If, near the start of a movie, one member of a two-man government team happens to mention he has only three more days to go before retirement, you can be sure that he’s due to meet a bloody death before he gets his gold watch. Which, indeed, is what happens here.
For a while, To Live and Die in L.A. is a cross between Miami Vice on a particularly rough night and Anthony Mann’s brilliant 1950 semi-documentary thriller T-Man as William Friedkin, in his best film credit since the 1970s, turns in a fascinating, rock-scored visual essay on the mechanics of forging currency while grizzle-haired hero Petersen goes outside the law to get revenge on the villain by beating up petty crooks, bullying judges, committing armed robbery, driving like a maniac and being rude to everyone in sight.
* However, about half-way through, the director shifts into his French Connection gear and devotes *a full quarter of the movie to a car chase around the Los Angeles freeways that may be the single most exciting action scene in ‘80s cinema but has damn-all to do with the plot. The film never recovers momentum after the drive-about, and winds down rather than resolves. The main problem is that the supposed good guys are all such reprehensible toads it’s impossible to care whether they get to bring down Willem Dafoe’s charismatic, polo-necked super-crook. The rhythm of the often-irritating rock score by Wang Chung and the mixture of gloss and tack in Robby Muller’s cinematography make much of the film compulsive, but it is finally hard to like unless you’re a fanatical devotee of cinematic car chases.