Category Archives: 80’s Movies

Circle of Two (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old man/young teen.

Ashley St. Clair (Richard Burton) is an aging painter of 60 who has lost his passion and hasn’t either sold, or attempted to do a painting in over 10 years. Sarah (Tatum O’Neal) is an unhappy 15-year-old who’s tired of dating guys her own age as she finds them to be immature and only interested in one thing…sex. She then meets Ashley, first after she sneaks into an adult theater to watch an X-rated movie and then later at a coffee shop. Despite the extreme differences in their ages they still connect through their mutual interest in art. Ashley even begins to paint again and the two share an enjoyable, but platonic friendship. However, once Sarah’s parents (Robin Gammell, Patricia Collins) find out about they put an immediate stop to it by locking her in her room and and in protest Sarah refuses to eat.

Based on the novel ‘A Lesson in Love’ by Marie-Terese Baird this film marks the final one to be directed by famed Greek director Jules Dassin and in many ways this may be the weakest one that he did. The whole way the relationship gets going is very rushed and forced. Bumping into the same person twice in one day, in the big city of Toronto, doesn’t seem likely and then having Sarah fall so head-over-heels for him to the point she starts spouting out the ‘L’ word quite quickly is dingy. A more plausible scenario would’ve had Ashley teaching an art class (he no longer paints, but still has to bring in an income somehow) of which Sarah attends and then through the course of several months a bond is slowly created.

The sex angle is a complete mess. Fortunately Ashley makes no moves on her, but Sarah does aggressively begin to come-on to him and at one point stands completely naked in front of him. In her autobiography ‘A Paper Life’ O’Neal expressed great discomfort in having to do this scene though I didn’t detect this, but maybe that’s just because she’s such a great actress, but either way the scene was completely unnecessary.  It’s also inconsistent with the character as she broke-up with her boyfriend Paul (Michael Wincott) because he was trying to pressure her into having sex and she was still a virgin, so if she didn’t want sex with a guy her own age why would she want it with one who was way older and is this era of pre-Viagra how could she even be sure he could do it? A better scenario would’ve had sex never coming into play and it was simply their other mutual interests that connected them and it was only outsiders, like Sarah’s parents, that presumed the worst when it really wasn’t occurring.

The one bright spot is the acting with both leads being superb. O’Neal proves that her strong and memorable performance in Paper Moon was no fluke and the only thing that keeps the film watchable. Burton is excellent as well. Although he usually has a strong presence here he wisely takes a step back playing someone who’s weak and tentative, which in many ways reflected his own career at the time where many felt he was washed-up and the years of alcohol abuse certainly did age him making him look even older than 60 when he really wasn’t, and thus a perfect fit for the part. The only issue here is that Tatum seems way too mature for 15 both physically and personality-wise and having her play someone who was 17 would’ve been more appropriate.

While the film remains marginally compelling the talky ending in which Burton goes on a long speech like a tenured professor lecturing to a college class practically ruins it. I was also frustrated that we never learn much about the old man, played by George Bourne Sr., an elderly gentleman who agrees to let Ashley paint his portrait for a fee, which in-turn revitalizes his career and I felt this character should’ve been in it more, or at least a few scenes showing what they talked about as his portrait was being done.

Tatum’s abstaining from all food plays-out poorly as well. For one thing she doesn’t change physically, so we’d never know she wasn’t eating if it weren’t mentioned. She then travels to New York and I was fully expecting her to pass-out in the middle of crowded Grand Central Station from a lack of nutrients, but apparently in-between time she had eaten something, but this should’ve been shown and the fact that it isn’t is a sign of shoddy film-making, which despite Dassin’s previous output, this whole movie ends up pretty much being.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 7, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jules Dassin

Studio: World Northal

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video

Protocol (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Goldie goes to Washington.

