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TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: With the Shout! Factory giving this cult-favorite ’80s thriller the ‘Collector’s Edition’ Blu-ray treatment, it’s time to take a look back at the film that gave William Petersen his first lead role before he eventually became Gil Grissom in the original “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” TV series. Here’s my Deseret News review, published Nov. 1, 1985.

A couple of weeks ago, during a rare Friday evening at home, I caved in and watched my first episode of “Miami Vice” on television. It was everything I feared: violent, superficial, mindless. But it was also slick, stylized and undeniably entertaining. And there’s no question of its being highly influenced by music videos and TV commercials, as well.

And that pretty well sums up “To Live and Die in L.A.,” if you add explicit violence, sex, nudity and profanity, as befits its R rating.

Director William Friedkin has previously given us such supremely popular movies as “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist,” but he has also given us the atrocious “Cruising” and “Deal of the Century.”

     

   William Petersen on a 'To Live and Die in L.A.' lobby card.

His latest offers us the best and worst of all those movies. “To Live and Die in L.A.” is horrorific, there is not one good guy in the long roster of characters, it is extremely exploitive, and one of the most cynical movies I’ve seen in some time.

There’s no denying, however, that the film is also very quickly paced, sharply edited and frequently exciting.

The story focuses on federal agents this time, instead of city cops. The pre-credits sequence has two secret-service men dealing with a crisis, then shifts after the credits shows them as friends on and off duty. The elder agent is about to retire and goes out on his own to investigate a remote warehouse that reportedly houses counterfeiters.

It comes as no surprise that he is killed immediately and that the rest of the film will be spent by his partner seeking revenge against the counterfeiters, led by one notorious artist/criminal who has eluded agents many times before.

     

The storyline is fairly predictable most of the way, with a couple of surprise exceptions, but what makes it intriguing is the talent that has crafted this yarn. Very glossy, rollercoaster pacing, and an undeniably harrowing chase scene (that goes a bit long), and several individual sequences that offer more than a few jolts.

And the cast of unknowns (with the exception of Dean Stockwell as a crooked lawyer) is uniformly good, from the Feds (William L. Petersen, John Pankow) who must become corrupt in order to achieve justice to the very bad bad-guys (led by a chilling performance from Willem Dafoe, who played a similar character in “Streets of Fire”).

But “To Live and Die in L.A.” is unquestionably a director’s picture, and Friedkin is really at home with action and excitement.

Too bad he can’t keep the excesses in control. Some of the violence seems designed to chase you away from the theater’s concession stand.