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SKIP TRACER [a.k.a. Deadly Business] (1977).

This Vancouver-lensed character study came out of nowhere. It has no recognizable stars, a first-time filmmaker at the helm, a minuscule budget, and few gratuitous thrills. Briefly released in Canada, then on VHS under a generic new title, it was quickly forgotten. Nevertheless, writer-director-editor Zale R. Dalen's no-nonsense portrait of a working-class anti-hero driven nuts by his soul-sucking job (hey, nobody could possible relate to that situation, right?) is one bleak, underappreciated little gem... David Petersen stars as debt collector John Collins, who's so awesome at his job that he's won his finance company's "Man of the Year" four times in a row. If you're behind on your payments, this "skip tracer" will track you down and shake the fuckin' cash out of you, one way or another (such as waking you up at dawn by pounding a 'For Sale' sign into your front lawn). Still, he feels unappreciated by management, who continually push him to be even more ruthless. Meanwhile, an eager young novice, Brent (John Lazarus), asks if he can learn this trade from the master, with Collins agreeing to help him out. Collins isn't a bad guy. He just has a nasty job that he's exceptionally good at, and he certainly isn't living the glamorous life. A deadbeat's wife shows up at his crappy apartment, stridently pleading for mercy, since crazy hubbie is too depressed to pay his bills. Boo-fucking-hoo. Collins is even hospitalized midway into the film after a brutal stabbing, and with an antagonistic job like his, there's no shortage of potential suspects. When he returns to work after his attack, Collins is more hardened than ever -- emptying houses of furniture, dropping in on losers' workplaces, listening to idiotic sob-stories, and increasingly concerned that someone is out to kill him. Determined to track down one illusive target -- Collins' personal Moby Dick -- he comes face-to-face with the grim consequences of his profession... Collins is a man with a hardcore work ethic. If you're broke, don't buy shit on credit that you can't afford. Period. Nevertheless, the script continually tries to stack the deck against him (e.g. repossessing a TV-set while children are in the midst of watching it). Amidst wonderfully seedy backdrops -- strips clubs, cheap hotels, bars, and diners -- it's anchored by Petersen's utterly believable performance. This wasn't just his first starring role, it was also the guy's first film! Unfortunately, this didn't kick-start Canada's answer to De Niro or Pacino, but instead, only led to bit parts in FIRST BLOOD and FAST COMPANY. Dalen's sole misstep is a finale that's too improbably upbeat, instead of a more introspective conclusion that Collins' journey deserved.

© 2010 by Steven Puchalski.