Light Blast is a trashy B-grade cop thriller starring Erik Estrada who was swept to fame in the late 70’s and early 80’s playing Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncharello in the TV series CHiPs. For those too young to remember CHiPs, it was a show about two California Highway Patrol police officers, Estrada, and Larry Wilcox, who rode motorcycles and arrested crooks. In Light Blast, again Estrada plays a cop, but this time he’s decidedly more ‘Dirty Harry’ than ‘Ponch’.
To readers, it must seem lazy for a reviewer to continually mention Dirty Harry, but Harry casts a very long shadow. If a cop film features a tough, violent loner who is good with a gun, then the film is undoubtedly influenced by Harry Callahan and his 44 magnum. Likewise, if a film is more gritty and character driven, it probably owes a debt to The French Connection. And in keeping, if a film features a black actor as the lead, then the film is measured up against Richard Roundtree’s Shaft. All three films were made in 1971. It was a good year for cop movies (although Shaft was a ‘private dick’). And all three films provide the template for the cop films that followed.
It could be argued that over the years in police films, although the cops have battled a various assortment of psychos, it wasn’t until the success of The Silence Of The Lambs, that the style of cop films changed from the model set up in the early 1970’s. These days, cop shows on television (like C.S.I.) and at the movies are pretty dark affairs, with serial killers, stalkers, paedophiles, and bizarre cults plaguing society.
As entertainment, I must admit I find it all rather distasteful – that’s not to say that some of them aren’t good productions. But I long for the days of good old fashioned ‘cops and robbers’. It’s easier to understand the motives of your old style villain. It’s greed and selfishness. He wants money. But today’s villain tends to keep a collection of body parts in his basement, which I can’t really relate to. And furthermore, I am not too enamored when it is served up as entertainment night after night (C.S.I. and Bones – I am looking at you), and yearly at the movies (how many Hannibal Lechter films do we need?)
But I have digressed. Light Blast is from the Dirty Harry school of cop films. Estrada is Ronn Warren, a San Francisco cop. The film opens with Dr. Yuri Soboda (Michael Pritchard) test firing a new high tech laser weapon at a railway depot. At the depot a young couple are engaging in a bit of hanky-panky in a train carriage. Unusual location for a secret tryst, but whatever works for you! As the ray hits the carriage, the young lovers melt…yuk!
Then we cut to a hostage situation. Two armed robbers are holding a dozen people hostage in a bank. Police have circled the building and are trying to negotiate a resolution. But it isn’t easy to reason with the gunmen. To prove that they mean business they shoot one of the hostages. They demand a plane. The police officer in charge of the negotiation – the one with the megaphone – tells them that the plane will take time. Next, the gunmen want a meal. They also want the food delivered by someone without clothes, that way they can see if the person is armed.
Naturally the police don’t send a civilian. They send Ronn Warren. He walks up to the bank practically naked, holding a giant turkey and french-fries (or ‘CHiPs’ as I like to call them – sorry, bad pun). Warren quickly overpowers the ‘perps’ and frees the hostages. He does this with a pistol hidden in the turkey – er, yeah!
Meanwhile, a message is sent to the mayor of San Francisco, by Soboda saying that he wants five million dollars. But first he will fire the weapon again at 5:48pm to prove that the threat is legitimate. As a precaution the city’s police officers are sent to cover and protect all the public event happening that day. Warren is sent to the Freemont Speedway. And of course, that’s where Soboda and his team of extortionists strike. They fire the weapon and melt the announcers booth at the speedway.
Warren observes this, and pursues the laser, which is housed in a television broadcast truck. This leads us to the first of the films four car chase scenes. As the film is set in San Francisco, you will naturally think of Bullitt when you see the vehicles speeding around the undulating San Fran street scape. Needless to say, that none of these chases even comes close to the level of excitement in Bullitt. After each chases, Soboda raises his ransom demands. The final chase starts with a citizen exclaiming, “Hey! What the f*ck are you doin!”, and that perfectly sums up the viewing experience.
Light Blast is trash. The only reason to watch it, is if you are old enough to remember CHiPs fondly, because Erik Estrada is all this film has going for it. The acting is generally atrocious, and the action scenes are repetitive. Each one is a car chase!