Arriving home in L.A., an ordinary guy listens to the message on his answering machine. “I called to see if you were home,” the calm voice says. “I have to kill you tonight.”
Sooner than you can say “Sorry, wrong number,” the ordinary guy has indeed been killed and the plot of Relentless has been set in motion. It’s a basic city-held-in-the-grip-of-a-serial-killer movie, with Brat Packer Judd Nelson as the mad murderer. The creepy phone message is just about the last interesting touch in the movie, which quickly deploys itself in search of any kind of unpleasantness it can find.
Mostly it goes in the direction of buddy-cop formula. The two cops on the mad killer case are, of course, enjoying their first week as partners. And, wouldn’t you know it, they are exact opposites. One is an LA veteran (Robert Loggia), who’s gotten soft from all the sunshine and tofu; when he checks out a murder scene, he’s busy sizing up the layout. (Stepping over a body, he wonders, “What do these condos go for?”)
His new younger partner (Leo Rossi) is recently moved from New York, where they do this with a bit more zeal. His laid back wife (Meg Foster, wasted as usual) coaxes him into being more agreeable, by urging him to take out his hostility by talking nasty to plants, but the serial killer sends him into full Bronx throttle.
Much of the film is taken up with the leaden banter between tile two cops. Loggia and Rossi are good character actors, but director William Lustig, who recently weighed in with Maniac Cop, appears to have no touch with the lighter material.
As for the heavier material, well, it takes care of itself. Judd Nelson walks around looking a bit like Conrad Veidt in the silent classic Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, his eyes buggy, his cheeks sallow, his arms held out from his sides. He also runs around the edges of building roofs.
Flashbacks reveal that the problems are the fault of his father, a brutal policeman who tormented his son. Rossi tries to unravel this psychological tangle by consulting a police psychiatrist. The doctor offers a refreshing opinion on the profile of the killer: “Maybe he’s just crazy.” The way Nelson plays the guy, that’s good enough.
First published in the Herald, August 1989
I know Lustig has a following, but obviously I was not into this one. I am intrigued by one sentence here: “He also runs around the edges of building roofs.” It must have been distinctive, or absurd, enough for me to mention it. But is it one of Judd Nelson’s signature things here? The film was written by Phil Alden Robinson, who used a pseudonym, presumably because Field of Dreams was already in theaters at this point.