Why have I always been a fan of Fred Ward?

That’s easy. When he drifted on to movie screens and for years since, he’s been like the second coming of Warren Oates minus the gritty 1970’s and partnership with a Sam Peckinpah like director to turn him into a cult figure of sorts. Like Oates, Fred proved to be a great character actor of the “good old boy” nature who flirted with leading roles and top billing on occasion as he received here to go along with an executive producer credit.

While Fred may have top billing here, this is a three piece ensemble teaming Fred with a couple of up and comers, Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

“What’s your name?” Alec Baldwin is asked at the start of the film. His answer sets the tone for what is to come. “Trouble.”

Alec stars here as an unbalanced criminal newly released from prison who immediately goes on the offensive. He’s swapping identities and leaves one man dead at the airport before meeting up with a gullible young call girl who has a head full of dreams and white picket fences played Miss Leigh. Their first meeting is an edgy scene as the Baldwin character is unpredictable and gives the impression he’s prone to sudden outbursts of violence. While this may prove to be true, his relationship with Leigh will allow the child side of his nature to bubble to the service over the course of the film as their relationship blossoms despite his self destructive demons.

Investigating the case of a body found at the airport is homicide detective Ward and his “good old boy” partner, Charles Napier. One shouldn’t be to surprised at Napier’s appearance here as Jonathan Demme is listed as a producer as well. Napier appeared in numerous Demme films including Silence of the Lambs, Melvin and Howard and Married to the Mob among so many others. When Ward’s good natured detective follows some leads he winds up at the apartment of Leigh and her house guest Baldwin. Ward keeps the whole scene light and enjoys a few beers while on duty and even stays for dinner, exchanging recipes with Leigh. Baldwin is on edge the entire time, never sure if Ward is on to him. Neither are we.

What develops next sets the dark humor of the film in motion. Baldwin blindsides Fred at his own fleabag hotel of a residence. Beats him senseless and steals his gun, cuffs, badge and to keep the off setting humor coming at you, Fred’s false teeth! With a badge in hand to police the seamier sides of neighborhoods, Alec goes on a crime busting spree. Almost. He breaks up thefts only to carry them out himself. Situation comedy such as preventing a purse thief from making off with his intended prize only to push the owner back and take off himself in the other direction, purse in hand.

While Fred and Demme had a hand in the production side, the film is written and directed by George Armitage (Vigilante Force). He keeps the action moving towards a crescendo when Alec just can’t play it straight despite promising Leigh he’ll do just that. He’s living for the moment and through a succession of both bad luck and ill fated attempts at robbery, the violence is going to start taking a toll on his well being. With Fred’s cop closing in on him, the chase will come to a bloody climax.

“Got my teeth back.”

My best recollection of connecting the name Fred Ward to the face was probably seeing him in Uncommon Valor back in the VHS rental days. From there came some of his early titles such as Southern Comfort to his stab at stardom in the failed Remo Williams big budget flick. Along came the popular Tremors and countless other movies of varying interest and success. Ward really is one of those actors I wish had hit his stride at a different era in cinema history. I think he could have fit in quite nicely to the western genre of the fifties and sixties before moving into the crime drama’s of the seventies. Kind of like Mr. Oates.

Fans of both Bond and Hammer films may see a familiar face in a brief cameo. While Alec and Jennifer are dining at an outdoor restaurant, take a closer look at the woman appearing as their waitress. I’m not telling but perhaps you’ll know her name.