"You'll go to a better life."
-Heymer Reinhardt, aka Wulfgar
As I'm sure most people already know, Sylvester Stallone went from completely unknown to world-famous practically overnight thanks to the film Rocky (1976), the simple but uplifting story of a down-on-his-luck boxer who gets a shot at the big time. Stallone not only played the title role but wrote the script. In fact, every studio in Hollywood offered him generous money for it. Stallone eventually agreed to sell it to MGM on the condition that he could play the title role. This was a bold move as all the studios were hoping for a big name star in the lead, but an unknown like Stallone was more fitting because it added to the feel-good nature of the film, as his struggles reflected those of Rocky Balboa. With his new-found stardom, Stallone starred and even directed films which, to be blunt, sucked. Both F.I.S.T. (1978) and Paradise Alley (1979) left much to be desired and, one could say, represented an omen of things to come (more on that shortly). It was all but a given that the inevitable Rocky II (1979) would meet with inevitable (financial) success. Otherwise, Stallone wouldn't have another role that matched the success of Rocky until 1982 with the drama First Blood. With that movie, his character, Vietnam veteran John Rambo, entered the consciousness of filmgoers to the same extent that Rocky Balboa had. Just before First Blood, however, came Nighthawks, an exciting police drama in which Stallone plays unorthodox NYC detective Deke DaSilva who, with his partner Matt Fox (Billy Dee Williams), is enlisted by Interpol to track down international terrorist Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer), who has made his way to the Big Apple after his recent act (his first scene in the film has him bombing a department store in London) leads to his description being fed to authorities across Europe. With the assistance of his associate Shakka Holland (Persis Khambatta), Wulfgar undergoes plastic surgery in Paris (& promptly kills the surgeon afterward to avoid possible disclosure) before heading across the Atlantic. The film really gets going the moment DaSilva first lays eyes on Wulfgar in a nightclub, where the latter had previously befriended a single woman in order to obtain a hiding place for his weaponry. He later kills the unfortuately lady in question when she stumbles onto his hardware. As with other films, this one is made more exciting by its musical score. From the title sequence to the film's conclusion involving DaSilva's ex-wife (Lindsay Wagner), Keith Emerson's score sets the stage for the intensity to come. This would be as well-known a gem as Rocky and First Blood had real life not intervened on the eve of its release. On March 30, 1981 (the film was released in April), John Hinckley, Jr. attempted to assassinate then-President Ronald Reagan. Although the President recovered and Hinckley was sentenced to life imprisonment, Universal Studios (which distributed Nighthawks) became nervous and elected not to give the film much promotion. Hence, this film never had the chance to be as embraced, let alone have followups, as Rocky and Rambo did (although given how each of their subsequent followups became more and more ridiculous, maybe that was for the best). Stallone continued to be financially successful, but his ventures outside the boxing ring or the war zone brought simply pans from the critics to the point were he was later declared the worst actor of the century in some circles. I must confess, I viewed him in this manner for a time as well, but if you remove the dreadful comedies from his filmography-such as Rhinestone (1984) and Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot (1992)-and even some of his other action pictures-like Cobra (1986) and Over the Top (1987)-and focus on memorable flicks such as Nighthawks, Cliffhanger (1993), and Cop Land (1997), you begin to realize that Stallone has talent. It's simply talent that, more often than not, finds itself in the wrong picture.