1996 / Director. Roger Christian.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
Larry Bishop, son of Rat-Packer Joey Bishop, has been an actor since the 60s, making appearances in everything from sit-coma to exploitation biker films. In the mid-90s, however, in the midst of the new-wave indie explosion, he added writer-director to his CV and gave us the deliriously undefinable TRIGGER HAPPY, starring a who's-who of the scene and on the side he gave director Roger Christian his script to UNDERWORLD, a bonkers black-comedy laced with ultra-violence and timing so sharp you could shave with it.
Comedian Denis Leary, only a couple of years outside of his world-wide break-out No Cure For Cancer Tour, takes the lead as Johnny Crown, freshly released from the joint (where he received his Bachelors Degree in Psychology, making him the only working psychopathic psychotherapist in all of psychopathology) on Fathers Day and on a mission to find the guys who murdered his Dad while he was on the inside. He enlists the help of a begrudging Frank Gavalin (a wickedly sarcastic Joe Mantegna) to point the way to those responsible, but also choses to help Gavalin get in touch with his feelings and hands him over to therapist Dr Leah for a session in the midst of his night-long rampage of revenge. Over the course of just one night, he chips away at his 'to-do' list and massacres anybody who looked at his father sideways.
There's nothing particularly original in UNDERWORLD. It's undeniably a product of the post-Tarantino spate of crime films. It does, however, have one of the more stylish scripts to emerge from the time. Bishop (who also has a bit-part as hitman Ned Lynch) has an ear for cadence. The three scripts he has had produced all share a common love of the hyper-vernacular. There's nobody in real life that talks the way his characters do; alliteration, repetition and clipped dialogue are his trademarks and it's clear he takes great joy is letting his creations speak. Whether they are talking psychobabble, waxing philosophical or debating Roger & Hammerstein musicals, there's a sharpness to his wit that keeps the violence from becoming over-bearing and his leads from being unlikable.
Roger Christian, a couple of years before BATTLEFIELD EARTH doesn't inject his visuals with the OTT stylings a of his famously horrendous sci-fi catastrophe, instead, he uses the lens as a tool, often framing in shadowy two-shots so as to watch the banter unfold or wides angles to give everyone some space. There's nothing hyperkinetic about this R18+ rated action film, it's languid and slow and handsome, particularly for its budget.
Upon its release, UNDERWORLD was met with a lot of static. Reviewers weren't particularly kind to it. Understandable, given the over-saturation of films of the ilk at the time, but the intervening 19 years since its release has been kind to it and it's worth a revisit, or if you haven't seen it, definitely worth tracking down.