Maximum Force – 1992 / Director: Joseph Merhi

Cast your mind back to 1992 for a moment, an exciting year for the LAPD.

When not being secretly filmed beating the shit out of civilians on the side of the road, LA cops were busy undertaking other clandestine police operations. Well, when I say clandestine, what I actually mean is “they were busy blowing up helicopters in broad daylight with RPGs”. And “they were going undercover as LA hookers whilst very publicly blasting Sonny Landham in the chest with a fully loaded Magnum”.

Yes, 1992 – when Mickey Rooney was the corrupt police chief and Flash Gordon was a renegade detective with designer stubble and spiky hair who needed help hanging up “one of his punch bags”. And whilst this inferred he had more than one punch bag it more importantly, you know, emphasised just how fucking angry LA cops actually were at the time.

King of the two-word-title action movie, Joseph Merhi (Executive Target, Zero Tolerance, Direct Hit, Final Impact etc) celebrates all this and more in the keen-on-adjectives and with-hindsight-ill-advisedly-titled, Maximum Force – a film that has nothing to do with the treatment of one Mr Rodney King, but plenty to do with overly aggressive cops, Richard Lynch as a total scumbag and our main man, of course, John Saxon as the instigator of it all.

Fed up with Richard “Punk” Lynch’s criminal grip on the city, Saxon assembles a dysfunctional trio of chip-on-their-shoulder, good guy cops (which includes Flash Gordon) to take matters into their own hands. This involves making them dwell in a dilapidated warehouse, do yoga, drink coffee, skip, fight glow-stick wielding ninja for practise and eventually go out and get even with the guy responsible, curiously enough, for having them all suspended from active service for exactly the same amount of time (6 months, fact fans).

Saxon himself doesn’t do too much, besides emerge from the shadows of the dilapidated warehouse every now and then to tell his crime fighters that they’re not ready yet, or to tell Mickey Rooney to fuck off when offered bribes.
Instead, the film obsesses over Flash Gordon’s attempts to get it on with the undercover hooker, Richard Lynch’s overbearingly smug performance as an LA Kingpin, and the fatal consequences of a shortage in bullet proof vests.

To help remind us that this is a film from 1992, Merhi lights every scene in Michael Mann hued Blue and chucks in a moody, early 90s synthesiser score. To boot, everyone is wearing the very finest in last throes of shoulder padded, leather trench coated fashions. If Bill Clinton, Pearl Jam and Jerry Springer had been involved, this would surely qualify as the perfect time capsule…
Saxon, once again in this ongoing John Saxon Project, is offed with little more than a fleeting whimper before the final third, leaving the remaining cast to duke it out for themselves in one of those “I know how this is going to end, so hurry up!” kind of showdowns.

Maximum Force is nothing if not heavily contrived, formulaic tosh, but it does have a couple of things going for it that distinguish it from all the other two-word-title action/crime movies set in LA circa 1992, namely: Flash Gordon (punchbag included), Richard Lynch (the punk) and, best of all, John Saxon who gets to say “fuck” a few times, retain his moral compass and, er, emerge from the shadows every now and then…