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The Warriors

“CANNNNN YOOOUUUUU DIG IT?????”
Our Rating

Genre(s): Action, Thriller

Director: Walter Hill

Actors: Michael Beck, James Remar, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, David Patrick Kelly

Year: 1979

MPAA Rating: R

Country: USA

I stared stunned and mute at my co-worker.

“CANNNNN YOOOUUUUU DIG IT?????” he bellowed with his arms triumphantly in the air.

“I have no idea what you are talking about.” I said to him, deadpan. He reverently turned the DVD of The Warriors over and over in his hands with a big smile on his face, sliding the case in and out of the slipcover.

His response to The Warriors wasn’t unusual when I mentioned the new DVD to guy friends. It must be a 30-something boy thing. Another friend of mine, eyes glittering with excitement, said that he and his brother watched it “like a hundred times… you know, that first summer of cable TV.” Oh, I remember that first summer of cable TV, too—but I guess while the 12-year-old boys were watching The Warriors over and over, my best friend and I were watching repeats of Mommie Dearest and 9 1/2 Weeks. So after I was corrected that The Warriors was actually not the same movie as Kurt Russell’s Escape from New York, I decided to give it a whirl.

Could I dig it? Well, yes, to a certain extent, I could. The Warriors keeps all of its cusp-of-the-80s cheese, but it still manages to be extremely watchable, with a few thrills and chills thrown in for measure. The plot, as we are told in an apparently new introduction (voiced-over by director Walter Hill) is based on a Greek myth, where a group of soldiers were trapped in enemy Persian territory and had to fight their way home. Perhaps this Greek-homage wasn’t so evident in the original cut, but just to make it clear, there are now cartoon-strip transitions throughout the film. Purists are apparently complaining in forums, but it didn’t seem any different to me than similar techniques in modern comic adaptations.

The Warriors are a band of thugs from Coney Island that have been accused of a crime they didn’t commit. Problem is, the crime was the murder of “Can you dig it?” Cyrus, a charismatic leader who called 100 gangs to the Bronx for a conclave (a term I heard for the first time recently with the Pope’s death!). Cyrus wanted the gangs to band together, to be one, to rule the city of New York. But when he is shot off the podium, chaos ensues. The Warriors are falsely fingered as the murderers, and now they have to run for their lives to get home.

The action all takes place in one night. The Warriors, led by Swan (Michael Beck, an Andy Gibb look-alike who went on to make Xanadu) and Ajax (James Remar, who went on to get his chin wet cheating on Samantha in Sex and the City) sneak and fight their way through gang-territory after gang-territory. In the DVD extras, the director acknowledges the challenge (and probably loads of fun) that the costume designer had in creating 100 distinct looks for the 100 gangs. The most memorable gang, by far, that The Warriors cross paths with are the Baseball Furies: Dressed in Yankee uniforms and caps, they wield baseball bats, and trot after their intended victims briskly as though they were going for a jog across the greens. And best of all? They have funky-ass KISS-style glam face makeup. Cooool… and creepy as hell.

The acting in The Warriors is wooden and often a bit over-the-top. The back of the DVD box doesn’t even bother mentioning the actors’ names, which I thought was a bit telling—but watch for a bit part by future Oscar winner Mercedes Ruehl (The Fisher King). For those actors whom we haven’t seen much of since (I’m talking to you, Michael Beck), it was somewhat alarming (and neat!) to see what Andy Gibb might have looked like if he lived another 25 years. That’s what extras are all about, I’m telling you!

Am I sold on The Warriors as being a classic? A film to watch over and over? No, not really. But these days at work, when I’m not paying attention, I’ve been occasionally caught murmuring to myself, “Warriors! Come out and play-ay! WARRIORS…! COME OUT AND PLAY-AY!!!”

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