He’s iconic for his Rocky Balboa and John Rambo roles, but along the way, Sylvester Stallone also has done other projects that showcase him doing what he does well.
One such movie is the 1981 police thriller “Nighthawks” (Tuesday, Aug. 25, Showtime), which folds an international flavor into a principally New York-set story. Stallone and Billy Dee Williams play undercover partners reassigned to a task force assembled to find a European terrorist (Rutger Hauer, suave and chilling in his first American role) who’s come to America to try to make up for an overseas mishap by wreaking havoc here.
The cops aren’t happy about their new mission — particularly Stallone’s Deke DaSilva, who rejects the notion of possibly having to take down the enemy at the cost of innocent lives, an idea supported by the no-nonsense British official (Nigel Davenport) brought over to lead the operation.
As terrorist Wulfgar scouts the Big Apple for potential strike points, an unsuspecting stewardess (an appealing Hilarie Thompson) becomes his decoy, and an associate (Persis Khambatta, arguably best-known for “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”) joins him as a silent but lethal associate. And by the time the villains hijack a passenger-packed overhead tram, DaSilva knows just who he’s dealing with … as does Wulfgar, even down to DaSilva’s efforts to reunite with his estranged wife (Lindsay Wagner, in what was a rare feature-film part for her while she mainly was enjoying television stardom).
Reportedly, “Nighthawks” went through its share of production difficulties (a sudden switch of directors, considerable re-editing, etc.), so it’s somewhat amazing that the result is as cohesive and exciting as it is. That feel is evident right from the start, as Stallone chases muggers across a subway-station platform and Hauer executes an attack on a London department store.
The tight editing is a major strength of “Nighthawks,” which really only pauses to take a breath in its scenes of Stallone trying to win Wagner back. He and Williams make a first-rate team, alternating between one acting on pure adrenalin and the other being the voice of reason. Also hugely enjoyable are the moments between the streetwise Stallone and the vastly more sophisticated Davenport, as they develop a grudging respect for each other, and Hauer does his ample gloating at the good guys with real finesse.
Neatly underscored by music by Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer fame), “Nighthawks” remains quite fresh nearly 40 years later. And for those who haven’t sampled its bountiful and well-staged action yet, it will be that much fresher.