When it comes to car culture and automotive action being the primary focus in films, it seems like there are two primary categories they fit into: motorsports and crime. Under the former, films like Grand Prix, Winning, Le Mans, Rush, and Ford Versus Ferrari come to mind first. Fitting in under the latter, there’s Gone In Sixty Seconds (the original and remake), Ronin, The Fast and the Furious franchise, and King of the Mountain. But there’s another flick that seems to have been largely forgotten yet is definitely worth a watch, especially if you’re into action-crime thrillers, similarities to the Fast franchise, all-things ‘80s cheese, and Porsches: 1987's No Man’s Land.
There are more than a few reasons to either dig it, laugh at it, or curse me for suggesting it's worth purchasing in DVD form, even though you can go ahead and watch it on The Roku Channel—at least for the time being. But here’s why you might consider blowing the dust off that old disc player, plugging in its RCA cables, and feasting your eyes on this cinematic masterpiece that has a score of 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
To clarify, I don’t want to scare people away by quoting its Rotten Tomatoes score, or by saying it’s full of ‘80s cheese—these are endearing characteristics. You’ll see.
No Man’s Land Quick Details
- Price of DVD: $6.60
- Original release date: October 23, 1987
- Director: Peter Werner
- Writer: Dick Wolf
- Starring: Charlie Sheen, D.B. Sweeny, Randy Quaid, Bill Duke, Lara Harris
- Production company: Orion Pictures/Metro Goldwyn Mayer
- Run time: 106 minutes
- Budget: $8 million
- Box office: $2.9 million
- Current streaming platforms: The Roku Channel
- Quick take: A fun '80s crime thriller with some interesting casting and spectacular cars.
A Good Storyline
Even though the movie came out 35 years ago, you can skip this whole section if you’re sensitive about spoilers.
To start, the story itself is great. Written by Dick Wolf, it’s about Vincent Bracey (Randy Quaid), a hard-boiled Los Angeles police lieutenant, who comes to San Diego to enlist Benjy Taylor (D.B. Sweeney) to help him take down a notorious Porsche thief (that's right, just Porsches) and possible cop-killer by the name of Ted Varrick (Charlie Sheen). Varrick’s front is owning a Los Angeles European auto repair shop and is run by manager Malcolm (Bill Duke). Taylor’s young, a little wet behind the ears, an idealist, and knows Porsches—he’s just the man for the job. In fact, for those keen on car spotting, one of the first inklings that there’s some rad hardware packed in this film's reels is a shot of him working on 356 B.
Taylor heads up to LA under the name of Billy Ayles, gets a brief interview with Malcolm, and starts working right away. After being sent to diagnose and remedy an issue with Varrick’s stranded, personal 911 Cabrio up on Los Angeles’ iconic Mulholland Drive, he quickly and successfully does so. The two become fast friends and he bolsters his cover well by demonstrating some decent wheeling abilities on the windy stretch of mountain road.
Taylor’s cover continues to develop, which quickly turns into an in-too-deep kind of scenario, including becoming involved with Varrick’s sister, Ann (Lara Harris). At one point during a meeting, Bracey asks Taylor if he’s going native—a line that’s quite familiar to anyone who’s watched the first Fast & Furious film more than once.
In fact, there are more similarities to F&F than I initially anticipated. In addition to that similar line of dialogue and love interest, Taylor wringing out Varrick’s 911 Cabrio on Mulholland could be compared to the first drag racing scene in F&F—both forms of illegal vehicular activity that help build and legitimize the protagonists’ cover. I’m not saying F&F ripped off No Man’s Land, but it’s fun to compare and contrast the two.
As the story quickly progresses, so does Taylor’s friendship with Varrick. His proficiency with alarms gets him involved in boosting cars, and as he finds out, the cast of characters in LA’s seedy underbelly of grand theft auto is composed of more than just Varrick. There’s murder, an excellent synthy soundtrack, slight script-flipping, and most importantly, more great vehicular action. Particularly when Varrick and Taylor attempt to boost a red Porsche Cabrio in an otherwise unassuming mall parking lot, but are forced to flee under gunfire in a 930 911 Turbo—quite possibly the coolest getaway vehicle of the 1980s. Even if the bad guys’ Lincoln Continental Mark V and Gen 3 Chevy Camaro have a little too easy of a time keeping up with them.
In the end, Taylor guns down Varrick, and the film closes to its very ‘80s soundtrack. I know the plot sounds very straightforward, but it does get surprisingly deep in regard to Taylor's internal conflict between building a friendship with Varrick and still maintaining his position as a member of law enforcement. Especially considering it's a bit lacking in other areas, like overall pacing. The film moves quite quickly in the first 30 minutes.
