Mean Tricks (1992)

Mean Tricks

I’ll be honest, Mean Tricks has been sitting on my shelf for a few years and I bought it anticipating a sleazy cop thriller similar to Charles Napier’s previous The Night Stalker  movie. With the prospect of Napier playing a tough, hard drinking cop with a plot involving prostitute rings and directed by Umberto Lenzi, the opportunities for a trashy outing had never been higher.

So, you can understand my surprise that this film, one of Lenzi’s final credits, is anything but. Mean Tricks is a clean, well-paced thriller that, whilst cheap, marks one of the most mature and accomplished outings I have seen from Lenzi.

Mean Tricks features Napier as a FBI agent who travels to South America following  rumours surrounding his partner, David Warbeck. When his partner is murdered Napier joins forces with a couple of local cops, played by Stefano Sabelli and Iris Peynado to find out who, what, why, where and when. Along their way the cross paths with the police chief, journalists, car salesmen and a colourful collection of criminal types.

Despite a surprisingly long run time of almost 2 hours, Mean Tricks is a fairly simple story that spends most of its time getting to know its characters. There isn’t much in the way of action, save for a climactic shootout and a couple of scuffles here and there. Nudity is at a bare minimum and things could be described as family friendly. More effort is put into cultivating the relationships and the friendship between Napier, Sabelli and Paynado. Thankfully, each of these characters are fleshed out, well written and the actor’s work well enough together to generate appropriate chemistry and intrigue.

Napier is strong in the lead and is obviously enjoying the role of Hornsby, giving a playful performance. Napier would frequently lead in trashy genre flicks like Deep Space, however, Mean Tricks is a much more palatable movie. Sabelli, playing Rodriguez, doesn’t come across as confident as Napier (however, that might be due to the dub) and occupies a lesser amount of the screen time. The film was titled Hornsby & Rodriguez in some regions, however, the focus is much more on Napier’s Hornsby and the title does not feel right with Sabelli’s Rodriguez being side-lined a little. Peynado plays both a love interest for both Hornsby and Rodriguez but also manages to become an intricate part to the plot. Lenzi focuses on Peynado’s her character and treats her with a lot of respect, even, though the love interest approach is unnecessary.

The lack of action is striking, as I was expecting a film that was more Dirty Harry than Inspector Morse. The finale has a fairly interesting tension injector, with Napier’s character forced to swallow a large amount of cocaine and racing against time to save the day and get to the hospital for a stomach pump. The big reveal of the villain isn’t earth shattering, however, it’s good enough that it was a little unexpected as a red herring becomes obvious.

Lenzi keeps the film going, however, he doesn’t do anything particularly flashy to make the experience stand out. Shots are static with wides and close ups featuring predominantly. Little effort is made to hide some of the budget restrictions, for example, establishing shots of Miami are achieved from the passenger seat of a car with the camera being slowly panned around, without a tripod, a real staple of Italian filmmaking. Lenzi has always excelled at producing cheap, but watchable films and Mean Tricks is no exception.

Having looked at the sleazy classic, Hitcher in the Dark, it’s a little refreshing for Mean Tricks to feel more like an accomplished thriller and it’s a bit of a shame that so few have actually seen it. If, like me, you love the sight of Napier chewing up the scenery, dishing out justice and busting heads then you will appreciate this lighter effort, it does deserve a lot more recognition.

There isn’t much in the way of poster art for Mean Tricks, and whilst the one that we have is beautifully hand drawn, doesn’t quite capture the film vibe and in 1992, feels a little dated.

Mean Tricks is a difficult movie to find. My DVD was picked up from a street market in Taipei in 2001 and appears to be a VHS transfer. I located another copy that is a TV rip as there is a network emblem in the corner.

Perhaps Mean Tricks is lost. With Lenzi sitting as a cult favourite I am surprised this has not seen a release, however, maybe there is more marketability of this trashy classics, instead of his… more respectable output.


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