Off Limits (1988)


(director/writer: Christopher Crowe; screenwriter: Jack Thibeau; cinematographer: David Gribble; editor: Doug Ibold; cast: Willem Dafoe (Sgt. Buck McGriff), Gregory Hines (Sgt. Albaby Perkins), Fred Ward (Sgt. Dix), Amanda Pays (Nicole, Nun), Kay Tong Lim (Lime Green), Scott Glenn (Col. Armstrong), David Alan Grier (Rogers), Keith David (Maurice), Raymond O’Connor (Flowers); Runtime: 102; 20th Century Fox; 1988)
“The acting was flat, the story was trite, and the suspense was marginal.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A decently paced thriller set in Saigon, Vietnam (but shot in Bangkok), during 1968, as two Army cops hunt for a serial killer of Vietnamese prostitutes, who all had babies by an American father. They suspect it could be a high-ranking officer committing the killings, since a colonel’s insignia was found at the last crime scene. As they begin their investigation, they realize there is a cover-up going on. The files for 6 other prostitutes murdered has disappeared, and the previous military police investigating the crimes have all been transferred out of Saigon or are too frightened to talk.

The film just touches on the Vietnam War taking place all around them and instead centers on the murder investigation, which takes them to the red light district and the segregated black and white bars the soldiers frequent. The plainclothes cops, the white Sergeant McGriff (Dafoe) and the black Sergeant Perkins (Hines), are serious about getting the killer and will go to any lengths to get him.

When the military cops question the prostitutes they run into many problems: They are followed by some Vietnamese who fire upon them. They have an antagonistic relationship with the officer in charge of the Vietnamese National Army Military Police, a smarmy officer named Lime Green (Lim), who continually makes life difficult for them. When military cops get wind of a soldier (Keith) who witnessed the killing, he becomes paranoid and will talk only to an officer. While he’s under their guard, he gets executed. They thereby travel to the frontlines to talk to the previous investigator (O’Connor), and he reluctantly gives them info on the five colonels he suspects of doing the killings.

The film is filled with violence, vulgar dialogue, and seems devoid of real feelings. It relies on twists in the plot to keep you tuned into the investigation and shocking scenes to keep you aghast at the horrors of being in Vietnam. The main shocker is watching one of the suspects, the sadistic Colonel Armstrong (Glenn), question VC suspects on a helicopter and when through tosses them out of the chopper. In the meantime, he’s being questioned by the earnest military cops for his part in the prostitute murders.

Their biggest lead comes when they befriend attractive nun Nicole (Pays), who when she’s not working at a daycare center that serves the children of the prostitutes, is fending off McGriff’s love interest in her. She will eventually get around to telling him how to locate a key witness now living in a VC tunnel. The boys are working on their own, but are supported by their immediate superior, the gruff Staff Sergeant Dix (Ward). There are a few more violent incidents that take place which include: a bomb thrown under their vehicle; Sergeant Dix rescuing them from the hands of a Vietnamese mob; and, a surprise ending as to who was the actual killer and what was his motive.

The acting was flat, the story was trite, and the suspense was marginal. But it did capture a seedy feel for wartime Saigon and the disharmony among those fighting on the same side against the VC. It’s a barely watchable clich√©-laden flick seen through the eyes of two military buddy cops, who conduct a standard police investigation using the black-white cop formula for fighting crime.