Why It’s Entertaining to Anyone Who Might Enjoy It
If the storyline isn’t enticing enough, the cast and setting definitely are.
First of all, this might be Charlie Sheen’s most honest, true-to-life role, ever. We’re all well-familiar with his turbulent life off-screen, so playing an egomaniac rich playboy who steals Porsches for thrills feels almost congruent.
Then, there’s Randy Quaid. It’s awfully hard to believe his performance as a hard-boiled lieutenant—especially considering his iconic role as Cousin Eddie in the National Lampoon movies—but it’s fascinating to see how he wears it nonetheless. Surprisingly, he pulls it off.
There are some other great actors to point out, too. It’s always great to see Bill Duke on-screen—his too-brief role in Commando is great, and who can deny his performance in Predator? Brad Pitt also makes a very brief on-screen appearance, wildly, and if you’re a fan of ‘80s punk, new wave, ska, or all of the above, Los Angeles’ The Untouchables is playing in the background of his scene.
To dig a bit deeper into film nerdery, the locations and shots of Los Angeles in the ‘80s—such as stretches of Sunset Boulevard and Mulholland Drive, as well as Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles—are quite good, too. They make the movie feel that much more like an authentic LA film.
And then there’s the 1980s-ness of it all. If one were to assemble five different ‘80s Los Angeles-based crime thrillers, or five films about ‘80s Los Angeles in general, this film could fit into both categories just fine. The club scene where Brad Pitt makes a brief appearance, the very '80s clothing worn by everyone else in this scene, the fact that valet parking is very much a part of everyday life, and even Sheen essentially playing himself—it’s all so of the era, almost to the degree of being a satire without knowing it. Steve Martin could only dream of accidentally producing such a film.
And that’s before we even get to the cars.
All the Car Spotting
The formula for good car spotting balances out in No Man’s Land, as you can tell that everyone who had a hand in its production had an appreciation for cool hardware. Because it’s set in the 1980s and in Southern California—a time and location that both represent a mecca for every form of car culture imaginable—some great stuff rolls across the screen.
Naturally, there are Porsche appearances aplenty and of all levels of price or rarity, including a brief shot of a basic 924, as well as a very rare 924 Carrera GTS. The cars fit each character well, too. Varrick would totally drive a 911 Cabrio, and San Diegoan Taylor would absolutely wrench on a 356 B project, back when they were probably far cheaper to take on than today. I mean, even government employees could daily drive pristine examples in the '80s.
My personal favorite P car appearance by far is the 930 that gets chased down by the Lincoln Continental Mark V—there's just something about seeing an old Porsche Turbo lay down rubber all over a parking garage.
Then, there are some slick Mercedes here and there, a good smattering of Toyota Celicas and an MR2, some solid ‘80s VW fare, many average Chevys, Fords, and Dodges that are just cool to see in general, and some neat Audis that have all but disappeared from our country’s roads, like a 5000 C2 and Coupe GT. For anyone who possesses a Radwood-esque appreciation for cars of yore, this film’s worth a watch for this aspect alone.
The action is also refreshingly real when it comes to car-centric action sequences. I pointed this out about King of the Mountain—I always appreciate camerawork that shows stunt drivers singing for their supper, as well as realistic exhaust soundtracking. The Porsches sound like Porsches, which you’d think would be common sense, but it’s amazing how bad some films’ exhaust tracking is. I love F&F, but I can’t stand the fact that Dom’s FD RX-7 sounds like it has a 2JZ-GTE under its hood.
Go Ahead, Click Buy on Your Favorite Online Retailer
I took a mighty risk investing $6.60 of my own funds to buy and watch No Man’s Land, but I can confidently affirm that it’s worth at least this amount of scratch if you have a soft spot for films that are disgustingly '80s, cheesy, and filled with Porsches. It’s a neat take on a crime thriller that revolves around grand theft auto and undercover police work, the action is good, and it’s fun to compare and contrast with other car-centric crime films made in the past 45 years. Heck, even just seeing its similarities to F&F is worth at least half of that purchase price. Or, ya know, you could just stream it.
If you end up watching it and aren’t a fan—and suggest that I be fired for recommending it—consider its potency as a white elephant gift at Christmas time, or a thoughtful donation to your favorite ‘80s and ‘90s culture nerd’s film collection. They might not know that Dick Wolf’s early screenwriting career included Charlie Sheen playing what was possibly his most true-to-self part, ever, Brad Pitt as a flash in the background, and forever-out-to-lunch Randy Quaid pulling off a very serious role.
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