Journal: Drivers' Cinema: No Man's Land (1987)

Drivers’ Cinema: No Man’s Land (1987)

By Benjamin Shahrabani
February 4, 2014

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!

To buy the DVD on Amazon, Click here

To search for the movie poster on eBay, Click here.

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Tom Sheehan
Tom Sheehan

Like Kevin said; the Australian movie is “Freedom” from 1982. I have it on DVD, picked it up on eBay about a year ago. It stars the late John Blake, was filmed in Adelaide, South Australia with a lot of the rural scenes shot along the SA coastline.

As for No Man’s Land; I idolised that movie during the 1980’s, studying all the 911’s in the film. I always loved the early 911 that overtakes Sweeney’s character on his way to his first day on the job as an under cover mechanic. Take a look at it!

Iain Holmes
Iain Holmes

There’s a trailer for Freedom on youtube

And all of Running on Empty

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange

I seem to remember being irritated by some of the car related dialogue, like Charlie Sheen’s character saying ‘this baby really handles’ about the Flatnose when he has clearly only driven it down a dead straight road.
On a related note I remember years ago watching an Australian movie about a kid that steals a Porsche 911 Turbo and takes it on a road trip across Australia. Can’t for the life of me remember what the film was called? Anyone have any ideas?

Kevin Jensen
Kevin Jensen

[i]”On a related note I remember years ago watching an Australian movie about a kid that steals a Porsche 911 Turbo and takes it on a road trip across Australia. Can’t for the life of me remember what the film was called? Anyone have any ideas?”[/i]

It’s called Freedom (1982). Another worthy Australian film was “Running on Empty”.


Niklaus Gingro
Niklaus Gingro

Love this movie, so quintessentially 80’s! [url=””]And the whole movie is on YouTube[/url].