Sunny Davis (Goldie Hawn) works as a cocktail waitress at a Washington D.C. bar, who one evening while driving home from work, she notices a crowd of media people surrounding an event where foreign dignitaries are leaving a dinner gala, which piques her curiosity enough to pull over and get out to see it in person. Once she’s in the crowd she rubs against another man and feels what she thinks is a gun and she accuses him of such, which gets the man to take the gun out and point it at the visiting Emir (Richard Romanus) from the country of El Othar. When Sunny sees this she tackles the would-be assassin and becomes an instant American hero in the process. Overnight she becomes the top of every news story. Politicians in Washington begin to believe she’d be an asset and offer her a position within the protocol department in government. She readily accepts as it pays more than her old waitress job, but it comes with a catch. The US wants to establish a military base on the country run by the Emir whose life Sunny saved, but in order to achieve this deal they offer Sunny to become another one of the Emir’s wives without her knowledge.

This was the second attempt at political satire for screenwriter Buck Henry who did First Family 4 years earlier, which I thought was bad enough, but this thing manages to be even worse. The majority of the problem is that politics and government can be very messy and if one is going to analyze the topic in any type of realistic way then it needs to get messy and dirty as well and yet this movie glosses over all of the negative aspects and tries to make American politics uplifting and inspiring, which might’ve worked in the 30’s and 40’s, but in this more cynical age it comes-off as corny and ill-conceived.

The political and media landscape has changed so drastically that most viewers living today will find the humor to be completely unrelatable. Politics today, for better or worse, has become highly divisive, so having a benign President that everyone supports such as here seems almost like a fairy tale. The satirical jabs at the news media will also prove hollow as we no longer live in a world where the mainstream press as all the clout and instead now takes a backseat to social media and thus making the majority of the jokes here quite dated. The way it portrays Muslims will also be considered problematic and even back then while it was being filmed it was protested by the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee over what they felt was a disrespectful approach to Islam.

Goldie is certainly likable, but her character is blah and poorly defined. Outside of living with two gay guys there’s nothing unique about her and the viewer gets no sense of what makes her tick. A good example of this is when she gets offered the position she isn’t even sure what the word protocol means and has to look it up in a dictionary and yet after she gets the job she quickly becomes an expert on all the protocol by-laws. This was apparently because she read-up on all the literature she was given, but this isn’t shown making her newfound sudden expertise come-off as weird and hard to explain. The fish-out-of-water concept really needed to be played-up more. There are a few comically awkward moments, but in order to make it consistently funny it needed to continue through the whole movie.

The fact that she becomes so famous over preventing the assassination of the leader of a foreign (fictional) nation that most people probably couldn’t find on a map didn’t make sense. If she had saved a popular President’s life then I could see everybody getting excited about it, but doing it for a foreign dignitary might be enough for a ‘feel-good’ story, but that would most likely be it. Also, there’s no concept of the 15-minutes of fame here. Even if she did become an overnight sensation it would only have lasted until the next news cycle when another media hero would replace her and yet this movie has her remaining popular for months and even years later.

What really killed it for me though was the Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-like ending, which I found to be utterly nauseating. For political satire, if you can even call this that, it fails on all levels. Being There on the other-hand is an example of how to do it right, which this thing unfortunately doesn’t even come close to.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: December 21, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not like the song.

Travis (Dennis Quaid) is an aspiring singer with some talent, but little discipline. He’s achieved one hit song,but his drinking and partying keeps getting him in trouble. Amanda (Kristy McNichol) is his younger sister and though she’s only 16 she is more mature and responsible. She tries to manage Travis’ career by getting him to Nashville, so he can cut a record and get an agent, but his wild ways and their lack of funds, keeps preventing them from getting there. Eventually he gets arrested for public drunkenness and in order to pay the fine is forced to get a job at a local bar. It’s there that he meets Melody (Sunny Johnson) and tries to pursue a relationship, but becomes aware that Seth (Don Stroud), the deputy sheriff, has a thing for her as well and he won’t allow any other guy to talk to her as he’ll fly into a jealous rage and warns Travis of this, but Travis being reckless as always doesn’t let this phase him. As this goes on Amanda begins a romance of her own with with Conrad (Mark Hamill) who works as a state trooper.

Although in theory it’s ‘inspired’ by the song of the same name it technically doesn’t have anything to do with it. In other films that were made from songs like Convoy, Harper Valley PTAand Ode to Billy Joethe central theme was maintained and then expanded on, but here we don’t even get that. The song, with lyrics written by Bobby Russell and then sung by his then wife Vicki Lawrence, had to do with a man getting executed for killing another man who had an affair with his wife even though it was really his kid sister that did the crime. A plot like that could’ve had great potential for being an interesting movie, so why the producers didn’t just go with that original concept I don’t know, but it seems like a travesty for them to retain the song title and I’m surprised the producers of the record didn’t sue.

