Theme Song: Somehow the makers of Fighting Back were able to resist temptation and did not have an empowering rock ballad composed for the soundtrack. There wasn’t really any music at all.
Interesting Dated References: Lowenbrau. Lots of images of Philly in the early 80s that may be nostalgic for some, but for the average reader who never has left the midwest, they don’t really matter.
Best Line: There isn’t much good dialogue going on in this film, and that’s a pretty sad statement.
Social Context: There’s a social context to all of the movies in this genre. Community activism, safety on the streets, getting kids off drugs, stopping your daughter from becoming a stripper – the list goes on and on. But are these issues presented in a realistic way? No. This film was made at a time when “taking back the neighborhood” was something insecure men would sit around and talk about. The story of The Guardian Angels seemed to inspire a lot of this stuff.
Summary: Fighting Back is yet another revenge genre film that drapes itself in the guise of being a little more community-oriented. Our hero, played by Tom Skerritt, doesn’t go off half-cocked and take on a gang (or at least not at first). Rather, he takes efforts to start a community organization complete with storefront and logo. It’s like Ghostbusters, but with real people. They even have embroidered patches made.
The movie starts out with some random news people compiling actual news footage that is violent. I don’t recall ever seeing some of this footage and I’ve seen The Killing of America, so that statement is supposed to mean something. Next we flash to Skerritt and his ridiculously stereotyped Italian family who is celebrating someone’s departure for Denver. It’s some uncle who is leaving. Then they get right into the action. Skerritt is driving his very 1980s car around a bunch of other 1980s cars, when he sees a pimp beating up a woman. His loud mouth wife (Patti Lupone) gets out and yells at them. This of course results in a car chase. For some reason, Skerritt thinks the smart thing to do is drive to his house with the pimp-mobile chasing him. I’m pretty sure the rules have always stated if you are being chased by someone who is going to try to kill you, drive to the home of someone you hate and act like it’s your own.
So the pimps rear-end Skerritt and push his car up onto the lawn. His wife gets out of the car and immediately has a miscarriage. Skerritt pulls a gun and the pimps just drive away. That same night, Skerritt is shown working at his deli and he sends his mom and son out into the night to walk home alone and, of course, they walk into a pharmacy that is being robbed. The thieves rough up the kid, the pharmacist, and cut the old mom’s finger off. The police take forever to show up and Skerritt, whom I apparently never noticed has pretty bad teeth, yells a lot at police. He keeps putting his family in potentially dangerous situations and then when something bad happens he complains a lot. This movie is really shoving the Italian stereotypes down the viewer’s throat. All the Italians, including Skerritt, are constantly seen holding large cheese wheels or sausages.
The set decoration budget for this movie was probably zero because the streets of Philly already looked shitty enough. If anyone cares, the guy playing Skerritt’s best friend is played by Michael Sarrazin who was in The Reincarnation of Peter Proud.
Suddenly, and this is actually pretty awesome, there’s like 10 inches of snow everywhere. Skerritt and his friend drive around the streets in their really sharp 70s cars and don’t seem to give a fuck about sliding or anything. While out and about, they see the pimp’s car and go into a bar to try to fight him. In the bar there is every ethnicity except white, so I guess the director was trying to imply they shouldn’t be there. Skerritt gets thrown out and then almost immediately convinces his neighbors to join him in his fight against crime by forming a community organization. And then all of a sudden they’ve got a building, a logo, a sign, embroidered patches, all that stuff. It takes time and money to get all that shit produced. I guess since Skerritt is portraying an Italian we are supposed to assume the mob financed it or something.
My Ghostbusters analogy was a joke, but they even go so far as to get a car just like the Ecto-1. Maybe I’ve discovered that Ghostbusters was an actual parody of this movie.
So the new community group’s first order of business is to go down to the shady bar and act all tough with their new vests and freshly embroidered patches. The bartender gives Skerritt a beer that is more than 2/3’s head and everyone, including Skerritt, ignore this minor detail.
