Lethal Tender is a film that I am embarrassed to say I have seen a number of times more than I would expect to have in my life and each time I have felt differently. First, I dug it. Second was a bit boring. Third was trash. Fourth…
I picked up Lethal Tender as an ex-rental on VHS to add to my collection of Jeff Fahey movies. Fahey had a regular output of action movies in the 90’s, however, they had been relatively disappointing. After Lethal Tender Fahey had a good run of cheap actioners, with the likes of The Underground, The Last Siege and Operation Delta Force. Certainly other films like Time Under Fire and Detour were pretty awful, however, on this viewing I would happily place Lethal Tender with the former titles.
Fahey occupies the central Bruce Willis role, in the wrong place at the wrong time. He plays the role somewhat straight with the odd quip here and there and has a little chemistry with his partner early on. As with Die Hard, “he’s a likeable guy.” Carrie-Anne Moss splits Bruce Willis duties with Fahey as she is more than just a love interest. Moss shows some range in coping with the events as an engineer forced to take up arms and fight alongside Fahey against the onslaught of inept terrorists whilst harbouring feelings for the detective… she just met 8 minutes ago.
Both Busey and Coates do Rickman villains, however, Busey’s screen time is considerably less than Coates. Coates who is making the most of this role as it was releasing the same year as Unforgettable, a big movie that didn’t do so well in which he gave a solid performance in a beefy role. Busey is fun, if a little toned down from what I would imagine he is like off screen.
This would bring us to the plot, which is a little bit silly. Fahey and his partner are a couple of detectives who are sent to a water filtration station as striking workers have been causing problems for the management. Detectives… not uniformed officers, detectives! Management are still content to let the public in to tour the facility as it would appear that tourists come from miles around to tour a water pumping station, like it’s the Eiffel Tour! I guess plausibility is out the window in order to have a pumping station with skeletal staff yet maintain some hostage potential. The writers are aware of this and insert a couple of silly lines about striking works sticking their boot into a cake, requiring the police presence.
Unbeknownst to most, Busey and Coates are putting into action a scheme to steal bonds from a nearby bond destruction factory using the tunnels that connect the two and the water from the pumping station to carry barrels full of stolen bonds out to a pond for collection away from the facility. The second half of the plot makes a lot more sense. Viewers are not here for an investing plot, they are here for action!
Unfortunately Lethal Tender isn’t brimming with action. There are two-ish action set pieces. I deliberate over the number as there are a few scuffles and fights that last seconds here and there. For the majority of their roles Fahey and Moss sneak around the facility, climbing ladders, sliding along walls, peeking around corners, sometimes encountering a guard, sometimes evading a guard whilst flirting and discussing an omelette. There is a mid-film shootout that helps break up the sneaking action and results in a high fall within the facility that is the biggest stunt in the film. It is worth mentioning, Fahey takes damage, limps and bleeds as the film rolls on, which is a nice touch. This allows Moss a few moments to kick some ass and it’s a welcome inclusion as she saves Fahey’s bacon every once in a while.
What Lethal Tender manages is a level of humour about itself. The writers have looked at Die Hard and noted how Willis and Rickman win the audience with playful dialogue. Coates and his grunts are constantly wisecracking and having humorous discussions about the likes of The Jeffersons. Coates narrows the line between psycho and a Rickman-esq likeable villain massively. However, Busey does the same, having similar moments as he delivers little speeches to subordinates before taking them out in a variety of different ways, usually with a quip or psychotic remark. Busey also gives an opening piece-to-camera (complete with cool cigar twiddle) explaining his intentions to the audience. It’s quite a stylish, if unnecessary inclusion, but the film is better for it.
I’m not here to big up Lethal Tender as a hidden gem, or the little Die Hard knock-off that could. No, it’s a little bland and a little hokey here and there, but there are moments that will reward the viewer and the combination of the leads making the most of the material keeps things ticking over. The film is full of cookie cutter, 2D characters and silly plot ideas that lead to entertaining moments, at the expense of making any practical sense in the storyline.
This is a cheap knock-off for action buffs to rent and forget. It’s successful at what it does and honestly, I will watch it again in 10 years or so.
There is no shortage of differing titles and poster art for this. Chase Under Fire, The Take Over and Deadly Current all pop up on VHS and DVD covers around the world and many more if you include translations. H2O Alarm Signal, General Alert, A Fatal Offer, Lethal Thunder, Maximum Voltage, A Deadly Vortex, Daredevil Robbery, High Risk traffic, Ransom Fire and by far and away the best … Death Punch!
The film pushes its four stars differently depending on where you are. Carrie-Ann Moss was still a few years off becoming a household name with The Matrix, and I’m guessing a re-release added her to the cover to capitalise on that.