One thing I wouldn’t anticipate from a sordid exploitation guilty pleasure like Vice Squad is a disclaimer that the film was produced with the contributions and cooperation of the Los Angeles law enforcement. Gary Sherman bedraggles and tarnishes the West Coast boulevards until they rival the prostitution rings and narcotics parade that was 42nd Street in New York.
Season Hubley’s Pygmalion transformation from demure businesswoman and matriarch to streetwise nightwalker in gaudy mascara (who negotiates with clientele about “golden showers”) is like a butterfly in chrysalis. Sherman and his cadre of screenwriters imbue Princess and extorting detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson) with the diogenic, urban depth of people who must scrounge around the gutters and Augean filth for their misogynistic target.
Fortunately the film doesn’t resemble an episodic Dick Wolf TV pilot with vestigial, case-of-the-week vignettes around junkies, informants and murderers. However, a slow-burn interlude with Princess in scantily clad wedding garb at a funeral parlor is a weirdly humorous, idiosyncratic fetish around dominatrix necrophilia.
The film is finely delineated by its hardscrabble cynicism and the adrenergic, race-against-the-clock hunt for an evasive, abusive fugitive on the lam (for Princess, the incarceration of Ramrod (Hauser) is a futile and ephemeral endeavor- “That ain’t no jail. It’s a hotel with a revolving door”).
Today Wings Hauser is unanimously known to contemporary viewers as the father of Cole who is also typecast as opprobrious villains in Higher Education, 2 Fast 2 Furious and Hart’s War. Back in the 80’s, Wings was a ferociously eye-bulging, lantern-jawed character actor and his juicy, rancorous role as the sadistic pimp Ramrod might be his signature shibboleth.
In sequined shirts and a 10-gallon cowboy hat, Hauser doesn’t mince gestures as he fondles Princess upon their strip-club rendezvous. After the bruising death of Princess’ shivering friend, Ginger (Nina Blackwood), the sting operation to ensnare Ramrod is extremely white-knuckle. Sherman doesn’t overdose on Ramrod either. After the first half-hour, his appearances are briefly ejaculatory and they are more effectively suspenseful as result.