Then a fight breaks out between the locals and the local community gang. Apparently the plan is to go in bars and get into massive brawls with the community they are protecting. After the bar fight they interrupt a guy for trying to burn down a factory.
Meanwhile, Patti Lupone returns home to find their house broken into and ransacked. Lupone freaks out and calls the People’s Neighborhood Patrol Hotline. Did I mention that is the community organization’s name? Well it is. And they have a hotline set up. These people really went all out. She also finds the family dog dead in the shower. This is a plot device used to incite emotion from women viewers who are having a hard time relating to the unrealistic revenge plot. Then Skerritt and frineds discuss crime in the area and we see the news reporters talk about wanting to interview him.
Suddenly, Yaphet Kotto shows up. Apparently he’s a dance instructor and a writer and for some reason Skerritt and another man were in his studio discussing crime. Kotto calls Skerritt out for being an asshole who blames everyone else for his problems. Then he cuts the argument short by demanding everyone dance. What tact! What a technique!
We immediately flash to the next scene, which is some broad wearing an 80s high cut thong screaming in the street over a dead body about how the same pimp from the beginning of the movie “shot her old man.” Of course Skerritt shows up, recklessly hits a few others cars, and attempts to chase the pimp. In the morning he takes a break from making “pasta” to walk his son to school. He is them bombarded in his deli by a bunch of elderly Italian stereotypes who congratulate him for “giving them back the streets.” They demand Italian food and the news reporter asks for an interview.
Meanwhile, some politicians discuss if this new community organization is above the law. Get a load of this guy’s mustache. He’s the Police Commissioner. They decide to bring Skerritt in to tell him to tone it down a bit. You know who should tone it down? The Police Commissioners mustache, that’s who.
So then the movie slows down a lot as Skerritt fields all type of political nominations and considers running for office. Then Skerritt realizes his son “Mario” (yes Mario) is on heroin. The kid is like 12, but he’s all zonked out of his head at dinner. Skerritt tracks the dealer down and yells at him. Then he proceeds to meet with a bigger drug dealer, and a few minutes later he has a meeting with a mob boss. Then he goes back to fight the drug dealer.
Apparently the drug dealer is into LARPing because he whips out some type of battle axe. And yes, this fight is taking place at a fried chicken restaurant. Skerritt knocks the guy out and then pays for a bucket of chicken to go.
Kotto shows up again and presents Skerritt with the guys who cut off his mother’s finger. Kotto gets all black activist and tells Skerritt off again. Then the black pimp stereotype from the beginning of the movie and his gang ambush Skerritt and crew in the park. Sarrazin gets shot and killed and when Skerritt finds his body, a bunch of violins start playing. Then there are more violins and horns at the funeral. Skerritt rallies more of his troops for some type of showdown. They bring a bunch of bats and wrenches and go beat up thugs in the park. The pimp escapes but the community successfully reclaims the park. Then everyone gets all happy and paints over graffiti and other stupid montage things. Somehow Skerritt drops a grenade on the pimp guy’s car after he leaves a strip club. Then he is elected as councilmen and everyone celebrates. The closing scene is a bunch of kids playing in the park that was preciously overrun with thugs.
Fighting Back was given enough of a green light that it was produced by Dino de Laurentiis. Also of note is that director Lewis Teague heralded some fairly well known work in the 80s: Lady In Red (the first movie I remember seeing a full female bush in when I watched it late at night sometime in the mid-80s), Cujo, Jewel of The Nile, and Cat’s Eye.
Poster and Box Art: The poster for Fighting Back falls right inline with Death Wish and other posters of the time that were starting to use highly contrasted or stochastic photographs on colored backgrounds. This technique would continue to be seen for the rest of time. Still, despite the overuse of this formula, it still stands up. Also of note is the custom type treatment on the actual “Fighting Back” type.
I also found this confusing foreign poster that makes absolutely no sense. Looks like someone got a little crazy with the photograph and airbrush montage nonsense.
Availability: Guess what? You can watch Fighting Back right now via Netflix Streaming.