Instant Finds: Number One With a Bullet
While most people turn to Netflix to watch the latest new releases or TV shows, I prefer to use the service to dig deep and seek out lesser known artifacts from the 70s to today. Are they always good? No. But when they’re at least entertaining, I’ll share them here. Up first is Number One With A Bullet, the best 1987 crime thriller starring a supporting member from Star Wars and a guy from Revenge of the Nerds.
The cast of Number One With a Bullet reads like a mad-libs gone wrong; Billy Dee Williams and Robert Carradine as hard-nosed narcotic cops. Valerie Bertinelli as Carradine’s long suffering (ex?)wife. Doris Roberts as his neurotic mom. Peter Graves as their easily agitated captain. Mykelti Williams (Bubba from Forrest Gump) as the lovable snitch. It’s a who’s who of what the fuck. A hot mess of a cast.
Appropriate for a hot mess of a film.
Williams and Carradine are Detectives Hazeltine and Barzak, and suprise, while they’re best friends and partners, they’re also total opposites! Hazeltine is a smooth operator (duh, he’s Billy Dee Williams) and when he’s not busting crooks, he’s rocking smooth jazz at a local nigthclub, rocking out with his seductive trumpet.
Meanwhile, Barzak is the “loose cannon” of the pair. And when he’s not verbally harassing his ex-wife into loving him, he’s berating his mother, beating up random thugs on the street and trying to prove that a local businessman named DeCosta (Barry Sattles) is really a drug kingpin supplying the entire city with heroin. Oh, he also likes to sabotage his partner’s dates by accusing him of being everything from his gay lover to a rabid child murderer. Really.
Through a series of events that I don’t completely understand despite watching the film twice, the two slowly begin to piece together DeCosta’s operation, all while completely defying the orders of their captain (Graves) to an extent that would have not only gotten them suspended in real life, but probably arrested. And Robert Carradine goes on drug stings while in full drag.
It’s dumb. Sure. But the dumbness works in its favor, because if this movie wasn’t as dumb as it is then it would just be boring. By going out of their way to make the characters quirky or offbeat, the filmmakers at least made a movie that is somewhat unique, if still entirely stupid and at times downright perplexing. There’s a scene in the middle of the movie where you see Billy Dee doing Tai Chi. Why? No reason. Just to show he’s a smooth, cool dude that has it all figured out I guess.
And back to the scene with Carradine in drag. He’s not the only one going full “Bosum Buddies” for that caper. The bad guys get in on it as well. Once again, why? I have no idea. Probably for the same reason that the entire scene takes place at a carnival and a bingo hall. And for the same reason that Billy Dee is dressed as a Mexican bandito. Because the filmmakers couldn’t think of anything better, so they just decided to go full on weird and hope for the best.
It makes no sense, but it’s still the best thing this movie has going for it. Neither Billy Dee nor Carradine ever seem the least bit believable as cops. Williams comes off as bored or exasperated unless he’s playing trumpet, while Carradine’s nasally voice and awkward demeanor shows why he made more Revenge of the Nerds flicks than hard-boiled detective thrillers. You can’t have that man’s (lack of a) chin and be taken seriously as a tough guy. I’m sorry. He tries to come off like a hard ass, but he’s really just an asshole, and not one of the likable variety. If this movie was made today, this guy would be the asshole cop who berates the hero cop before he gets killed out of his own arrogance.
Yes, it’s stupid and unbelievable. The oddball nature of the characters and scenarios does nothing to remedy the weak plot or acting, and the whole thing is entirely predictable and trite. But after about 45 minutes the weirdness of it all finally does start to work, hitting just the right kind of stupid, a great blend of purposeful idiocy with honest-to-goodness “so bad it’s good” charm. And if that doesn’t work for you, hell, Peter Graves is in it. So you can just imagine this is an Airplane! spin-off if you’re having trouble coming to terms with the tone of the film.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the striking number of similarities between Number One with a Bullet and Lethal Weapon. Both films came out in 1987. Both films are about two cops who investigate a large heroin smuggling ring. Both films have a younger white cop teaming up with an older black cop. And in both films, the younger white cop is a barely in control hothead living on the edge while the older cop is more professional, calm and seasoned.
Lethal Weapon, of course, has a much better cast, a better script, a better director, better action scenes and better jokes. Number One with a Bullet, on the other hand, had two men dressed in drag shooting up a bingo hall. So it should be obvious as to which is the better film…
Yeah, okay so it’s Lethal Weapon, you got me.
But Number One with a Bullet is definitely better than Lethal Weapon 3.