The plot, as it is here, is limp and uninspired. It basically feeds off of a lot of predictable shenanigans like Travis getting caught in a hotel bed with another man’s wife and then being chased around both on foot and in a vehicle until both he and Amanda are able to get away. In between we get treated to a lot of songs, which normally I’d say was nothing more than filler, which it still is, but since the rest of it is so lame, it comes off more like the best thing in it. Quaid and McNichol do all of their own singing and even wrote their own lyrics and they give energetic performances when onstage, so if you decide to see this thing then I’d suggest fast-forwarding through the rest of it and just stick with the music and you might be pleased.

The acting by Quaid is excellent and Don Stroud is great as the nemesis. McNichol is alright, at least when she’s singing, but otherwise gets pushed to the background and with her super short hair and nagging personality lacks sex appeal and at times looks almost like she could’ve been Quaid’s kid brother instead. The fact that they’re so close and do everything together would make one wonder if there’s something incestuous going on. In the more innocent times of the early 80’s maybe this wouldn’t be the first thought that would pop into people’s minds, but these days I’d suspect others would be wondering the same thing. There’s also no explanation for what happened to their parents. At one point McNichol mentions that she’s orphaned, so there really needs to be a backstory showing of what caused that.

Spoiler Alert!

The biggest gripe though is with the ending in which Travis gets shot and killed by Seth, who also dies in the gunfight. It then concludes with McNichol getting with Hamill, who quits his job as the state trooper, and the two drive-off in her rickety old truck to God knows where. Since the story was mainly about the brother/sister relationship then I felt that’s where it should’ve ended with them in Nashville either getting the record deal, or not. The Hamill character is bland and seemed to be added in with no other purpose, but to extend the already anemic plot. There’s also the fact that he was 29 at the time while McNichol plays someone who was only 16, so them getting into a relationship doesn’t exactly look kosher. Granted the age of consent in the state of Georgia is 16, so I guess in the eyes of law it’s okay, but many today will consider this kind of romance to be cringey, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s the main reason why this film has never had a proper DVD release nor any streaming option.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 5, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 52 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ron Maxwell

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD-R

Impulse (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: The townspeople act crazy.

Jennifer (Meg Tilly) and her boyfriend Stuart (Tim Matheson) return to the small town she grew up in to help care for her mother (Lorinne Vozoff) who suddenly and quite impulsively shot herself in the head while talking to Jennifer over the phone. When they arrive they find the people behaving in strange ways by acting on their inner impulses without any social restraint. Stuart, who is a chemist, believes it may have something to do with what’s in the water, but when he tests it he finds nothing unusual. The people though continue to behave in a more aggressive manner where even the kindly old doctor (Hume Cronyn) who was looking after Jennifer’s mother in the hospital begins showing homicidal tendencies. The couple fear they might not be able to get out of there alive and begin to suspect that the ultimate cause has some connection to the earthquake that shook the town just days before they arrived.

The premise is certainly intriguing and there are a share of weird moments, but director Graham Baker approaches the material in the wrong way. The original screenplay by Nicholas Kazan, which was entitled ‘Animals’, was intended as a horror film and closely inspired by George Romero’s similarly themed The Crazies, which came out 11 years earlier. For whatever reason Baker didn’t pursue it with a horror bent and that in my opinion is where it all goes wrong. It’s hard to actually know what genre to place it in. At times it seems a little bit like sci-fi and other moments like a drama, but either way the tension is lacking. You see the townspeople doing crazy stuff, which initially piques your interest, but then it goes nowhere with it. The weird acts just continue to go on and on until it becomes redundant and ultimately boring until you really don’t care what the explanation is behind it.

Spoiler Alert!

It’s not until 45-minutes in before even gets slightly suspenseful when Jennifer finds herself trapped in a burning garage, but even this goes by too quickly. There was one moment where Jennifer’s former boyfriend, apparently jealous at seeing her with Stuart, decides to bend his own fingers back, as a sort-of self mutilation, until they break, which I found genuinely shocking and cringy. However, there are other moments, which I found to be unintentionally funny making me believe it might’ve worked better as a quirky comedy.

