Though it doesn’t come up often in day-to-day conversation, I do consider myself to be a pretty big fan of Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and his dodgy collection of filmed entertainment. He may not be the greatest actor to ever grace a cheap downtown double feature, mind you, but he’s got enough genuine, uncut screen presence to compensate for what he lacks in emotional range and technical skill. Even when the material for his pictures has been scraped from the bottom of a very deep, very greasy barrel, chances are you’ll have a good time watching Williamson shoot, slap, and mistreat everyone he comes into contact with. Truthfully, sometimes that all I really need to consider his films a success. Sad, dear readers, but painfully true.
However, I have recently found a very unfortunate exception to this rule. Case in point: the big guy’s 1989 Chicago cop thriller The Kill Reflex, a rambling, unfocused affair akin to the sort of empty-headed malarchy you might have found on the USA Network back in the early 90’s. Nevermind the stilted dialogue, the illogical script, or the hamfisted acting — this film is just plain boring. Considering that Williamson served as producer and director, one would assume this picture to be, if nothing else, an action-packed adventure overloaded with numerous shoot-outs and a handful of mediocre fight sequences. What we’re given, I’m sad to report, is similar to every other renegade cop flick lensed during this dry, visually-defunct era of American cinema.
The Hammer stars as Soda Cracker, a Chicago detective who watches helplessly as his beloved partner is gunned down by a rooftop sniper while providing security at a Chicago Cubs baseball game. Despite stern warnings from his elderly superiors, Soda launches an informal investigation in hopes of discovering who, exactly, murdered his friend in cold blood. With the assistance of a supposedly sexy female cop (Maud Adams), Soda eventually uncovers a sinister web of corruption that leads back to a seasoned criminal named Ivan Moss (Bo Svenson). If you’ve seen any of the like-minded motion pictures crafted during the 80’s, chances are you’ve already figured everything out. Mystery and suspense are certainly not Williamson’s strong points.
Here’s the thing about Fred Williamson: Regardless of what film you’re dealing with, you always get Fred Williamson. That’s because — surprise, surprise — all Fred Williamson knows how to play is Fred Williamson. What varies from picture to picture is the amount of swagger on-display; his good flicks always contain high levels of panache, while his shoddier productions tend to have less. The Kill Reflex has just enough Williamson bravado to make you think you’re having a good time when you’re actually questioning your decision to investigate this title in the first place. I certainly thought I was having fun as I watched the curiously named Soda groove to light jazz while brewing a pot of coffee. Silly me.
Everyone else, I’m afraid, is on autopilot. The generally entertaining Bo Svenson tries his best to camp it up a bit, though his efforts seem a little silly in this sort of serious production. Maud Adams, meanwhile, is as lifeless and asexual as they come, proving once and for all that most men are attracted to anything with a functional vagina. Perhaps the oddest addition to the cast is late vocalist Phyllis Hyman, whose full-length club performance tries its best to derail the entire project after its moderately intriguing opening sequence. Her cleavage is outstanding, to be sure, but her outfits are worthy of immediate incineration.
For fans of peculiar cinema, The Kill Reflex provides more than a few head-scratching moments, ranging from high noon-style shoot-outs with remote controlled helicopters to a number of musical cues which were used roughly a year later for Claudio Fragasso’s infamous cult classic Troll 2. That’s not to say the film is worthy of its bloated eBay price tag, especially considering most of the items offered on that overrated website are nothing more than used VHS copies and second-hand laserdiscs. Perhaps a shoddy second-rate DVD release will appear sometime soon, though I seriously doubt it.
The Kill Reflex is, essentially, a mildly engaging dud. There’s nothing special about the film at all, even when you take into consideration some of the picture’s wonkier elements. Considering the vast array of Fred Williamson movies currently on the market today, you should have no trouble finding something to satisfy your unnatural craving for a full-bodied slice of The Hammer. For a motion picture directed by a man who’s made his living in the trenches of the genre, there’s not a lot of rough and tumble action to be found here. If you’re an obsessive-compulsive completist, by all means, jump right in. The rest of you should probably attempt to find cinematic satisfaction elsewhere.
William Lustig’s Vigilante is a good place to start.