There's nothing particularly wrong with The Big Racket that some adrenaline-pumping sequences couldn't cure, but as it happens that's exactly what it's missing, which is more than a bit unfortunate being that it was co-written and directed by Enzo G. Castellari, who pulled off the best of the Italian crime films, The Heroin Busters. Here he's attempting to mix Death Wish with The Dirty Dozen, and he's relied so heavily on the screenplay that it's odiousness seeps through the proceedings to the point of no return. It's got the makings of an action classic, to be sure, what with its main plot consisting of cop Fabio Testi looking to take down a crime lord who's getting rich off of extortion from an array of shop owners -- if the merchants don't pay for "protection" from the them, they trash their stores and/or put a serious hurting unto them. But most of the victims are too frightened to sign a formal complaint against them, and when one of them does, his young daughter is
abducted and raped and left for dead. Added to which, there's a super-slick lawyer on their side to make sure they don't see so much as a single solitary minute behind bars, so Testi can't even detain them. This is when he decides to recruit an array of criminals he's previously put away to band together to take the villains out in a highly-irregular manner that's anything but by-the-book.
In The Heroin Busters, Testi played a ragged undercover cop and displayed an undeniable charisma and keen sense for ironic line readings in that he knew the maladroit dialogue was pure kitty litter yet mouthed it with knowing aplomb -- he seemed to be saying, "Hey, I know what I'm saying are stock movie-cop cliches, but listen and learn what it's like when said with a self-awareness that lets you know I know how enervating it is." Here, cleaned up and domesticated, he's not nearly as interesting; he's little charisma, screen presence, and cuts a fairly dull portrait, all things considered, which are not the weaknesses that help a hero of an action films such as this. In Convoy Busters, the well-renowned Maurizio Merli didn't exactly give off serious star wattage like Clint Eastwood, but he displayed a dedicated forcefulness that stood out; in The Big Racket, Testi gives a joyless performance that's about as magnetic as a wet sponge. Maybe it was the trappings of the role in
that the supporting players who're more colorful were given the genuine opportunities to stand out, whereas Testi must provide the moral center that requires less showing off. Still, he's decidedly lacking in appeal, and the film loses its punch whenever he's on-screen. (Compare this with his alert work in Lucio Fulci's Four of the Apocalypse, and you know he's capable of much more.)
Of course, the blueprint of the film is far from original. Its story involving the common man resorting to illegal vigilante means to bring about "justice" is chock-full of plasticity, but it's still a workable one given the writing and directing are on par, and here they're not. There's way too much padding in the film's first-half, establishing and developing conflict that could have been aptly conveyed in fifteen minutes time; and the villains lack the colorful verity that would make them worthy antagonists for our hero. In The Big Racket, it seems as if the filmmakers were convinced the screenplay were worthy enough of miniature treatment, so its faults are magnified tenfold than if it were handled with more in the way of brushstrokes -- everything seems half-done, as if some miracles from behind the camera would better the writing, and the life-saving relief never manages to permeate. And most of the blame falls on Castellari's shoulders. In many of his films, he managed
to give action an inventiveness and edge, so even if the characters and incidents failed at getting a rise out of us, his action staging did. But his framing is mediocre, his sense of tempo lagging a crucial second or two, and his shaping of the individual scenes practically non-existent. Castellari has talent, but he comes off here like he's spinning his wheels over nothing in particular, and his lack of zest spreads onto an audience hungrily looking for a satisfying action picture yet end up getting the short end of the stick for their dedication to a director who simply fails to give his film what would give it an organic clarity rather than whispers of Better Movies Past.
The DVD from the stellar folks at Blue Underground is more or less fine: the letterboxing gives the visuals their appropriate scope; the print has its imperfections but is acceptable; the audio is perfectly adequate and an audio commentary from Castellari is full of plentiful information for fans of the film or just fans of Castellari himself. A decent if far-from-great package, this.