The ending though is the most annoying. The explanation for why this all occurred is that chemicals from a nearby toxic waste dump got into the facility that produced the milk that the townspeople drank. The leak apparently caused by the earthquake that jostled one of the overhead pipes that then leaked the toxins into the milk vat. Since Jennifer didn’t like the milk she wasn’t affected, but I felt it was a stretch that all 900 of the other people in the town did drink it, as there are many folks who aren’t into milk, so there should’ve been others like Jennifer, who didn’t behave nutty instead of her remaining the only normal one.

What I found really stupid though is that the movie acts like 900 people suddenly dying in a town is apparently ‘no big deal’ and the rest of the country just ‘moves-on’, which I found preposterous. There is simply no way the media would let something like this go unchecked and the rest of the nation would be demanding answers and a federal investigation. It would become the news story of the year if not the decade and something that would be heavily talked about.

Somebody would have to be held accountable at some point, which then brings up the final issue of who the hell was the organization that dropped the crop dusting poisons onto the town via airplanes that ultimately is what killed everybody? The movie doesn’t bother to answer this, which is really frustrating making the whole thing a big build-up to nothing and not worth anyone’s time.

End of Spoiler Alert!

On a lighter note I couldn’t end this review without mentioning Tim Matheson. As an actor I found his performance here to be incredibly dull. Granted the character he played was benign to begin with, but he certainly didn’t do anything to make him interesting. However, with that said, his bare ass steals it. Many ass aficionados have felt, and even debated, that Dabney Coleman’s bare behind seen in Modern Problems wins the prize for best ass put onscreen in a Hollywood movie, but Matheson’s exposed tush, seen at the 17:49 mark, definitely deserves honorable consideration.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 28, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Graham Baker

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD-R, Blu-ray

The Osterman Weekend (1983)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: His friends are spies.

Based on the 1972 Robert Ludlum novel of the same name the story centers around John Tanner (Rutger Hauer) a controversial host of a TV show where government officials are interviewed and many times put on the spot by Tanner who harbors anti-establishment political leanings. Maxwell Danforth (Burt Lancaster) is the director of the CIA who along with fellow agent Laurence Fassett (John Hurt) have uncovered a Soviet spy network within the US known as Omega. The decision is made not to arrest the three members (Craig T. Nelson, Dennis Hopper, Chris Sarandon) that have been identified as the spies, but instead try to get one to turn on the others and thus expose the organizations without tipping-off the KGB that they were aware of it all along. Since Tanner went to college with the three men and plans to have a weekend get-together with them at his place he gets chosen by Fassett to carry-out the trap where he’ll try to get one of his friends during the two-day stay to turn on the others. Tanner initially resists, but eventually agrees and has his whole house rigged with secret cameras and microphones, so the CIA is fully aware of everything that goes on, but ultimately Tanner begins to suspect that things may not be as they seem.

This was director Sam Peckinpah’s final film and 5 years after releasing his last one ConvoyHe was already quite ill due to effects of substance abuse and had to take frequent naps during the shooting day, but still managed to get the movie released on-time and within budget. Many have felt this was one of his weaker efforts, but I came away enjoying it despite the fact that Peckinpah despised the story and the Ludlum novel of which it was based and only agreed to the it because he needed the work. What I liked best was his patented use of slow-motion photography. Here I felt it came into use in excellent ways especially during the car chase. Most chase sequences in movies can get confusing because it’s usually done at fast speeds making it hard to follow and many times done with jump cuts, but here because it gets slowed down it made it more dramatic particularly with the crashes.

Admittedly some of his other directorial touches were a bit odd. The opening sequence showing two naked people in bed together making love, which was shot on video tape and has a romantic music score, making it seem like a soft core porn flick and had many of members of the film’s test audience confused and even walking out in disgust. There is a surprising level of nudity, including seeing Cassie Yates topless, that I didn’t feel was necessary. There’s also touches of humor that I didn’t care for either. Apparently this was Peckinpah’s attempt to balance the violence, but it hurts the tension. The producers didn’t like the comical bits either and cut most of them out when Peckinpah got fired during post production, but a couple do remain, which are amusing, like when Hurt has to be pretend on-the-spot that he’s a television news reader giving an impromptu weather report, but still out-of-place for this type of story.

