Although its plot may revolve around drug smuggling, the final feature by Canadian director John Trent (SUNDAY IN THE COUNTRY, HOMER) is actually more interested in characterization than exploitation, and ends up an engaging surprise. Equipped with a sturdier-than-usual cast led by John Heard (who, when the film was being shot in 1980, was riding high on critically-acclaimed arthouse hits like Ivan Passer's CUTTER'S WAY and Joan Micklin Silver's CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER), it wasn't actually released until four years after production wrapped -- and a year after Trent was killed in a June 1983 car crash -- with its distributor misguidedly marketing the film in some territories like a kick-ass actioner and audiences undoubtedly peeved when they instead sat through a low-key, amoral, decidedly-downbeat drama... Charming, fedora-sporting, small-time drug dealer Charlie Granger (Heard) just wants to earn a little cash from grass and hang with loving girlfriend Dinah (Alberta Watson). His dicey old pal Brett (Stephen McHattie) has bigger plans for him though, involving 500 keys of hashish currently sitting in Morocco, with usually-cautious Charlie forced to cooperate after local mobsters threaten to kill his sleazeball friend. Once in Spain, Charlie recruits cowboy-buddy Bo (The Band's drummer/singer, Levon Helm) and rendezvous with Arab liaison Mustapha (djellaba-wearing, pre-RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK John Rhys-Davies). Unfortunately, the whole deal goes south once they hit Tangiers and are targeted by greedy local authorities. When Charlie refuses to pay off the cops, the script takes a brief detour into MIDNIGHT EXPRESS territory as they're dumped into a dank cell, and culminates with Charlie's scheme to rescue Bo, complete the hash sale, transport the shipment, and handle any potential problem or double-crosses along the way... Both Heard and Helm bring a laidback authenticity to their improbable anti-heroes, McHattie makes an exceptional sleazebag, and other co-stars include Moses Znaimer (Canadian media poineer and co-founder of Toronto's first indie television station, CITY-TV) as an ill-cast mob boss, while a young Michael Ironside can be spotted dealing cards at a poker game. The film tends to be loose and rambly -- no surprise, since it began as a script by David Rothberg (a commodities/currency broker), which was drastically reshaped by (future HALLOWEEN II director) Rick Rosenthal and John Hunter (Genie-winning scriptwriter of THE GREY FOX, using the nom de plume Logan N. Danforth) -- plus at only 87 minutes, it often feels drastically truncated by some over-exuberant editor. Cinematographer John Coquillon (STRAW DOGS, THE CHANGELING) gives the proceedings a gritty, naturalistic edge, though the pounding electronica soundtrack by the late Emerson, Lake and Palmer keyboardist Keith Emerson feels a little out of place in the middle of the Moroccan countryside.
© 2016 by Steven Puchalski.