“Tommy used to work on the docks”, beat-up his last boss, “he’s down on his luck its tough… so tough!” “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi popped into my head a few times while watching Defiance. Tom Gamble, played by Jan-Michael Vincent (Airwolf) is a cargo ship worker who is suspended for 6 months and forced to find residence in New York City. He is just like the rest of us though, he’s a great painter and he wants to learn Spanish. Well ok, maybe not like all of us, but I finger paint and I speak Spanish in my dreams. In his new slummy apartment he quickly realizes that like sucks… no one likes him, his neighbors are rowdy, and gangs run the show! The one good thing is his upstairs neighbor Marsha. She quickly befriends and they hit it off. They even go bowling… things are looking up!
Along the way Tom meets some other people. Abe, played by Art Carney, is the local shop owner. He’s your typical old guy who has lived in the neighborhood his whole life. Then you have Carmine, who is played by Danny Aiello (Lucky Number Slevin, Hudson Hawk) in one of his earlier roles. He is one of the loud neighbors who soon learns that Tom is a good guy to have on his side. We are also introduced to a kid named Kid (yes that’s right) and his not-so-legal guardian Whacko. That sounds like a good morning show – “You’re listening to 97.1 with Whacko and The Kid!” Kid has run away from home and prefers the streets, while Whacko is a former professional boxer who is down on his luck from one too many blows to the head. In one of the more comical scenes of the movie, Carmine is getting his picture taken with a fish (no idea where he gets a fish in the middle of NYC). As Carmine tries to help his friend with the camera Kid takes of running with the fish… comedy genius!!
Oh yeah, but there are still gangs. The Souls and their leader Angel have everyone running scared. Tom stops by Abe’s market to pick-up a few daily essentials: peanut butter, aspirin and beer (3 great tastes that go great together). While minding his own business he notices The Souls helping themselves to a few goodies. He doesn’t step in, but he catches the eye of Angel, who seems worried about the newcomer on his turf. At this point in the movie you would expect a little action. In order to make sure Tom doesn’t cause any trouble, The Souls corner him in a subway bathroom and kick the shit out of him. It seemed a little gay to corner a guy in the bathroom while he’s taking a leak, but I guess in Tom’s case where better to get the shit kicked out of you then the bathroom?!? The action was quick and fairly pointless, but it does help bring Marsha and Tom closer together as she cleans up his wounds.
The next 40 minutes or so of the movie are pretty slow as far as action is concerned. A rumble nearly breaks out when Tom stands up to some gang members messing with Whacko, but the cops drive by and scare them off. This prompts The Souls to break into Tom’s apartment and spray-paint it and hang-up rats in his doorway disguised as a child’s mobile (that’s one hardcore gang). Later The Souls roust a friendly bingo game and rough up Carmine and a priest. The only one to file a complaint to the police is Abe who is later repaid when Angels beats 6 shades of shit out of him. In another move which would surely scare everyone, a few thugs even beat up Kid. At this point Tom decides to “take it to the street” as they say. He roughs up a few of the gang members and is the talk of the town. As retaliation Angel and his buddies show up in Tom’s bathroom while he’s in the shower and threaten him. I don’t understand why they couldn’t wait for him to at least put on a towel. These guys carry around bats and act tough, but they could be swinging for the other team. After a few more acts of violence against the neighborhood, Tom, Carmine and a few others decide to destroy Angel’s car. The prompts the best line in the movie – Angel: “Get everyone together; it’s time to get down!” I will say that the last 10-15 minutes contains the best action of the movie, but if you want to know what happens next you’ll have to check out this flick. I saw it on cable OnDemand, so it might be on in your area too.
Overall I have to say this movie was only ok for me. I expected a little more action, but with the exception of the end it was very tame. As for the story it was interesting. A down on his luck guy can only take so much before he stands up for himself and his friends. The acting was very good. JMV once again proved that he should have been a much bigger actor than he turned out to be. Aiello also put together a nice performance. As a small piece of trivia, this was one of the first movies Jerry Bruckheimer produced. If you are a fan of early 80’s New York City, hard-luck-case movies with a good story and acting then give this one a shot. If you are looking for action more in line with something like The Warriors then you should probably look at 1990 The Bronx Warriors