It’s 1989. George H.W. Bush is in the White House, Don Johnson stars in John Frankenheimer’s explosive crime thriller DEAD BANG, and seatbelts have curiously installed in movie theaters worldwide, for STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER. Meanwhile, in the world of television, Anthony Yerkovich’s Miami Vice, the NBC series that director Michael Mann helped to launch, is in its fifth season. By this time Mann had long since moved away from executive producer duties (handing them to future Law and Order overlord Dick Wolf) and had come and gone from Crime Story (another executive producer credit), a short lived but extremely well done period piece cop series. The time had come for Michael Mann to fully create a project that was his own. So he wrote and directed a 90 minute-ish TV movie- L.A. TAKEDOWN – that was hoped to spring forth into a full television series. That never happened, so now we have a strange, truncated alternate universe version of 1995’s HEAT (which he also wrote and directed), that is very different, while at the same time very similar.
"Hey, Bar, get a load of this new Star Trek 5! Can we get them to install some seatbelts in the presidential screening roo--HUWWAAARUGGHLLGHH!"
Everyone has seen HEAT so there’s no use rehashing the plot of this cops vs. crooks epic. HEAT clocks in at around 3 hours (around there. I haven’t watched it in a while). L.A. Takedown is 90 minutes, so some plots you might remember from HEAT are nowhere to be seen here. I could go down a list of differences between the two stories, but I don't have the time. The most interesting thing in L.A. Takedown to me, was the cinematography. I loved COLLATERAL, especially that digital video look Mann went with. Officially his first attempt at shooting digital started with ROBBERY HOMICIDE DIVISION, another short lived but extraordinary cop show that aired in 2002. L.A. Takedown, obviously, is not shot in digital, but has the same feel of realism that RHD and COLLATERAL share. So you can see the seeds of COLLATERAL in the cinematography of L.A TAKEDOWN.
Also very interesting are the casting choices. If you’ve already seen HEAT this will be a shock to your system. HEAT has a far better cast than L.A. Takedown, obviously, since you get big name tinsel town heavy hitters like Pacino and Deniro. In L.A. Takedown, the role of Vincent Hanna (played by Pacino in HEAT) is assumed by Scott Plank, a boring, bland actor who resembles a SERIOUS ADAM SANDLER. Plank previously appeared on both Miami Vice and Crime Story, so maybe Mann thought this young actor had the chops to head up a TV movie. He doesn’t. Patrick McClaren, the head of the robbery ring, so exquisitely played by DeNiro (under the name Neil McCauley), is portrayed by Alex McArthur. He does a lot better in his performance, he’s just as believable as DeNiro is, I thought. He previously appeared as the murderer in William Friedkin’s RAMPAGE, I thought he was great there too.
The supporting cast of L.A. Takedown is filled with familiar faces. Michael Rooker shows up, as do Daniel Baldwin and PREDATOR’S Richard “Poncho” Chaves. They’re all part of Vincent Hanna’s team of detectives. Takedown is almost a 1989 who’s who. Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa, Xander Berkeley, and even JUAN FERNANDEZ, that latin actor who eats a rolex watch in KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS appears. He would go on to be a suicide bomber in EXECUTIVE DECISION (“Listen to the sound of AL-TAR!” BOOM!).
The short running time on LA Takedown hurts things a bit. A story like this needs a lot more breathing room, which I think Mann excelled at for HEAT. Maybe someone who saw Takedown first would disagree but the subplots from HEAT that are missing here are sorely missed. For what it is, however, L.A. Takedown was overall a lot of fun, particularly
The original ending, in which the story ends in the posh hotel that sleazy Waingro is hiding out at. Hanna karate kicks Waingro out the window of a highrise. He plummets to the pavement just like Hans Gruber! A rare CANNON FILMS moment for Michael Mann!
The biggest complaint I have is the music in this movie. Shame on Michael Mann frankly for letting it be like this. In Miami Vice, Mann helped to pioneer including cutting edge music in the episodes. Mann knows the value of having a effective score. Just watch his 1982 film THE KEEP for proof. L.A. Takedown is full of overly peppy, generic shredding rock guitars. It sounds like a commercial for a pool supply store, bringing to mind laughing children jumping up and down in an inflatable pool. Completely inappropriate score for L.A. Takedown. Other than that, it’s a solid TV movie, shot with an eye that is ahead of its time, and well worth tracking down if you like HEAT. It’s not even on DVD in the U.S. Is Mann embarrassed by it for some reason? If I were a director, I might feel reluctant to release this, when I’ve already made an improved version of it with HEAT. This is very much a prototype version of HEAT that is rough around the edges in most areas. Nevertheless, I would love to get both this, and his earlier movie THE KEEP on at least DVD, blu-ray would be preferable. Track this movie down and feel the HEAT from the very beginning!
"They're gonna need seatbelts in the living room this August I tell you whut!" - Michael Mann
L to R: Daniel Baldwin, Michael Rooker, Michael Mann, Adam Sandler