Many critics complained about the elaborate plot Roger Ebert stated in his review that it ‘made no sense’ and caused him to become ‘angry at it’ as a result. Vincent Canby of the New York Times described it as ‘incomprehensible’ and Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader labeled it ‘a mess’. I didn’t have such difficulty following it and although it’s a bit intricate it isn’t really all that confusing as long as you pay close attention and the twists that do occur I found enjoyable and many times was already predicting. My one complaint was be the way Tanner gets so easily persuaded that his friends, people he’s known for a long time and is very close to, are spies and he immediately turns against them. This is also a man that is supposedly ‘anti-government’, so you’d think he might like the fact that his friends are spies. A good way to have avoided this was having the character not hosting a liberal talk show, but instead a conservative one where Tanner would be a patriotic, pro-American type guy and thus making his acceptance of what the CIA agents tell him more plausible.

It’s interesting seeing Hauer, who usually plays villains, being a good guy, while Lancaster being a perennial protagonist, mixing it up here as a baddie. Both play against type well and the supporting cast has their share of moments too including Craig T. Nelson as a judo fighting expert and Hopper, who should win the award for best nervous expression. In all though it’s Helen Shaver that steals it as Hopper’s cocaine addicted wife. She’s not likable in any way and actually quite annoying, but she definitely stands-out with has a few choice moments.

Spoiler Alert!

I will admit that the ended, where Tanner tries to out the CIA director during an interview on his TV-show, doesn’t work and becomes one twist too many. Having Hauer simultaneously speak on-the-air in his studio and then show-up at the same time at Hurt’s hide-out didn’t seem realistic. Apparently this occurred because the show was taped early and only given the illusion that it was done live, but how they were able to pull all that off is a stretch and having his friend Nelson suddenly become a seasoned in-studio director when that wasn’t his job otherwise didn’t jive either. It’s not enough to ruin everything that came before it, which I overall enjoyed, but it’s still a lame ending either way.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, Fandor

Vasectomy: A Delicate Matter (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father considers male sterilization.

Gino (Paul Sorvino) is a proud Italian man who has fathered eight children, but now his wife Anna (Cassandra Edwards) doesn’t want anymore kids and pressures him to get a vasectomy. Gino fears the procedure, but eventually agrees only to have an angry confrontation with the doctor (William Marshall), which sends him running away from the operating room. Anna insists that he still must go through with it, or he won’t be allowed back into bed with her until he does. Meanwhile Gino must also worry about his greedy relatives, who’ve concocted an elaborate plan to steal money from the bank he works at and put it out of business.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie quite this bad. It’s not so much for any technical miscues. No shaky camera, boom mikes getting into the screen, atrocious lighting, schlocky sets, or bad acting. In fact all of those things are okay. What really reeks is the bland script that is poorly paced and not funny. The film starts out really slow and never gains traction. For a comedy there needs to be a lively plot and quick edits, but this thing dies out before it even has a chance to get started. 18-minutes in and I was still waiting for the first laugh and became genuinely confused whether this was meant to be a comedy at all. 

The main plotline is so weak that the inane crooked loan scheme is added jut to pad the runtime. The living situation of the family is rather unrealistic as well. Of course since it was the 80’s, the height of capitalism, the question of whether a family could actually afford 8 kids is never addressed, but most people, even those working at a bank, might find that situation financially challenging. The home looks too well maintained for having all those kids too who would most likely be running around and disorganizing everything. The mother is never shown having to deal with them either. In fact she comes-off as an affluent suburbanite who’s fully in-control of her life and able to out with her lady friends without the typical struggles of having to juggle her personal life with child rearing demands. All 8 kids end up being boys, but what are the odds of that? They’re also all around the same age like she popped them all out simultaneously and all of them get crammed into the same bedroom even though the house they resided in looked big enough that that shouldn’t have been necessary.

Paul Sorvino manages to be solid even though with his rotund belly he does look a bit pathetic during the scenes where he wears a baseball uniform. He does though sing the national anthem surprisingly well, apparently he sang opera to the crew between takes, and the segment where he goes in to the operation and babbles incessantly, is actually kind of amusing. I was not impressed though with Edwards as she looked too young to be his wife like she was still in her 20’s while he was already in his late 40’s. 

