Movies From the Black Lagoon: Fighting Back

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Fighting Back - 1982, Rated R
By Tom Doty
Weekly Contributing Writer

A frustrated shop owner forms a neighborhood protection league, when his family is harassed by hoods, in this revenge epic that takes a more thoughtful approach while leaving room for a little action and gore
The film begins with a family get together. An Uncle is moving to Colorado and leaving his South Philly neighborhood. Everyone is sorry to see him go but several comment that the neighborhood has gotten so bad they wish they were leaving too. John and Laura D'Angelo soon find out how bad the hood is when they observe a hooker being slapped around by her pimp in broad daylight. Laura loses it and bolts from the car. John corrals her back but the pimp, El Dorado, can't have his power usurped on the street and gets lippy. Laura responds by splashing hot coffee on his crotch.
A car chase ensues and the resulting crash takes the life of the D'Angelo's unborn child. The next evening sees John's mother walks in on a robbery at a nearby pharmacy. She is brutally attacked and knocked unconscious. The thug even takes a pair of bolt cutters to her ring finger to liberate a family heirloom. John now has two women to visit in the hospital and he decides to fight back.
Rather than arm himself to the teeth he enlists a policeman/friend to help him form a neighborhood watch. He gathers together area business owners and they outfit themselves in uniforms, establish a base, and even get CPR training before hitting the streets. Perhaps the uniforms are uncomfortable as they are soon busting heads and throwing guys off of burning buildings. This necessitates a meeting with area police and politicians. The police are content to let them continue with a warning but the politicians are worried this guy will pick up steam and unseat one of them.
A news anchor does a profile on their group and winds up making an area celebrity out of D'Angelo. Before you know it a political team that wants to ride him all the way to the Governor's office is scoping him out. John gets swept away with it all but he's also losing the support of his wife who is left to raise their son and run the grocery store they operate. The day of the election coincides with an opportunity to stop El Dorado and revenge his unborn child's death. What John decides to do will shock you (hopefully) and make you realize that all politicians have a skeleton in their closet by the time they get elected, we just get to see what John's will be.
This is serious stuff though it's dressed up as an exploitation movie. That said it finds time to examine its characters and their motives. The film doesn't shrink from social issues and there is a telling moment when John is revealed as a racist. See this movie if you want a smart version of 'Death Wish." The cast delivers with subtle work that doesn't oversell the melodramatic elements. Tom Skerrit (Alien) and Patti Lu Pone (Life Goes On) bring emotional realism to the D'Angelos. They are supported by the late Michael Sarrazin(The Reincarnation of Peter Proud)as their family friend/policeman and Yaphet Kotto(Homicide: Life on the Street)as a local activist who is convinced the protection group is targeting African Americans. The director is Lewis Teague and he does a fine job of keeping this real though he is best known for making creature features like "Cujo" and "Alligator".
Best Line: "The guy who invented hanging went on to a political career."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@myactv.net.