Black Moon Rising

Black Moon Rising is another movie in which a nameless government agency has hired a specialist to do its dirty work. If you believed every suspense movie that came along, that government agency must be full of thieves, spies and ex-cons by now. Which, come to think of it, may not be too far off the mark, considering the rash of espionage cases lately.

Be that as it may, at this point you can almost write this kind of movie yourself. The hero will be craggy-faced and silent, and he never makes mistakes at his specialty. Most important of all, he’ll be indestructible, which is key, since the bad guys will be shooting at him throughout.

His dialogue will go like this: “Just stay out of my way,” and “Don’t cross me,” and “The last time somebody tried that, they wound up (fill in the blank: dead, sorry, needing a new pair of hands, whatever).”

Well, Black Moon Rising takes this guy and makes him a bit more human. This is partly because the hero is played by Tommy Lee Jones, who lends a slightly off-center presence, and also because the film lets him be fallible.

His specialty is thievery, and that nameless government agency has him on the payroll so he can steal an important cassette tape. We never know exactly why this cassette is so important—it’s got something to do with testimony—but it doesn’t matter in the slightest. The only important thing is that Jones steals the cassette, then loses it, and he must steal it back in 72 hours.

He loses it by hiding it in a sleek experimental car (a speed machine called “Black Moon,” which runs on hydrogen) he happens to encounter. He plans to retrieve the tape later, but then the car is stolen by somebody else—another professional thief (Linda Hamilton, heroine of The Terminator), who drives it into a huge Los Angeles office building—a building that appears impregnable.

So, the final two-thirds of the movie is simply this: Break into the building and get that car outta there. That’s basic enough, and director Harley Cokliss generates some fun in the final break-in sequence. But overall, Black Moon Rising presents a curiously lame exercise. It’s curious because there’s nothing particularly bad about the film; it’s just tired.

This, despite the fact that the romantic relationship between Jones and Hamilton is pleasantly drawn (she’s every bit his equal, and engages in no damsel-in-distress whimpering). The supporting cast is eccentric, too: Bubba Smith as an agency operative, Robert Vaughn doing his evil routine, and Richard Jaeckel, Dan Shor and William Sanderson (the latter, a longtime offbeat character actor, recently came to cult fame as Larry on the “Newhart” show) as the owners of the cool car.

But Black Moon Rising never quite gets its engines revved properly. This might have been corrected if John Carpenter, who wrote the original story, had stayed on as director; but Cokliss lets the film run out of gas. Or hydrogen, as the case may be.

First published in the Herald, January 1986

That’s not the car in the photo up there; it’s just a car. Cokliss at some point change the spelling of his last name to Cokeliss, according to IMDb. There might be some significance to that. I remember this film sounded great in conception: Jones and Hamilton in a car movie written by Carpenter. I don’t see how that misses. And put those five supporting actors under Tommy Lee Jones’ command, add Lee Ving and Keenan Wynn (also in this movie), and you’ve got one crazy-ass Vietnam platoon picture.

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