This place is Florida. The time is the 80s. Five juvenile delinquents have been given a chance to earn their freedom. All they have to do is go down to the Everglades and train with Indian Joe (Stephen Lang), a no-nonsense Vietnam veteran who is determined to teach them not only survival sills but also how to work together as a team. But Joe is interested in more than just reforming a group of youthful troublemakers. He wants to turn them into a crime-fighting team who can help clean up the most dangerous neighborhood in Miami. When Joe and delinquents move into and refurbish a previously condemned building, they get the attention of both the local drug kingpin (James Remar) and his main enforcer (Laurence Fishburne).
Band of the Hand is very much a film of its time, not only in its fashion and music choices but also in its full-on embrace of the war on drugs and the idea that the best way to clean up the streets is for vigilantes to do it on their own. The film was produced by Michael Mann and, as directed by former Starsky and Hutch star Paul Michael Glaser, the film has the look of an episode of Miami Vice. That might be because the film itself was originally meant to be a pilot for a television show. When the networks passed on it, it was released to theaters instead and advertised as being “from the maker of Miami Vice.” The movie never escapes its television origins. Things start strong in the Everglades, with Lang proving himself to be a master of glowering and the young delinquents struggling to not only survive Lang’s training but also resist the temptation to kill each other. It’s less interesting once the action moves to Miami and it becomes Death Wish 3 without the blood or Charles Bronson. The scenes with the young men goofing around are an awkward fit with the scenes of Remar and Fishburne terrorizing the neighborhood.
Band of the Hand is still worth watching if you want to see some familiar faces early in their careers. John Cameron Mitchell and Leon both score early roles as two of the delinquents-turned-crime fighters and Lauren Holly plays the romantic interest who is inevitably ends up with the bag guys. James Remar was always a good villain and Laurence Fishburne channels both his previous performance in Death Wish II and his future performance in King of New York. It’s a good cast, even if no one really breaks free from the production’s television origins.
The idea of creating a show about a special unit of young crime fighters who battle drug pushers was one that Mann didn’t abandon. The final episode of Miami Vice was essentially an unsold pilot that followed many of the same plot beats as Band Of the Hand. (It also didn’t lead to a television series, though some might argue that 21 Jump Street took the same idea and ran with it.) As for director Paul Michael Glaser, he would later do a much better job with The Running Man.