Color, 1977, 94 mins. 39 secs.
Directed by Stelvio Massi
Starring Luc Merenda, Tomas Milian, Massimo Vanni, Elio Zamuto, Franco Citti, Mario Brega
Cinestrange Extreme (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany R0 HD/PAL), Cinekult, Eagle Pictures (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Easily the biggest ham in the poliziottesco subgenre that packed in Italian audiences during the 1970s, Cuban-born Tomas Milian found the perfect venue to switch from pretty boy dramatic roles to wild character routines involving wigs, eyeliner, and even outrageous ethnic stereotypes on occasion. One of his biggest hits was the character Monnezza (or "Garbage"), a charismatic antihero introduced in Umberto Lenzi's Free Hand for a Tough Cop in 1976. The two brought that character back in Brothers Till We Die, but Milian also went off to play the role for director Stelvio Massi in 1977's La banda del trucido, better known in English as Destruction Force. Recycling Bruno Canfora's catchy score from Free Hand for a Tough Cop (including its opening spaghetti western theme in a very inappropriate spot), the film was part of a flurry of Milian films shot back to back around that time including Brothers and The Cynic, the Rat, and the Fist, with Milian's intended cameo appearance expanding into a large co-star role that allowed him to run riot with his own written monologues. As a result, what was intended as a starring vehicle for Merenda (who teamed up with Milian earlier in Silent Action) ended up being a two-hander that shows how much the Italian cop film was transforming at the time.
After his predecessor is killed during a robbery, Commissioner Ghini (Merenda) decides to crack down ruthlessly on the rising crime proliferating around the city. Meanwhile Monnezza, now a new father and running a restaurant that fronts for his pickpocket operation, gets roped into a jewelry heist job that turns deadly thanks to the scheming Belli (Zamuto). Both men end up targeting the Sicilian gangster for different reasons, which results in lots of Monnezza grandstanding and violent chase scenes.
Essentially a film split in two, Destruction Force is at its best when Merenda gets to cut loose and do his thing, including some perilous stunt work that apparently did some real damage near the end of the shoot. Among the best moments is a fun city chase that ends up atop a city bus involving Merenda and Pasolini regular Franco Citti, and while this may not be the most logical entry point if you're new to these films, it's a solid showcase for Massi's dynamic visual style.
Apart from gray market copies pulled from European VHS releases decades ago and a couple of Italian-only DVD releases, Destruction Force has been a tricky one to see for years until the 2021 German mediabook editions containing a Blu-ray and DVD from CineStrange (under either the Italian title or Die Gangster-Akademie). If you've seen the other Italian crime films coming out lately from Germany and the U.K., this one's about on par -- not a particularly dynamic transfer but at least it's in full scope and the best option we have. As with Silent Action, it's presented at 50i which would indicate the master was initially prepared for European HD broadcast. Audio options are DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono Italian, English, and German audio with optional English or German subtitles; the film was shot in Italian with pretty much everyone looped after the fact (including a Roman accent slapped onto Milian). However, you're better off just watching it in English if that's your preferred language since the subtitles are taken from the German version (which means they often don't match the Italian version in terms of both sync and translation), and the Italian track has a lot of fleeting dropouts scattered throughout. The archival Notturno Cinema featurette "The Three Ms: Milian, Merenda, Massi“ (19m59s), in Italian with English or German subtitles, features Merenda and Milian recalling the production including the massive embellishments to the Monnezza character, Merenda's injury that led to a lawsuit, and memories of Massi. Also included are the shorter German theatrical version (84m34s) with the same three language options, plus a gallery of frame grabs (1m45s), and a newly created trailer (plus bonus ones for all the other crime films in the series). The packaging also features a 24-page booklet with a new essay by Giorgio Navarro in both German and English about the film's production.
Reviewed on October 31, 2021.