Xenophon's Anabasis by way of Final Fight arcade, and as much of a valentine to New York City as Manhattan the same year. The title appears smeared as if in red graffiti, the city's tribes gathering for a Bronx meeting summoned by netherworld messiah Cyrus, who preaches unity and domination. Their truce gets shattered by a bullet, wailing police sirens and chaos, the titular gang fingered for the leader's untimely murder by the actual culprit (David Patrick Kelly), who just likes doing things like that. The side-scrolling narrative shifts into extended rumble, an odyssey back to Coney Island past bruisers, skinheads, dykes, baseball pagliacci, and switchblades on rollerblades; main Warrior Swan (Michael Beck) keeps laconic control, as befits a Homeric boss, though Ajax (James Remar) remains bellicose second-in-command, and mouthy gal Deborah Van Valkenburgh tags along the itinerary for further tension. Walter Hill's urban fantasy is the premise of West Side Story realized, and a canny object of spooky pop art, the abstraction furthered from The Driver. The manhunt is organized by the Riffs, their ebony leader in shades for the frontal close-up as a lackey's profile twists into the frame by his side; play-by-play chorus falls to a radio DJ, a lipsticked mouth above a microphone laying things out for the Warriors by playing "No Where to Run." "In the City" figures later, the sounds, along with neon and territorial uniforms, fashioned as integral elements of his kineticism, shunning realism in the tour of alleys, parks, and subways. The images hum, the director showing his apprenticeship of Peckinpah's braided editing, a soupçon of slow-mo in the mix. Oddly akin to Assault on Precinct 13 as a perfect sample of '70s genre stylization, and Hill's political critique, submerged like Carpenter's, comes to the foreground during a wordless exchange between the street fighters and the privileged subway riders. The gulf between the worlds simmers in Van Valkenburgh's close-up, dissolved, dazzlingly, into the morning sun and a Ferris Wheel, just in time for Kelly's clinking-bottle call and, maybe, the dawning on the heroes of an entire world outside the turf. From Sol Yurick's novel. Cinematography by Andrew Laszlo. With Dorsey Wright, Brian Tyler, David Harris, Tom McKitterick, Marcelino Sánchez, Terry Michos, Roger Hill, and Lynne Thigpen.
--- Fernando F. Croce