Release Date(s)1987 (July 18, 2023)
Studio(s)The Cannon Group (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: D
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
As far as I’m concerned, Number One With a Bullet (1987) is number two, an excretable, interminable buddy cop movie starring Robert Carradine and Billy Dee Williams, made for The Cannon Group. It plays like a cheap rip-off of Lethal Weapon, but Number One opened exactly one week prior to the Mel Gibson/Danny Glover hit. Indeed, by the time Lethal Weapon opened, it was already gone from most theaters, Number One ranking Number Fifteen its opening week, barely earning $400,000 at the B.O. I was expecting something along the lines of the cheap, unseemly but occasionally entertaining thrillers Charles Bronson made for Cannon during this period, but Number One With a Bullet is way below even that modest level.
Los Angeles Police Dept. narcotics detective Nick Barzack (Carradine) is effective as a cop but also crude and borderline psychotic—in an early scene he haphazardly cuts into a big slab of beef directly from its shrink-wrapped packaging, chewing on the raw meat like a caveman. Though separated from Teresa (Valerie Bertinelli) for more than two years, he’s still obsessed with her, stalking her, having her watched, and pestering her endlessly for dinner dates she wants no part of.
Nick’s partner, of course, has the opposite personality. Hazeltine (Williams) is refined, cultured, a talented musician, and impresses all the ladies with his excellent table manners. Nick, out of spite (or something), habitually ruins Hazeltine’s dates by pretending to be his gay lover, by warning dates about his partner’s supposed venereal diseases, etc. These scenes are supposed to be hilarious but they only expose Nick as an immature jerk.
What thin plot there is involves Nick’s obsession with upstanding citizen (and friend of the mayor) DaCosta (Barry Sattels), whom Nick believes is the drug lord secretly behind the city’s narcotics empire, including the latest drug fad, “black tar.” Clearly, someone inside the force is tipping off DaCosta; could it be Nick and Hazeltine’s direct superior, Lt. Kaminski (Ray Giragin)? Maybe his boss, Capt. Ferris (Peter Graves)?
Even within the limiting opposites-attract/buddy cop genre, Number One With a Bullet isn’t credible on any level. Robert Carradine is a decent enough actor, but he’s stuck playing a thoroughly unlikable, even creepy character unaccountably pegged as the hero. (Billy Dee Williams, though top-billed, comparatively isn’t onscreen all that much, coming and going, flashing a smile and dashing off a line or two, rather Lando Calrissian-like.) In a few scenes Carradine is paired with Bobby Di Cicco; the two starred in Sam Fuller’s great The Big Red One (1980) and it’s rather sad to see them waste their talents on junk like this.
The screenplay is deeply cynical with a lot of intended black humor, such Nick dangling one suspect (Jon Gries) from a high-rise construction site, threatening to kill him unless he provides Nick with information he needs. The picture chokes with moments like this, which aren’t funny or suspenseful, but reinforce the idea that Nick’s an asshole and not a hero, and which show no imagination or originality. Even the action set pieces are dull.
A slightly more ambitious, at least marginally better film was originally planned, with co-writer Jim Belushi the original choice for Nick with Denzel Washington as Hazeltine. Cannon’s Menahem Golan overruled casting Washington, and Belushi left the project over “creative differences,” whatever those differences might have been. Another one of the writers was Gail Morgan Hickman, who wrote the story for The Enforcer (1976), the third Dirty Harry film, and more recently Murphy’s Law (1986), one of the most enjoyable (if ludicrous) Bronson movies of his Cannon period. Those are Louvre-worthy masterpieces compared to this.
Kino’s Blu-ray of Number One With a Bullet does look very good, however—no surprise considering probably less than 50 prints were struck. Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, the film almost looks brand-new. Detail, colors, contrast, etc. are all excellent. The DTS-HD Master Audio stereo (derived from the original Ultra-Stereo tracks also impresses, and optional English subtitles are provided. Region “A” encoded.
Extra features are limited to a trailer—it’s more entertaining than the film—and a new audio commentary track, on the jokey side, with critics Mike Leeder and Arne Venema.
A dreadful Cannon title, weak even by their minimal standards, Number One With a Bullet is not recommended.
- Stuart Galbraith IV