Memory of an elephant. A forgetful elephant.

During the summer of 1981 I saw the Sylvester Stallone movie Nighthawks. I saw it at the Glenwood Theater, which was a big beautiful second-run theater in the south suburbs of Chicago. It was a buck fifty to get in the door and another buck fifty for popcorn. They had a great vector graphic Star Trek video game in the lobby, and I remember that around the time the movie was playing, down the street from the theater a small traveling carnival had set up in a mall parking lot. I stopped by the carnival after seeing the movie, but it was a cheesy dud and I quickly made tracks out of there.

That said, for the past twenty-five years I have had almost no recollection of what happened in the movie. This is pretty unusual for me. I can’t remember birthdays or who the twenty-seventh president of the United States was, but I have a pretty clear memory of almost every movie I’ve seen.

Still, there was a blank space for the movie Nighthawks.

I did remember that Stallone was sporting a beard, probably in an effort to look less like Rocky Balboa-like. He and Billy Dee Williams played a pair of lone wolf cops who usually spent most of their time dressing up like helpless old women or overfed businessmen in order to lure muggers out of the doorways…and then they get involved with a British bomber for hire, played by Rutger Hauer…and there was some sort of big action scene that took place on New York’s Roosevelt Island tram.

Other than that, no memory. Blank slate.

Over the years I’ve had a number of people who have mentioned how much they adore the movie, and how great Stallone and Billy Dee were in it. I would just smile and nod, what with having no active memory of the film.

Seeing the movie again always seemed like a fun idea, but it never sorta happened. It was never the right time or the right place. The stars were never in alignment for it to be. It if was important enough to me I guess I could have rented it at some point during the past twenty-five years. I could have seen it on VHS or Beta or LaserDisc or DVD. I figured I’d get around to seeing it one of these days. Today was one of those days, or rather tonight was one of those days.

I just finished watching it on Encore. It seems a bit odd that I’m paying for a premium cable channel to watch a twenty-five year old movie, but I guess it’s considered a modern day classic. About half the memories I had about it were right and the theres were dead wrong. Close enough for government work.

I can see how the movie would have been perceived as daring, cutting-edge, gritty and topical back when it was first released. Some grit is good; it gets inside oysters and makes pearls. Other grit gets in your eyes and makes you irritated. There were no pearls in Nighthawks. I still don’t even know what a Nighthawk is. Maybe they showed it but I missed it with the grit in my eyes.

Nighthawks is a pretty silly little movie with transparent characters and wooden dialogue. Most of it was shot on live New York locations (police stations, subway stations, apartment buildings) and the lighting is always iffy in those types of scenes. Stallone gives it a valiant effort, but Billy Dee Williams and Lindsey Wagner suck all the energy out of the film when they’re on screen. Plus, for being billed as an action movie, there is an astounding amount of exposition. A huge chunk of the film centers around Stallone and Billy Dee going through terrorist training school taught by a stuffy British cop who is hot on Rutger’s tail. There must have been a half an hour of scenes of New York cops being taught how to think and act like a terrorist. Plus, the cops only had one photo of Rutger the mad bomber, so they had to keep putting it up on screen again and again during the slide show.

The only glimmer of character growth happens with Stallone’s character, who had more than fifty registered kills when he was in the military, but he doesn’t believe in shooting first and asking questions first now that he’s a NYC cop. In the end he learns that sometimes you have to ‘take the shot’ no matter the risk. I guess.

I can’t totally trash the film. I have more than my share of guilty pleasures. That same year in that same theater I saw Clash of the Titans and I think I went back to see it at least two more times. How can I judge anyone else?

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