Rita Rizzoli (Whoopi Goldberg) is a cop working undercover who tonight poses as a hooker to get information from a drug dealer expecting a lot of money from her in return for a hefty sample of his merchandise. However, in the bar they arranged to meet in, Rita first has a spot of bother with the bartender (Cheech Marin), then when she is discussing with the dealer she notices one of the men there beating up one of the women, and knowing she cannot neglect her duty she goes over to get him to stop, following him outside whereupon he beats her up. In retaliation she shoots him dead - but now the dealer knows her identity as a cop.
After Whoopi Goldberg made a splash in The Color Purple, Hollywood was keen to put her in movies but didn't appear to know how to handle her, so for the rest of the eighties they tried to turn her into a female Eddie Murphy, apparently reasoning she was a comedienne and an African-American woman, so that was how audiences would want to see her. Her fame continued, but that was more down to her sharp wit in real life than the roles she was given, which tended to be the same sassy thrillers until Ghost won her an Oscar and a greater diversity of parts to play. Fatal Beauty, on the other hand, was strictly by the book.
This time around they wanted to toughen Whoopi up, so she took the sort of leading performance more appropriate to one of the big, male action stars of the day, with a few funny (they hoped) lines as a sop to her humorous persona. You could envisage a Clint Eastwood or Sylvester Stallone barging his way through the pandemonium here, but Goldberg was a less comfortable choice, so as if aware of that they gave her character a load of "woman surviving in a man's world" banter to deepen the personality and try to excuse her presence as a gun-toting he-woman rather than a gun-toting he-man. She was even given a late on dramatic speech where she explained the heartache behind her decision to join the force.
Which was further proof that director Tom Holland, in between horror hits Fright Night and Child's Play, was not too sure of settling on the right tone for Fatal Beauty, as the jokes were not all that funny and the serious bits were pretty grim, what with the title referring to the narcotics which have hit the street and are so powerful that nobody can survive them. They escape into the hands of Los Angeles' cocaine-snorters when a group of gangsters (including Brad Dourif with very a strange hairdo) gun down the members of a lab cooking it up and help themselves, unaware of the danger they are unleashing. Actually, even when they are aware they're not too bothered as long as they get paid oodles of cash for their acquisition, but luckily for the potential victims of the city Rita is on the case.
As this is the eighties, what would our cop be without a buddy to pal around with, and she got one in the shape of Marshak, played by a laconic Sam Elliott who is the security man to the Mr Big (Harris Yulin, who has a nude scene, oddly) Rita suspects is behind the drugs scandal. Marshak has a habit of showing up at opportune times to blow away a gunman who is about to plug our heroine, though she still has a testy relationship with him: it's implied they spend a night together, but a love scene was cut by the racially jittery studio before this was released, as was a bunch of violence, though the available movie remains very violent yet all the lovey-dovey business is merely hinted at, make of that what you will. As it stood, what you had was a story where for all the victimisation Rita endures she prevails, but only because she shoots so many bad guys, a message made a little more palatable by Goldberg's way with a humorous line, but not standing out otherwise. Music by Harold Faltermeyer.