When paratrooper Major Paolo Altieri (Henry Silva) reports that defective chutes claimed the lives of two men, he is transferred to an office job in the city so he will no longer trouble his superiors. But trouble follows wherever he goes. After foiling the attempted kidnap of a child, Altieri barely survives a revenge attack only to discover a gang of brutal criminals are on the rampage with machine guns stolen from his old unit. Teaming up with tough cop Paolo Tosi (Antonio Sabato), Altieri tries to find out who is supplying the gang with weapons, but in doing so endangers the life of his girlfriend Anna (Silvia Dionisio).
For some reason two Italian crime-thrillers with the same international title were released around the same time, causing some confusion despite being very different films. While Crime Busters (1977) was another raucous hit for action-comedy stars Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, Crimebusters a.k.a. Poliziotti Violenti ("Violent Policemen": a 'does what it says on the tin' kind of title) was a nihilistic poliziotteschi vehicle for the slightly less wacky duo of Henry Silva and Antonio "one expression serves all emotions" Sabato. By 1976 both men were established stars of the genre. To the point where the producers were no-doubt banking on the combination of Silva's unique brooding intensity and Sabato's, er, whatever would prove a big box-office draw. Here both stars are interestingly cast in roles contrary to those fans would expect them to play. While Silva essays the earnest, vulnerable, slightly out of his depth boy scout, Sabata is the cynical, hard-bitten veteran cop. Against the odds their chalk-and-cheese pairing works relatively well in a fast-paced thriller that gets by on relentless momentum alone.
As per usual with Euro-crime the plot riffs on those familiar Hollywood touchstones: Death Wish (1974) and Dirty Harry (1971) and the over-arching theme is disenchantment with bureaucracy and corruption. Michele Massimo Tarantini (whose genre-hopping career encompassed sexploitation highs The Teasers (1975) and Taxi Girl (1977), well-regarded poliziotteschi thriller A Man Called Magnum (1977), superior sword and sorcery romp Sword of the Barbarians (1982) and the risible Massacre in Dinosaur Valley (1985)) confronts Altieri with one criminal atrocity after another to stoke his righteous indignation. Fueling the fears of a Seventies Italian audience, Tarantini indulges in an eccentric conceit. He underscores each criminal act with a chorus of wailing women, to the point where it sounds like the city itself is recoiling in horror at the rising tide of barbarism.
Tarantini hits all the familiar crowd-pleasing Euro-crime beats, albeit in often hilariously unsubtle fashion ("There is something wrong with this god-damn city", gripes Altieri. "It's full of violence." Like, duh), and stages plenty of rousing motorized mayhem. In particular a cracking motorcycle chase. However, as with many examples of the genre, sloppy scripting undercuts the central message. For all its lip service to social outrage the chief motivating factor for Altieri is neither injustice nor the victimization of innocents. Rather it is a desire to avenge his wounded male pride. Altieri feels humiliated, forced to walk with a cane after his brutal attack and seemingly shunned by his violence-hating girlfriend, albeit briefly. Crimebusters draws an explicit parallel between social and sexual impotence. Its core argument is that for society to regain some semblance of order, never mind social reforms, a man's got to do what a man's got to do. Which is kick ass with impunity. At one point Tosi describes the proposal of a police state as "a great idea but impractical, because of politics."
The film includes the typical array of darkly comic vignettes (e.g. a machine-gun toting little old lady fakes a heart-attack to pull of a jewel heist) that sit awkwardly alongside queasier scenes where Tosi brutalizes a transvestite informant at a gay bar or the inevitable scene where the leading lady gets gang-raped. The latter is glossed over far too cavalierly as this stands as yet another Italian film where the hero 'heals' a traumatized woman with a good shagging. On the other hand it is unfair to single out Crimebusters for flaws that riddle a dozen other Euro-crime thrillers. When the film is on point it is compelling and builds to a satisfying climax with Henry Silva venting his rage with a machine-gun. Plus a grim punchline only slightly undercut by Antonio Sabato's singular inability to emote. Oh, and why have both heroes named Paolo?