Intent to Kill (1992): Praise the Lords Again!

This time, Matty heralds a superlative PM flick anchored by another fantastic turn from its leading lady.

The second of three PM Entertainment vehicles anchored by Traci Lords, following A Time to Die (1991) — which was also written and directed by Charles T. Kanganis — and ahead of Ice (1994).   

For PM, INTENT TO KILL is a real hidden gem. Despite receiving a handful of positive reviews upon its original release, the film has fallen by the wayside in recent years, eclipsed by the likes of the Gary Daniels-starring Rage (1995) and Riot (1997), and the Don Wilson Cyber Tracker and Ring of Fire flicks. Thing is, without Intent to Kill the bulk of those outlandish epics wouldn’t exist to begin with — at least not as we know them, anyway. Booms, bangs, and bullets have been a staple of Richard Pepin and Joseph Merhi’s wares since pre-PM outfit City Lights, but Intent to Kill codified their now-patented approach to carnage. The mayhem on show — deafening gunplay, speaker-rattling explosions, bone-breaking brawling — is so gloriously exuberant that the film felt the ire of the censors on both sides of the Atlantic. In the U.S. Intent to Kill was the first picture slapped with an NC-17 for “extreme violence” (rather than sexual content as had been the case with previous pics lumbered with the rating), while here in the U.K. it was shorn of seventeen seconds before the BBFC granted distro 20:20 Vision an 18 certificate.

For Lords, Intent to Kill offers another well-shaded part for her to sink her teeth into. At the time, the actress was amassing column inches for her work with teenage runaways and advocacy for the safety of vulnerable young women; altruistic passions that bleed into her characterisation of Vickie Stewart. Though the thrust of the film concerns the tough detective’s attempts to bag Columbian drug dealer Salvador (the wonderfully hammy Angelo Tiffe, who’d pair with Kanganis again on 3 Ninjas Kick Back (1994) and Dennis 2: Dennis Strikes Again (1998)), its dramatic meat comes via her merciless tackling of the (mostly male-centric) problems in her life: from dumping a philandering boyfriend (Scott Patterson, his screen debut), to the acts of vigilantism she coolly commits when the law just won’t do. In one bravura sequence, Stewart, having overheard an unsympathetic colleague (Sam ‘Brother of John’ Travolta) dismiss a victim of gang rape, beats the snot out of the woman’s attackers with a nightstick. In another, Stewart brutalises a leery factory owner after learning of his penchant for molesting his all-girl workforce. It veers close to tawdry revenge fantasy, without question. Thankfully, Lords and co-star Yaphet Kotto (as Stewart’s tetchy yet compassionate captain/mentor — a clever subversion of the ‘angry black police chief’ trope that marred Richard Roundtree’s similar role in A Time to Die) avoid exploitation due to the gravitas of their performances. Moreover, Kanganis proves as interested in the moral conundrums posed by his script as he is in its sensationalistic elements.   

Indeed — for Kanganis, Intent to Kill is a barnstormer. A Pepin/Merhi perennial between their formation and the mid-‘90s (credits include: penning L.A. Heat (1989), L.A. Vice (1989), Midnight Warrior (1989), and Fist of Honor (1993); and writing and directing Deadly Breed (1989), Sinners (1990), Chance (1990), and No Escape No Return (1993)), Kanganis has never bested this engaging action/thriller/crime hybrid. It’s impactful, stylish, and wickedly enjoyable.

Lensing April and May 1992 and part financed through PM’s long-standing pact with HBO, Intent to Kill premiered on the network on 4th February ‘93. It hit U.S. cassette two months later and slipped into rotation on HBO’s sister channel, Cinemax, by the end of the year.

USA ● 1992 ● Action, Thriller ● 95mins

Traci Lords, Yaphet Kotto, Angelo Triffe ● Wri./Dir. Charles T. Kanganis

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