Bullet Points: Riverbend
Steve James spent most of his Hollywood career portraying a sidekick. Michael Dudikoff, Chuck Norris, Robert Ginty, Don “The Dragon” Wilson and even David Bradley had the benefit of having one of the most underrated action stars of all-time, Steve James, watching their six. But in 1989, Steve James had the opportunity to be THE STAR in the movie Riverbend.
If I had to describe Riverbend using other movies I would say it was Mississippi Burning meets Walking Tall. Set in the small Georgia town of Riverbend in the mid-1960’s, the events of Riverbend take place during the midst of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.
- The Hero: Steve James plays Major Samuel Quentin of the United States Army. Quentin was serving in Vietnam, but after he refused to execute a village full of women and children, Quentin and two of the members of his platoon found themselves facing a court-martial. But as the movie begins, Quentin and his fellow soldiers Sgt. Tony Marx (Julius Tennon) and Lt. Butch Turner (Alex Morris) escape Military Police custody and find themselves on the run in the backwoods of Georgia. The fugitive trio seek refuge with the recently widowed Bell Coleman (Margaret Avery), who reluctantly allows them to stay at their home for a few days.
- The Villain: I’ve seen Steve James battle ninjas and terrorists and street thugs, but Riverbend has a very powerful adversary for James’ Samuel Quentin to battle… racisim! The Civil Rights Movement was sparking change all over the country, but that change had not yet reached the small town of Riverbend. The physical embodiment of the hate that has a stranglehold on Riverbend comes in the form of Sheriff Jake (Tony Frank). Sheriff Jake is a racist and a real scum bag. Jake is the man who shot Bell Coleman’s husband Marcus in the back in the middle of the street in broad daylight, because Marcus Coleman was about to file a formal complaint against the Sheriff with the town’s judge. If that does not tell you what kind of lowlife piece of crap Sheriff Jake is, the constant barrage of racial slurs that come out of his mouth and the fact that he ends up raping a young black woman named Pauline should seal the deal.
- The Good Fight: Before Quentin, Tony and Butch leave town, Bell and some of the other residents of Riverbend convince the three soldiers to stay and help them fight the rampant racism in their town. Quentin does not want to turn his back on Bell, especially after she helped him and his friends, plus if the residents can over throw the powers that be in Riverbend, the media would certainly want to cover the story, which would give Quentin, Tony and Butch a chance to tell their side of the story of what went down in Vietnam. And that’s what you call a win win situation… and what proceeds Quentin’s decision to stay in Riverbend is what the movie business calls a montage. Quentin, Tony and Butch get every able bodied black man in Riverbend and put them through a mini-boot camp to get them ready to fight the good fight and bring some much needed change to Riverbend.
Riverbend mixed realistic action with the real life drama of the United States in the 1960’s. Riverbend was vastly different than the over the top Cannon produced films Steve James is primarily known for. I thought James had a strong showing for himself and took advantage of the opportunity to carry a movie on his own. I’m not sure this is the project I would have selected for his coming out party, but when you are looking for a chance to prove yourself, it isn’t wise to turn down projects.
To further illustrate how different Riverbend was from most Steve James movies was the fact that the fight scene between Quentin and Sheriff Jake is probably the worst scene in the movie. Normally a fight scene involving Steve James is a highlight, but when you have an overweight, middle aged small town sheriff going toe to toe with the ultra fit, military trained Samuel Quentin for as long as he did it contradicts the reality based feel that permeated the film. Quentin should have knocked Sheriff Jake’s fat ass out with one punch. I suppose one could theorize that Quentin knew he had the Sheriff beat, but he wanted to prolong the agony, but I still feel like one big punch or kick would have been more effective.
Spoiler Alert! Riverbend has a happy ending and I’m sure the loyal readers of Bulletproof Action will be happy that I am ending this review with some Bonus Bullet Points…
- The More Things Change Part 1: The director of Riverbend was none other than the fantastic Sam Firstenberg. Sam and Steve James worked together on American Ninja, American Ninja 2: The Confrontation and Avenging Force. Steve James character in Avenging Force also finds himself battling racism.
- You Can’t Griever Forever: There is no handbook on how one should grieve following the death of a loved one. But it was a little off putting when Bell sleeps with Quentin mere days after her husband was laid to rest.
- If You Ever: …wanted to see an overweight character in a movie named Fatman do jumping jacks sans shirt, then this is the movie for you.
- What Year Is It?: Riverbend takes place in 1966, but the synthesized music used during the training montage was very 1986.
- The More Things Change Part 2: Steve James was incredibly proud of his physique, so as he did in most of his movies, James managed to get his shirt off so the audience got a good look at the hard work James put in at the gym.