Drivers’ Cinema: No Man’s Land (1987)
The Dick Wolf of future Law & Order fame is the writer of No Man’s Land, which also lists Ron Howard as an executive producer. So there’s some Hollywood pedigree involved in what wound up becoming a cult film. That aside, this story is about a young police officer, Benjy Taylor (D.B. Sweeney), who goes undercover at a high-end mechanics shop. His no-nonsense Lieutenant (Randy Quaid) suspects it might be a high-end Porsche chop shop and that those running it may have murdered Taylor’s partner, who was trying to infiltrate it. The aforementioned shop is run by Ted Varrick (played to slick ’80s perfection by Charlie Sheen) who also has a gorgeous, but somewhat clueless sister, Ann (Lara Harris). Relying on his skills at auto repair, Taylor assumes the identity “Bill Aisles” and becomes a mechanic at Varrick’s garage after being put through a test.
The pair become fast friends and over time Taylor starts idolizing both Varrick and his new life as a car thief, not to mention the extras that accompany it including spending time with Varrick’s sister. The line between upholding the law and crossing it into the underworld subculture soon become very blurred, when Taylor finds himself in his own no man’s land considering just what side he should be on. That being said, the whole plot is a pretty classic, but well worn one since the beginning of storytelling time, that of the outsider seduced by a subculture. Fast cars, fine women, over-priviledged kids, and cops crossing over the thin blue line are at their cliched best. And probably not treated as well again until The Fast and the Furious, which almost seems to be a clone of this film, only substituting Japanese Hondas and Toyotas for German Porsches.
Sheen’s Varrick is a hardcore aficionado of the Porsche brand and this movie points out intimate details of the Porsche design and it’s supposed superiority over American cars. Actually, Sheen’s character pretty much holds the mighty 911 above all other cars. When he and Sweeney happen upon a gorgeous Ferrari 512 Boxer on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Sheen derides the car as “…Italian trash.” He reinforces this by declaring “I only steal Porsches” as though all others are unworthy of his attention. However, there is a certain unbelievability in the racing. How could a Chevy Camaro Iroc-Z driven by a rival chop shop gang keep up with a silver Porsche 930 driven by Sheen and Sweeney’s characters? More so, could a heavyweight Oldsmobile driven by the same rival gang stay close? I’m not so sure about either (maybe they were built?), but still found this action to be thrilling especially in light of the fact these were all done the old-school way, without digital special effects. They aren’t up to Bullitt‘s level, but they are still pretty good.
D.B. Sweeney, an underrated actor, shows he had the acting chops as the young cop who gets seduced into a life of crime fairly believably. Sheen is also good, underplaying the villain role nicely and making his character seem like a regular (rich) guy that just happens to be the leader of a Porsche car theft ring. If you love your Porsches like Charlie Sheen and his character, models featured in the film include Sheen’s 911 SC Cabrio and Sweeney’s 911 Targa. Additionally, the various models that are up for grabs (if you’re a car thief that is) include a 911 Flat Nose, a 911 SC, and a 930 Turbo. No Man’s Land is worth a look and while the movie is not without its flaws, its a solid, but somewhat predictable thriller, let down only by its underwritten ending. You can also enjoy seeing the Los Angeles of 25 years ago: Los Angeles shopping malls and high-end boutiques where the car thieves love to steal the Porsches, as well as a young Brad Pitt who plays a brief role as a waiter in the party scene. See if you can spot him!
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