Director: Enzo G. Castellari
Writer: Enzo G. Castellari, Massimo De Rita, Arduino Maiuri
Producer: Galliano Juso
Cast: Fabio Testi, Vincent Gardenia, Renzo Palmer
Running Time: 106 min.
Two years after “Street Law,” director Enzo G. Castellari returned to the Poliziotteschi genre, or Italian police films, with “The Big Racket.” This time around the main character is actually a cop (played by Fabio Testo) instead of a vigilante. Italian horror fans will probably recognize Testi from his most famous role, that of the womanizing gym teacher in the 1971 classic giallo “What Have You Done to Solange?” Fabio’s rugged good looks recall a young Sean Connery and his dynamic screen presence makes “The Big Racket” an altogether more successful film than “Street Law.” Of course, it also helps that the actor plays a capable and action-ready hero in contrast to Franco Nero’s whimpering engineer-turned-crime fighter.
Like most of these Poliziotteschi films, the first ten minutes feature crime(s) being committed in slow motion: here we have a gang of punks breaking into a jewelry store and demolishing the place while the credits are still playing! We soon find out that this once peaceful Italian village is under siege by a protection racket who will do just about anything to get money out of local storeowners. Fabio Testi is on the case but, in keeping with the cynical theme of Castellari’s 70′s films, the police’s hands are tied; there’s only so much they can do when citizens are too scared to talk and smooth-talking lawyers get in the way.
After a slow-paced hour of Fabio trying to do the right thing and failing, the real plot kicks in when he gives up his badge and assembles a gang of vigilantes, comprised of men who have all been wronged by the protection racket. Although “The Big Racket” is definitely Fabio Testi’s film, a supporting character played by Orso Maria Guerrini (also in “The Bourne Identity” and “Double Team”) steals the spotlight during the latter half of the film. Guerrini plays an ace skeet shooter out to the avenge the brutal rape and murder of his wife, which he was forced to watch. Let’s just say that the revenge that Guerrini enacts is sweet, indeed, with bloody squib-work that would make Sam Peckinpah green with envy. Guerrini’s intense, hate-filled eyes as he stares down the barrel of his sniper rifle is the iconic image of “The Big Racket.”
“The Big Racket” features the exciting stuntwork and violent gunplay that is a staple of Enzo G. Castellari’s films of this era. The budget on the movie was clearly low since half the time people are shot there’s just a puff of smoke and then they comically fall over, which lessens the impact of the violence. But I was amazed by the scene where the camera remains locked on Fabio Testi as his car rolls down a hill. Fabio’s arms flail in slow motion while glass pelts his face and the roof of the car caves in. The actor appeared to be in genuine danger during this stunt so I have no idea how the hell they pulled it off.
Castellari does a great job of making you truly hate the bad guys. The gang looks like a bunch of hippies but continually threatens store owners with rape and violence, laughing and sneering the entire time. Once their true leader is revealed, he gives a lecture about how to run a protection racket while preening around in a fancy suit; in his speech he extols the values of murdering children to get your point across. I mean, you just can’t wait to see Fabio put the hurt on these guys! Though the epic shootout doesn’t occur until the end of the film, it’s worth the wait. Behind the lens, Castellari expertly choreographs the mayhem in the crowded warehouse location, with a special emphasis on slow-motion bullet wounds; while Fabio Testi gets a big-ass shotgun to blow the bad guys away with.
The thing about Italian action cinema of this era is that it was nothing if dependable. Movies like “The Big Racket” and “Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man” may never enter the hallowed halls of your favorite films and they can be a bit slow-paced at times, but damn. For pure bad-ass, testosterone-laden cinema, they can’t be beat. In a way, these Poliziotteschi flicks are like proto-John Woo movies: iron-jawed tough guys with limitless bullets, shooting it out in slow-motion for a cause that feels all but lost. If you love these kind of no-nonsense action flicks, “The Big Racket” is one of the best I’ve seen.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 7.5/10