Nighthawks (1981)

Oh man! If you’re looking for a New York cop movie that absolutely screams “1980s”, you’ve found it in Nighthawks. The hair! The outfits! The slap bass-laden soundtrack! The lack of anything resembling actual police protocol! The Billy Dee Williams! The hair!

Sylvester Stallone stars as macho cop DaSilva, who spends his nights catching the bad guys “his own way”. He’s smart, say his superiors, but he’s got an authority problem. Shocking, says anyone watching the movie. Absolutely shocking. When famed and feared foreign terrorist Wulfgar makes landfall in the United States with a mind to kill UN delegates in NYC, it’s DaSilva (of course) who somehow gets put on the case.

Frankly, Rutger Hauer as Wulfgar is the only thing that saves Nighthawks from being 100% trash, and in fact his portions of the film are really pretty great. He’s having an absolute blast with the role, a perfectly evil-looking actor in a perfectly evil character, and his scenes seem totally at odds with the stupid “detective work” scenes (note that quoted term is used lightly). When Hauer’s Wulfgar takes hostages on the Roosevelt Island Tramway and parades around the car amidst the startled passengers, telling them in a menacing tone to “Back up against the window!” as he brandishes his gun, he’s sure to add to one man in particular, “I like your hat!”

Considering Blade Runner came a year later and The Hitcher followed in 1986, Rutger Hauer was basically the best villain of the 1980s. The way he slithers through a locked door in the final scene of Nighthawks is nothing short of terrifying.

Frustrating, then, that the police work that ultimately brings him down seems devised by an adolescent. The procedure of catching the terrorist quite literally consists of agreeing to the ludicrous claim that the killer “is known to frequent night clubs” – as if shooting the shit with the mass murderer in between tequila shots were a common occurrence – and then happening upon the one club in the entirety of New York City in which Wulfgar happens to be jamming out.

Meanwhile, there’s also a half-assed romance subplot for your viewing pleasure. An imminent terrorist threat in the heart of NYC is a big deal, but DaSilva’s gotta think about his own needs, too.

Once you accept the horrendous script and learn to kind of gloss over the macho bullshit at the precinct, Nighthawks is certainly enjoyable enough as a mindless action movie. There’s probably a reason Bruce Malmuth only directed a few other projects, though, and the directing here would be forgettable if it wasn’t so glaringly bad. Now scroll back up and bask in that glorious lion’s mane – if anyone on the crew deserved to use Nighthawks as a platform to fame and fortune, it’s the hair stylist.

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