John Frankenheimer skillfully translates Elmore Leonard's amoral Detroit pulp to an excessive Los Angeles cityscape in 52 Pick-Up
, one of the better American thrillers of the 1980s. Frankenheimer evokes the seediest environments of the sex-crazed L.A. underground, navigating his adulterous antihero, Roy Scheider, through a vortex of live nude shows, porno theaters and homemade snuff films to get to the three slimy villains who are blackmailing him with a tape of his extramarital affair. The sleaze is practically tactile, and the unfortunate synthesized score gives a Cinemax-at-1 a.m. feel, but the bad guys' performances and characterizations go above and beyond the call of duty. John Glover is unsettling as the soft-spoken, subversively soothing head honcho, and Clarence Williams III channels Samuel L. Jackson's future persona as a take-no-shit loose cannon. The movie is proof that action flicks don't always need a good guy for the audience to identify with.