Dusting off cornpone genre titles from the 80s, there’s always a tacit hope that yesterday’s shit will be today’s shinola—that the canned wisdom and twinkly piano-soaked conventions of a still-maligned decade can somehow look genius in hindsight. Sadly, whatever was wrong with Jack Sholder’s Renegades upon release is still wrong today. Starring Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips, the film is exactly self-aware enough to invite comparisons to other, better culture-clash cop tales, but it lacks both the postmodern zeal to one-up them or the muscularity of production to challenge them as actioners. This is even more perplexing given the two leads; the Sutherland/Phillips pairing makes sense given that Renegades was sandwiched between both installments of Young Guns, but the actors’ stilted anti-chemistry casts the film’s potential to dust. What’s left is a thin daguerreotype of an idea that was losing steam before cameras were even rolling.
Sutherland, hiding his spectacularly disproportionate youth behind a soggy brown moustache and, presumably, a small lake’s worth of cocaine, stars as a plainclothes cop named Buster McHenry, on fire with indignation at the sorry state of police corruption in…some amalgam of Toronto, Philadelphia, and the Southwest. (The film was a U.S.-Canadian coproduction.) Out to avenge the death of his straight-shooter detective father, McHenry poses more of a threat to his own career than to the crooked cops of the establishment, but he can’t help himself—especially after the law turns a blind eye as his undercover work sees him aiding and abetting actual crimes. Participating in a botched diamond heist, Buster crosses paths with a young Native American named Hank Storm (Phillips), entrusted by his Lakota Sioux elders with a sacred lance. Hank, his father (Floyd Red Crow Westerman), and his brother are presenting the spear at a museum exhibition when Buster and his mob cronies blast through. The mafioso heavy, Marino (Rob Knepper), murders Hank’s brother and takes the spear.