If I were to have discovered Michele Massimo Tarantini's The Hard Way (1987) when I was ten, then I would have traded my red Rambo headband for a bottle of Vitalis hair tonic and played as Miles O'Keeffe's Bull on the playground. One of the best 80s Italian action movies sees Henry Silva and Miles O'Keeffe square off in the battle of the square jaws and stiff acting, while over ten thousand bullets are spent in under ninety minutes in Tarantini's lean action film. The Hard Way opens after the credit sequence and Luigi Ceccarelli's excellent movie theme to reveal an army squad creeping up to an open road in the jungle to intercept the "cocaine pick up." Enter Henry Silva as Captain Wesson and his crew of mercenaries to quickly dispatch the awaiting army. Wesson, cold as ice, wounds the awaiting army captain and shuffles him into his helicopter. A convoy of trucks, carrying enslaved locals and bushels of coca plants, head to a large, guarded compound. The compound is the drug plantation for Cartel overlord, Pinero (Philip Wagner), and Wesson brings the wounded army captain as a gift. After making the poor bastard eat about seven hundred bullets in a vulgar display of power, Pinero and Wesson have ended any opposition by the local government. Only the U.S. stands in the way now but Wesson has a mole inside the D.E.A., who keeps them informed about any secret operations.
The D.E.A. has their own mole inside Pinero's organization and they know the whereabouts of his plantation. While sending in U.S. troops is "politically impossible," the D.E.A. decides to send in a small elite group of soldiers, led by Colonel Bacall: three soldiers from three nations, Brazil, Germany, and its leader from the U.S., John Barrymore aka "The Bull" (Miles O'Keeffe). The D.E.A wastes about as little time as Tarantini does in The Hard Way to dispatch the trio from a plane over the jungle. As soon as their feet touch the ground, Bull cautions the other two: "If you get your ass shot off, you're on your own." The trio meet up with the mole from the D.E.A., who lays dead in his dapper white suit. Wesson has set a trap for the three and the bullets fly. Grenades are thrown and soldiers go bouncing everywhere. The only way to slow down The Hard Way is to put the disc on pause.
In a phenomenal sequence, Silva's Wesson lets the dogs loose to track the trio, while Wesson flies over head in his helicopter. The trio splits temporarily to divert the troops' attention. O'Keeffe's Bull reveals himself to be as sharp as his survival knife: with the said blade, Bull cuts a nasty gash in his own arm and bleeds himself a trail across a rope bridge, where the alligators are congregating in the swamp below. The troops and the dogs are diverted across the bridge, while Bull lays in ambush. Bull goes to cut the bridge but he's discovered! A knife toss and a high kick takes out two soldiers, while a full clip from his machine gun takes care of the twenty across the bridge. I think Bull missed the dogs (Tarantini's presumably a dog lover), and the alligators get nothing. What a set-up!
The trio reunite to meet Colonel Bacall with reinforcement troops, banded together in patrol boats coming down the river. Oh no, it's Wesson! In his helicopter! A few grenades and missiles later and get out the jam and jelly, because Bacall and company are toast! Okay, enough exclamation points. Bull tells his compatriots that they must complete the mission. Tarantini follows this litany of explosions with one of his best sequences: Bull stands at the edge of an open field and attracts the attention of an enemy helicopter. He runs full speed through the open field while bullets rain down around him. Bull alerts his buddies, and the two spring into action and pull their trap, a homemade clothesline which brings down the chopper with a bang.
Needless to say, I had an absolute blast watching The Hard Way. Michele Massimo Tarantini penned the screenplay, which probably looked more like a sketchbook of orchestrated action scenes, because the film is very lite on dialogue. Henry Silva throughout the film normally just barks into his walkie-talkie, but he delivers some of the best lines in the few minutes of the film when bullets aren't flying. With a tumbler of two fingers of Scotch in his hand, Wesson tells Pinero, "Let me tell you something...I love killing people. It gives me great satisfaction." The final third of the film is an assault on the plantation by O'Keeffe and crew, culminating in an escalating battle between O'Keeffe and Silva (which ends perfectly).
Tarantini spent the 70s directing crime flicks ( 7 Hours of Violence (1973)) and sex comedies (The Teasers (1975)). He moved into the 80s and put his hand into just about everything: sex comedies (A Policewoman in New York (1981)), sword-n-sandal (Barbarian Master (1982)), jungle/action/cannibal comedy (Massacre in Dinosaur Valley (1985)), and women in prison (Women in Fury (1985)). Tarantini is a terrific director, who has really never gotten his due. He's helmed quite a few good films, but he's often overshadowed by his contemporaries. However, with The Hard Way, he delivers one of the best Italian 80s action flicks, a literal visual assault on the viewer. The numerous action sequences are brilliantly shot and edited, and the film as a whole is well-paced. The Hard Way is always exciting, as Tarantini shows an incredible amount of enthusiasm. I wished he would have helmed more action films. Henry Silva is no stranger to Italian cinema nor to playing a bad mofo on screen. Silva goes from stoic to intensely animated in a split-second. He's a fantastic villain with other notable like roles in Fernando di Leo's Manhunt (1972), Umberto Lenzi's Free Hand for a Tough Cop (1976), and Fabrizio de Angelis's Man Hunt (1984), for example. Handsome Miles O'Keeffe began as Tarzan in John Derek's Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981). No stranger to Italian cinema, like Silva, O'Keeffe appeared as Ator in the fantasy films, Joe D'Amato's Ator the Invincible (1982) and Ator the Invincible 2 (1984) and Alfonso Brescia's Iron Warrior (1987). He also appeared in Ruggero Deodato's post-apocalyptic The Lone Runner (1986) and Stelvio Massi's actioner, Hell's Heroes (1987), alongside Fred Williamson. O'Keeffe's true talent is also his career hindrance: his uncanny likeness to a young Clint Eastwood, from his look to his demeanor to his delivery. This likeness was okay for the Italian 80s films, but when he plays Count Dracula, for example, in Anthony Hickox's Waxwork (1988), his limited range is really shown. Nonetheless, O'Keeffe is a perfect hero in The Hard Way with one of his best performances.
Anyone who loves the ridiculous and excessive frisson that only 80s action can deliver, then The Hard Way is the film for you. It is truly one of the best Italian action films, standing tall with Ruggero Deodato's Raiders of Atlantis (1983) and Bruno Mattei's Strike Commando (1987). See it.