Bounty hunter Nick Randall, a former CIA agent, “collects” society’s low-lives for a very hefty price. Randall is a loner with few friends besides his girlfriend Terry and Danny, a lieutenant of the L.A. Police Department. Nick has his home aboard a small houseboat. His office, which is inside a warehouse, contains a shooting range, a complete work-out area, a computer and high-tech artillery. When Randall returns to his houseboat after capturing a highly wanted criminal, he is greeted by Terry and she presents him with a special gift : an antique harmonica from the days of bounty hunter Josh Randall, Nick’s great grandfather. The two then share a romantic evening together.
Meanwhile, the international terrorist Malak Al Rahim has entered Los Angeles with diabolic plans. He starts blowing up a movie theater, killing 138 people. Phil, Nick’s friend from his CIA days, arrives at the houseboat the morning after the explosion to offer Randall a proposition : the CIA wants to hire Randall to stop Malak. Only Nick can stop him. Randall agrees. As Randall pursues his quarry, he is also being used as bait, without his or Phil’s knowledge, by CIA agent Lipton. But Nick is determined to lose the surveillance that’s been placed on him. In the meantime, Malak blows up Nick’s houseboat while Terry and his friend Danny are on it, but everybody believes that Nick is on it.
Nick, now also looking for revenge, tracks Malak down to a chemical factory where the terrorist plans an explosion that will kill tens of thousands of people. An action-packed chase through the plant ensues as the film races to an explosive and memorable final confrontation between Nick and Malak. In the end Randall brings out Al Rahim handcuffed with a grenade jammed in his mouth. Randall explains to his bosses that they should send his payment to Quintz’s family and he will keep the extra bonus for bringing him in alive. As he starts to leave, he says, “fuck the bonus” and pulls out the grenade pin. Al Rahim’s head is blown off and his decapitated body falls to the ground.
Original print advertisement from a 1986 entertainment industry trade magazine announcing the 1987 film Wanted: Dead or Alive (featuring early artwork).
Director Gary Sherman
What was it like directing Rutger Hauer in a sort of role reversal for him—playing the protagonist instead of the villain—and Gene Simmons as the Arabian terrorist in your fourth theatrical feature, WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE?
Gary Sherman: I had just seen a movie called MAD MAX and there was an Australian actor… Mel Gibson. I wanted him, and so we sent the script to Mel Gibson and he wanted to do it, but he wanted too much money and the studio would not pay him the money that he wanted. Then somebody came up with the idea of Rutger Hauer—and I loved the idea of Rutger Hauer, I loved Rutger Hauer—but I thought Mel Gibson was way more Nick Randall than Rutger Hauer would be. So the deals were made and Rutger got hired because he was willing to defer more of his salary than Mel Gibson was. So we brought him in for voice training to get rid of his Dutch accent.
Then I’m casting the rest of the picture and I’m sitting in my office at the studio and the production coordinator, Barry Bernardi, comes in and says, ‘Gene Simmons is on the phone for you.’ And I said, ‘Gene Simmons from KISS?’ And he said yeah. I had never met him and I said, ‘what does he want?’ And he said he wants to talk to you about casting him in a role in this movie. So I said, ‘I have enough problems on this movie already without having some drug-crazed rock & roller playing a part in the film.’ I just dismissed it but he kept calling me.
Executive producer Arthur Sarskissian and I were sitting in the office and somebody came in and said, ‘Gene Simmons is calling you again; what’s he calling you about?’ and I said, ‘he wants to be in the movie, but I don’t think I want him in the movie.’ And Arthur says, ‘Why don’t you talk to him? If nothing else, maybe we can get him to write some music.’ So I pick up the phone and there’s a voice on the other end of the phone that I could not believe belonged to the Gene Simmons that existed in my head. He was this elegant voice, incredibly articulate.
The next day I met Gene and was blown away by him. I had no idea that Gene was not drug crazy; Gene had never done a drug or drank any alcohol in his entire life. He had grown up as an orthodox Jew; he had studied to be a Rabi and instead dedicated his life to preaching to rock and roll audiences. He was just an amazing, amazing person. He read to me for the part and he was fantastic, and did a great job in the movie. He was an unbelievable help to us; he did all the Arabic translations and everything. Gene and I went on to do another project together afterwards. He brought me the comic book Jon Sable, which he and I developed into an NBC television series.
Taking the 9/11 Terrorist attacks, ISIS and other issues of international terrorism into consideration, do you feel it would have been possible to make WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE today? How do you think the public (and the MPAA) would react?
Gary Sherman: I think we should make WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE today. I would rather do it in a much more realistic way than we did it then. About two years ago, Arthur and I had a conversation about doing a remake. I don’t know if I would want to direct it but I would want to be involved in it. I think WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE was ahead of its time and it is extremely relevant in today’s world. I think it could also be a piece that could carry a lot of political commentary. I felt that at that time we were facing a danger from terrorism. I’m very much against war; I’m very much against terrorism of any kind. I find terrorism to be one of the most appalling things that can exist in society. I don’t know how we, as a modern society, can decide what political things should take precedence based on who has a stronger army and who can kill more people. I don’t think that’s a way to go about deciding about the political agenda. I think that we as a civilization need to sit down and figure out how to solve political problems over a table, not over a battlefield. And I don’t think that killing people is an answer to any political question. It just seems that as a civilization, we haven’t progressed very well, and using violence and guns and bombs and whatever to express our political views is just really stupid. So that’s what Wanted: Dead or Alive was about.
Rutger’s line, ‘Fuck the bonus!’ had nothing to do with him giving money away; it had to do with the stupidity of the whole situation.
On the first day of shooting WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE in Long Beach, we were at an industrial site. On the set, (director) Gary Sherman introduced me to Rutger Hauer and everybody else. You know, the entire crew was there. Rutger came over and, you know, I’m a bigger guy than Rutger. He is a little smaller—not just heightwise but physically. So I shook his hand, and he put both hands around my cheeks and kissed me on the lips. I just about sputtered and broke my water! Yeah! Strange world! – Gene Simmons
Robert C. Peters
Michael Patrick Goodman
Rutger Hauer as Nick Randall
Gene Simmons as Malak Al Rahim
Robert Guillaume as Philmore Walker
Mel Harris as Terry
William Russ as Det. Sgt. Danny Quintz
Susan MacDonald as Louise Quintz
Jerry Hardin as John Lipton