DVD Review: Gordon’s War / Off Limits

Lately the studios have been making double feature DVD sets that make little sense. Who wants to watch the volcanic action of Dante’s Peak after Stallone’s stuck in a tunnel Daylight? Is this really a theme between these two films? The Action-Packed Double Feature of Gordon’s War and Off Limits would seem to just be two films slapped together on one disc. What could a ‘70s drug war in Harlem flick do with an ‘80s homicide investigation film? They both deal with the Vietnam War and fighting against a chain of command.

Gordon’s War (1973 – 89 minutes) opens with Gordon Hudson (The Terminator & Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan‘s Paul Winfield) at his sister’s grave. She’s the victim of a drug overdose. While he spent four years fighting for democracy in Vietnam, his Harlem neighborhood was overrun by pimps and pushers. He promises revenge for her death by cleaning the streets of the scum. He puts together a crack team his old war buddies (Super Fly‘s Carl Lee, Putney Swope‘s David Downing and Shaft‘s Tony King). Using their military training, they systematically destroy the heroin distribution network. Their attacks get the attention of the rich white guys with the true drug connections. It’s an all out war in the streets with car explosions, attack dogs and dump truck destruction. Winfield brings a true spark as the lead because he’s not a suave movie star. You’re never sure if he’s going to get stomped by the slick guys in the pimp suits. Director Ossie Davis had already staked out the drug game in the area with Cotton Comes to Harlem. Instead of going with two cops going against orders to get to the bottom of a drug case, it’s about vigilante justice. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but Bill Clinton eventually opens his office in Harlem.

Off Limits (1986 – 101 minutes) is a buddy cop film that takes place in the middle of the Vietnam War. Gregory Hines (Tap) and Willem Dafoe (Platoon) are undercover military cops working in Saigon, They get stuck investigating a dead prostitute. How do you locate a man who kills without remorse in a warzone? That’s a desired trait. At first they suspect a low level G.I. went nuts, but as their suspects get executed, things point to a high ranking officer being the killer. Can they survive long enough to solve the case? Amanda Pays (Max Headroom) plays a French nun with a special way of describing the various acts the hookers perform in her district. Dafoe nails a good shock face when she takes them to a strip club for leads. The film was shot in Bangkok so it’s packs the proper atmosphere on the screen. Director Christopher Crowe had done a Miami Vice episode before this film. He brings that TV show’s smoke and lighting effects to his big screen effort. Scott Glenn brings the crazy in his short, but pivotal role.

Watched as a double feature, these two films are a study in contrast. The grainy rawness of Gordon’s War against the artsy angles and lighting of Off Limits. A man reclaiming his neighborhood while two cops bring justice to a strange land. Even the difference between retired and active duty military gets explored. Gordon’s War and Off Limits share enough common bonds that make them a thematic double feature that isn’t completely redundant.

The video for both films is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The transfer of Gordon’s War reflects the gritty feel of shooting in New York City in the ‘70s. Off Limits captures the Southeast Asia creepiness. The audio for Gordon’s War is mono while Off Limits is stereo. Both have fine enough levels though you might crank it down a notch during the gun fights.

Audio commentary on Gordon’s War features actor Tony King and Cinematographer Victor J. Kemper They give plenty of tales of the late Ozzie Davis and Paul Winfield. Off Limts has Willem Dafoe and Director Christopher Crowe recalling their time with departed Gregory Hines. They have way too many strange tales of Thailand shooting. Dafoe detects he’s wearing a wig in a retake.

TV Spots (1:31) has two commercials that show off the action in Gordon’s War.

Gordon’s War Trailer (2:04) lets us know that this is a war in Harlem.

Gordon’s War / Off Limits is an exciting double feature about the Vietnam war experience. Gordon’s War has a combat veteran return to an equally dangerous Harlem. He cleans up the streets using his Viet Cong fighting techniques. Off Limits is a cop movie in the lawless Saigon. How do you find a murderer in a world where they give out medals for killing the locals? It’s butt-kicking double bill.

Shout! Factory presents Gordon’s War / Off Limits. Directed by: Ozzie Davis & Christopher Crowe. Starring: Paul Winfield, Gregory Hines, Willem Dafoe and Amanda Pays. DVD Contents: 2 movies on 1 DVD. Rating: R. Released on DVD: June 14, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.

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