From the absurdly spectacular slow motion shoot out on the docks that opens the film all the way until star Charles Napier (Hornsby) banters with his local partner Rodriguez and their sexy sidekick about Rodriguez marrying her despite him having heard Hornsby screw her while she was wearing a wire earlier in the movie, Umberto Lenzi‘s Mean Tricks is an appallingly proficient bad ass cop movie that not only delivers every cliche you freaking demand from such films (Rodriguez’s gruff captain is nicknamed Iron Balls!), but in the best Italian movie tradition invents its own along the way!
How else to explain that Hornsby’s chronic alcoholism, documented to hilarious effect during most of the movie, eventually becomes a sort of super power, enabling him to fight off the effects of a forced booze and cocaine cocktail so that he can drive from a remote location outside of town all the way to the hospital just in time to snap the neck of a would be assassin? And he even manages to do this after crashing his car in front of the hospital!
Hornsby is a recently retired FBI agent who heads down to South America to look up his old partner Mendoza. The rumor is that Mendoza has turned crooked and Hornsby wants to find out the truth!
The truth will have to wait though because Mendoza gets gunned down before Hornsby can kill the shooter. Hornsby rigs it to look like Mendoza killed the gunman, leaves, and returns later to look for clues.
It’s pretty much the usual sort of clues – underlined passages in the Bible and a key frozen in the freezer that leads him to a briefcase in a rental locker. Along the way, he runs afoul of the local authorities, in particular the young hot shot Rodriguez who grew up reading Hornsby’s text books on how to fight crime.
Hornsby is convinced that the evil Laughton is behind Mendoza’s death. Laughton is the drug kingpin who Hornsby thought Mendoza killed during the big slow motion showdown by blowing up his boat.
But did Hornsby really see Laughton get on the boat that night? Or did he just disappear into the fog? And if Laughton is still alive, then he must have used plastic surgery to alter his appearance and for some reason be staying at the exact same hotel that Hornsby is staying in!
I’m not saying it made a hell of a lot sense, that’s just how it turned out! They don’t call Laughton the Cobra for nothing, right?
Pointless nicknames aside, Laughton’s evil scheme is the sort of incomprehensible mess that only a sneering drunkard like Hornsby would have the patience and unconventional thought process to unravel.
How to prove that Laughton really didn’t die in that exploding boat? How about a quick trip to Miami for a search of missing persons during the time when Laughton allegedly died!
Immediately narrowing it down to a single dude, Hornsby questions the guy’s wife and finds out he was a sailor and that he wore a German belt buckle. Guess what was found with the remains of the guy who died that night? Mein gott!
So Laughton is alive after all! But now what? Back to South America where sexy sidekick Candelaria answers a newspaper ad to be a hooker!
High heels, big hair, and a tight red skirt can only mean one thing: Operation Undercover Whore is go! The hookers are being recruited by a local bad guy who has a compound where Hornsby is convinced that the Cobra will appear.
Candelaria shuts the security system down while inside at a party, allowing Hornsby, Rodriguez, and the nosy reporter who’s tagging along with them, to bust in and shoot up the joint. When the dust finally settles, the Cobra has apparently escaped!
Or has he? As any ophiologist will tell you, the cobra is nature’s trickiest snake! Just when you think one guy is the Cobra, it turns out that another guy might be the Cobra instead!
And just when it seems like Hornsby has finally cracked the case after repeated viewings of the video tape from the briefcase (it hinges on Hornsby recognizing someone’s hair!), that turns out to be nothing but a big stinky trap! Damn you Cobra and your elaborate swerves!
But just as Hornsby seized on such far-fetched clues like a German belt buckle and a hair style, a set of car keys Hornsby notices proves to be the Cobra’s undoing!
Napier is great as Hornsby, mainly because he can convincingly deliver dialogue such as “nobody wants to see your balls in a jar, kid” and seems completely at ease regardless of whether he’s getting a piece of ass or kicking it.
Napier is a familiar face both to normal movie fans (he was in Rambo: First Blood Part II) as well as to devotees of Italian cinema (he appeared in The Last Match and Cop Target among others), but Lenzi doesn’t just rely on the veteran character actor.
Obsessed viewers will no doubt recognize the nosy reporter (David Brandon) as the crazy priest from Claudio Fragasso’s Beyond Darkness or from a variety of Lamberto Bava efforts. Iris Peynado (Candelaria) appeared in Monster Shark and Iron Warrior.
What really puts Mean Tricks over the top on every level though is that Mendoza is played by Italian trash film icon David Warbeck! That’s right! The dad from both Karate Rock and Karate Warrior 6! He may only be in two scenes, but he gets shot in both of them!
With all the budget-minded violence (Rodriguez’s car that gets blown sky high by a rocket launcher is an old VW Bug!) and especially the unexpectedly robust 110 minute running time, it’s easy to savor the sweat-stained tropical stench of Umberto’s penultimate picture!
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