Heavy Metal: Steele’s Law (1992)

Dave heads down to Texas, and takes a swing at The Hammer’s second directorial gig of the ’90s.

Fred Williamson set up Po’ Boy Productions back in 1974 as a means to exercise more control over his momentum-gathering motion picture career. By the early ’80s, Roger Ebert had christened him to be “the most successful black entrepreneur in the film business” and, as the decade wore on, Williamson bestowed us with the brilliance of One Down, Two to go (1982), Foxtrap (1986), and The Messenger (1986).

The ‘90s began with a wee dip in form for The Hammer’s in-house movie factory. Three Days to Kill (1992) was a passable – if star studded – thriller made for cable station HBO, while STEELE’S LAW uprooted the former football pro to Texas in order to alter the course of the first Gulf War. It’s the double-take nature of that strapline that ultimately makes the latter a more interesting endeavour.

Williamson is plain clothes cop Lt. John Steele – or as noted by a particularly effusive colleague, “Chicago’s answer to Dirty Harry”. He’s tapped up by the FBI to help “save the Iraqian [sic] ambassador’s life” owing to his history with would-be assassin Keno (Doran Ingram), who’s regarded as Steele’s nemesis. The catch is that the Windy City copper is forced on a trip south to Dallas, Texas, where he’s left to weave his way into the underworld and prevent some politically sensitive slaughter.

Steele is the type of role that Williamson could sleepwalk through, and indeed some might say he’s prone to the odd forty winks here. However, taking on the holy trinity of writing, producing, and directing in addition to acting, The Hammer does a mostly fine job, ably assisted by regular on-screen cohort Bo Svenson (their sixth collaboration) and by the casting of a fine villain in Ingram. In an era where too many bad guys seemed ripped from the pages of Scoundrelism for Dummies, Ingram has the role of executioner down to a tee. Leather trenchcoat, salt n’ pepper ponytail, dimpled chin – there’s a suave sophistication about his menacing demeanour.

Texas makes for an interesting backdrop for Williamson and his crew, too, and both he and Southern-based cinematographer David Blood (who shot Three Days to Kill as well) seem determined to stage the majority of scenes outdoors. In fact, there are so many exteriors that by the end credits you’ll feel like you could navigate downtown Dallas without a street map. But, it works, and with Mike Logan’s jaunty synth score helping to pad out a few expositional holes, Steele’s Law is a comfortable grade above boilerplate.

USA ● 1992 ● Action, Thriller ● 90mins

Fred Williamson, Bo Svenson, Doran Ingram ● Dir. Fred Williamson ● Wri. Charles Eric Johnson, Fred Wiliamson

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