APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Backstreet Justice (1994)

April 12: 412 Day — A movie about Pittsburgh (if you’re not from here that’s our area code). Or maybe one made here. Heck, just write about Striking Distance if you want.

This movie is so close to being a Yinzer giallo. So, so close.

The rules:

  • The movie must be true to its Pittsburgh roots, meaning that the movie must be filmed here while speaking directly to the experience of growing up in the city. Well, there’s a scene where they discuss the many serial killers in town (tahn) in neighborhoods like Mount Washington and Homestead.
  • If it’s filmed here, it must reference Pittsburgh and not have the city stand-in for another town. That’s true, as there’s even a fight scene inside the Incline.
  • It must feel authentic, which helps several films on this list as they are movies with moments that only make sense when you’re a lifelong Pittsburgher. Honestly, the movie could be filmed anywhere and they’d adjust some neighborhoods and be fine, but it’s still nice to see that it’s made here.
  • Bonus points for featuring Pittsburgh landmarks, Steelers jerseys and local brands. Trust me, seeing a can or bottle of Iron City in a yinzer giallo is like a J&B bottle in a traditional example. Well, there’s a scene shot at the LeMont up in Mount Washington (a fancy place that working class types use as a reference toward eating something fancy; using it in a sentence: “What yinz millionaires and gonna eat at LeMont?”), Steeler Rocky Bleier playing himself and, just when I was wondering, “Will Bingo O’Malley show up in this?” he ends up playing a bad guy at a construction site.

Unfortunately, while it is a murder mystery that plays on family dynamics and past crimes, it lacks a black gloved killer — not to say that numerous people aren’t killed but mostly with a gun — and any psychosexual or fashion-centric moments. So, neither a giallo or Yinzer giallo.

But how is it as a movie?

It stars Linda Kozlowski from the Crocodile Dundee movies as Keri Finnegan, a tough Yinzer PI whose father was a bad cop, a fact that Captain Giarusso (Paul Sorvino) never lets her forget. Or any of the other cops, as the only one who seems to like her is her ex-boyfriend Nick Donovan (John Shea), who she still sleeps with (this is Kozlowski’s first nude scene; she was also naked in Zorn, made the same year, then retired after 1995’s Village of the Damned and the 1996 TV movie Shaughnessy until making 2001’s Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles). She also has a father and daughter relationship with Nick’s stepfather, District Attorney Steve Donovan (Hector Elizondo).

Kozlowski proves herself a formidable action heroine in this, giving her all in some rough and tumble fight scenes. And hey, maybe this is a giallo as the real killer ends up being the person least likely to be the murderer.

If I were the Pittsburgh Police, I’d start looking into all the dirty cops, though. Between this movie, Striking Distance, Street Corner Justice and Alone in the Neon Jungle, the boys in blue, black and yellow are not faring well on film. If you want to see some actual cops working on the streets of the Steel City, check out season 3, episode 23 of cops where someone tries to jump off a bridge, just like Jimmy Detillo.

I really love that this film’s heroine is based in McKees Rocks, which if you’re looking for a rough neighborhood for a hardscrabble lead in Pittsburgh, well, you can’t really do better. Tammy Grimes shows up as Keri’s mother and Vivica Lindfors (Creepshow) plays an older woman who has evidence important to Finnegan’s case and her father’s supposed crimes.

You can tell this was made in 1994 because of this dialogue, said by the heroine, no less, to her black friend: ““Where the hell were you anyway? What did you do, pass a watermelon stand you couldn’t resist?” He answers, “Colonel Sanders.” Come on, beyond how racist this is, if he was a real Yinzer, he would have replying, “I was at George Aiken.”

Director and writer Chris McIntyre (Gang WarzHell to Pay) was at least smart enough to hire Tom Savini to do the special makeup effects. Also, I am sure that former Mayor Sophie Masloff is in that dinner scene, which would make a lot of sense as she held the office from 1988 until the year this was made.

You can watch this on Tubi.

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