‘You poor white trash – if you didn’t have that gun
you’d be a yellow streaked bum.’
Fight For Your Life starts off pretty strongly, but don’t be fooled. This is the kind of film where occasionally you want to pause and go check for a pulse. If you happen to find one, please let me know.
The movie opens with a fairly exciting scene of three convicts escaping from a prison van. They steal a pimp’s car, leaving him stranded in his underwear. All the while, the Fight For Your Life theme song plays, a blaxploitation funk number typical of the time. So far, I am 100% in. And then the prisoners end up at the home of a black preacher and his family and the film just nosedives.
It’s the kind of movie that reviewers dread, because so little actually happens that there’s almost nothing to write about, which is highly unusual for a blaxploitation film. Those films tended to give audiences super cool black heroes to root for and get behind, often railing against some stuffy white bureaucrat. What we have here though seems to be a blaxploitation movie for secret racists, who want to pretend to cheer on the Turner family’s revenge whilst secretly revelling in their endless degradation.
Because my goodness, the father is such a fucking sap! It’s almost impossible to root for a hero who is so passive. The leader of the crooks, a piece of white trash called Kane (well played by William Sanderson), barges into the Turner’s house, threatens his family with a gun, smashes the place up, insults and humiliates him in every way possible. Turner, being a religious man, accepts it all, saying ‘The meek shall inherit the Earth.’
Eventually the family manage to turn the tables and hold Kane at knifepoint, but spent so long yakking that he gains the upper hand again! Kane rapes Turner’s daughter, causing the man to finally – finally – seek vengeance, 70 minutes into an 85 minute movie. Unbelievably, Kane somehow manages to wrest control away from Turner again and you’re left shaking your head at how pathetic and ineffectual a protagonist he is.
There’s also a cop on Kane’s tail who is quite honestly the worst character in any film ever, played by the worst actor in any film ever. David Cargill, in his one and only film role, plays Lt ‘Rulebook’ Reilly, a character who is so incompetently shot that, despite being a key player in several early scenes, we don’t actually see his face until 35 minutes in!
He’s just always filmed from behind, almost as if it was a different actor standing in for Cargill, who was probably too busy flipping burgers that day to be on set. Lt ‘Rulebook’ Reilly, in case you can’t guess, plays by the rules. In case the name wasn’t enough, every character he interacts with brings it up. Oh, did I mention that he’s very by the book? That’s right, the rulebook. Basically, it’s all leading up to the ridiculous ending, where Lt Reilly (y’know, old ‘Rulebook’ Reilly) does not play by the rules. I know, I know, who could possibly have seen it coming.
The whole film is boring. After the first twenty minutes or so, it’s pretty much everyone sitting around in a room, with Kane humiliating Turner and Turner doing nothing about it. There’s a couple of nasty gunshot wounds, a baby threatened at gunpoint and two rapes, though when compared with something like Last House on the Left or Late Night Trains, nothing here really screams Video Nasty. Perhaps it was the unrelenting barrage of racial slurs from the mouth of Kane that got this film in trouble? It’s hard to say, and it’s not a film I’d recommend seeking out. It does, however, end on a hysterically ridiculous note that almost made the previous 85 minutes worthwhile. Almost guys, almost. Turner and Kane are pointing guns at each other while Turner turns the tables on Kane, calling him a ‘faggot’ and implying that he had been raped by a black man in prison. This prompts Kane to throw his hostage to one side and blurt out the classic line, ‘You’re just like the black man my mama ran off with!’ So there you go, he’s got a reason for being a racist. A stupid, stupid reason.
Move along folks, nothing to see here.