The southern California sun slowly leans down to kiss the horizon, its rays diffusing through insect-sized smog particles to create colors reminiscent of fire and blood as the incredibly unlikely group of musicians known as Wang Chung provide a pitch-perfect soundtrack. Welcome to William Friedkin’s Los Angeles. This the third and final film in Billy’s unholy Trinity—The French Connection and The Exorcist are the other two. William Petersen wears cowboy boots and jeans as tight as the spandex of a wannabe Sunset Boulevard rock star. He’s a cop so blindly outraged by the murder of his partner he doesn’t have the slightest clue what he’s doing and so he leads us down into the hellish depths of a supposedly “shallow” city.
He’s chasing a man named Rick Masters and Willem Defoe’s reptilian intelligence and offhand wit immediately elevate his counterfeiter/artist to the pantheon of great movie villains. He tools around the ghetto in a jet black Ferrari 308 and gives his girlfriend a human plaything for her birthday. No small detail escapes him:
“You say you’re from Palm Springs, yet you don’t have a tan.”
Gotcha, pal, and another head is about to get blown off in an incredible twist that’s not-quite-the-ending.
What else? Dean Stockwell is a languid, cynical lawyer, Darlanne Fluegel one lithe thoroughbred of a pole dancer and John Turturro gets to play a character who is both mule AND rat. There’s a white-knuckle car chase that never seems to end. Friedkin lovingly applies every bit of style he can to this 2 hour film, but he would pretty much disappear soon after, his creativity spent. Michael Mann would pick up his torch and run with it.
FUN FACT: This movie spawned a porno spoof called To Live and Shave in L.A., the name of which was then appropriated by a noise-rock outfit from Florida who still release recordings to this day. So its impact has been pretty profound, I think.