack with maniacal twangs and raunchy guitar bursts, a metallic clamor that perfectly matches the images. “Trespass” (MPAA-rated R for violence and language) has its bloody ups and teeth-rattling downs, but it also has a clutch of humorous in-your-face performances and a core theme that explosively carries it along: When the factory breaks down, the rats will kill each other for the gold.


Bill Paxton: Vince


Ice-T King: James

Bill Sadler: Don

Ice Cube: Savon

A Universal Pictures presentation of a Canton/Zemeckis/Gale production. Director Walter Hill. Producer Neil Canton. Executive producers-screenwriters Robert Zemeckis, Robert Gale. Cinematographer Lloyd Ahern. Editor Freeman Davies. Costumes Dan Moore. Music Ry Cooder. Production design Jon Hutman. Art director Charles Breen. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.


MPAA-rated R.