Dark Rider (1991)- * * *
Directed by: Bob Ivy
Starring: Joe Estevez, Doug Shanklin, David 'Shark' Fralick, Holly Floria, Alica Anne, Terry Brown, Larry Goodhue, and Cloyde Howard
Jim Wilson (Shanklin) is the Sheriff of the small town of Desert Springs, Nevada. The sleepy ol' burg gets a wake up call when Mayor Bradford (Howard) excitedly runs into Wilson's office, proclaiming that a new highway is going to begin construction that passes through Desert Springs. Because of this, Bradford sees hotels and casinos in his future. He wants it to be the new Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, this brings in a criminal element in the form of Anthony Sandini (Estevez) and his goons such as Joey (Fralick). Sandini is a ruthless baddie who is forcing all the locals to sell their businesses to him. If they refuse, he uses force. Meanwhile, Sheriff Wilson's wife Lisa (Anne) informs him that her sister Dani (Floria) is coming to stay with them for a while. When Sandini and his underlings don't get their way, they kidnap Dani.
That was the last straw for Wilson who quickly changes into his black leather Revenge Outfit, becomes a crusading superhero known as The Dark Rider, and proceeds to dispense justice. But will even Wilson run into the brick wall of bureaucracy when he meets a fed named Borgman (Goodhue) who informs him of the conspiracy that goes all the way to the top involving the town's water supply? Now with his hands full with many different problems and issues, will THE DARK RIDER be victorious?
Dark Rider begins with a bunch of yahoos in a car, having a discussion about how the sheriff of Desert Springs - who they have yet to meet - is rumored to be a "badass". They soon run into Shanklin (in his final credited film appearance) as Wilson, who has quite interesting helmet hair that's blonde on top but brown on the sides. He has the star and six-shooter of the sheriffs of yore and looks vaguely like Martin Kove. He makes short work of the yahoos.
When the sinister Sandini comes to town, we see he is ruining smalltown America by running down mulleted shop clerks with his car. Wilson has met his match with Sandini. He's not dealing with garden variety yahoos anymore. We also get a cinematic first with "Sandini Vision". Among the good guys standing up to Sandini is the likable Tommy Johnson (Brown). Brown really gives it his all and he wins the audience over.
The first half of Dark Rider is markedly more entertaining than the second half, as you may have been able to gather from the above description. Even after the appearance of the Dark Rider character - who, hilariously, no one realizes is Wilson despite the fact that he's the only lawman in town and the personal nature of his revenge, not to mention they're never seen together at the same time - we still missed the down-home, small town feel of the first half. Much like the Dark Rider's motorbike, the film starts to spin its wheels towards the end. If this had been 80 minutes, it could've been a new classic. At a seemingly-reasonable 94 minutes, it does tend to drag a bit.
As the main baddie, Joe Estevez gets a nice, meaty role. He's not in the background or in a room staring at computer screens. It's solid Estevez. Mayor Bradford, who resembles Richard Mulligan, also puts in a Terry Brown-like performance. He's very animated. A movie highlight occurs when he writes a note to Sheriff Wilson and spells "Sheriff" wrong.
So with Shanklin, Estevez, Fralick, Terry Brown, the two ladies - including the Christina Applegate-esque Dani, who we would have liked to seen more of - all in an AIP production, you can't really lose, and you basically don't. This was the sole writing and directing credit for Bob Ivy, who primarily was a stuntman. This would explain the presence of the great John Stewart, an amazing stuntman and director of Action U.S.A. (1989) and Cartel (1990).
In the end, Dark Rider is a lot like Fast Gun (1988). If you enjoyed that, check this out too. If it had maintained the momentum it opened with, it may have surpassed Fast Gun. As it stands, Fast Gun may be better overall but Dark Rider has a lot to recommend it as well and is very much worth checking out.
Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty
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