While I’m not a violent person I would consider, if I ever met the director of this, Robert Burge, to punching him as I honestly felt like he maliciously stole 90-minutes of my life and I don’t understand what the purpose was for it. 33,000 scripts get submitted yearly, but only 1 percent of those ever gets sold or produced, so how the hell did this one sneak through? Even a crew member from the film stated in his IMDb review that he’d give this a negative rating if he could. Maybe the director was a guy that had enough funds he was able to produce it himself and therefore didn’t feel the need to answer to anybody. If that were the case then this would’ve been an instance where having never made a movie would be better than living with the embarrassment of your name being attached to this mess for all those unfortunate enough to see it.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: September 26, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Robert Burge

Studio: Vandom International Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD-R (dvdlady.com)

 

 

Cohen & Tate (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Child witness gets kidnapped.

Travis (Harley Cross) is a 9-year-old who witnesses a mob hit and for his own protection both he and his parents (Cooper Huckabee, Suzanne Savoy) are put into a witness protection program where they are uprooted from the home they’d live-in and moved to an isolated place that has federal agents standing guard outside around-the-clock. One day the place gets invaded by Cohen (Roy Scheider) and Tate (Adam Baldwin), who are two hit men working for the mob. The mob wants to prevent Travis from testifying in court, so the two hit men kill the parents and the federal agents and then kidnap the boy and take him on a long road trip to Houston where the mob bosses can question him directly. Along the way Cohen and Tate bicker and make clear they do not like each other and Travis exploits this to get them to fight more and then uses it as a diversion to escape.

After writing the screenplays for The Hitcher and Near Dark Eric Red was finally given the green light to direct his own movie and tension-wise the film is compact, but visually it’s boring. The car ride taking place almost completely a night where we see nothing but the interior shots of an old, grimy car enveloped by pitch blackness is not interesting and having it instead take place in the daylight where the rugged, but scenic Texas landscape could’ve added ambiance would’ve worked better. The night setting also adds in a few logic loopholes like when the kid runs down the highway there’s tons of traffic, but why would there be so many vehicles in the dead of night and the middle-of-nowhere? Also, you’d think a least a few of those drivers who saw a kid running on the road might want to pull over and offer assistance, but none of them do.

The film’s only surprising element is seeing Roy Scheider play a bad guy, which he rarely ever did. The role was originally intended for Gene Hackman, who turned it down, and then offered to John Cassavetes, who also passed on it, which is ashame. Cassavetes, with his tall stature and hawk-like facial features would’ve been perfect. Scheider, for what it’s worth, is okay, but he looks frail especially when seated next to the much bigger and younger Baldwin making his character appear weak and vulnerable. The film wants to portray Scheider as being in-control, but that’s not really how it ever comes-off. 

The in-fighting between the hit men is a big problem as it telegraphs right away the eventual meltdown between the two and Bladwin’s character, as a young thug with a violent, quick triggered temper, is about as cliched as you can get. These guys don’t come-off as being very smart either making the film’s ironic theme at seeing this young kid outsmart them at every turn not that impressive since anyone with an IQ of 5 could’ve easily done the same thing. A well run criminal plan, or any plan for that matter, predicts unexpected possible problems upfront and has a Plan-B already in-place in-case they arise, but these guys seem like they never bothered to think through anything making their constantly perplexed expressions at every blunder that comes along unintentionally comical and more like they’re stooges instead of bad-ass killers.

The boy is another issue as he’s too savvy for his age. Most kids would be paralyzed with fear at being kidnapped by two thugs who’ve just killed his parents (it’s later learned that the father survived the attack, but upfront he didn’t know this). A normal kid would’ve sat in the back of the car crying and not known what to do, but this one acts super street smart and even talks back to the killers, which isn’t interesting or realistic. A better approach would’ve had him terrified and helpless at the beginning and then slowly becoming more emboldened as the story progressed. 

Spoiler Alert!

The ending is anti-climactic. A police helicopter spots the stolen vehicle that Scheider and the kid are in, so at the last second Scheider veers the car off the highway and drives it into the business district of Houston. However, there are no cars or people around even though it’s during the day. The police squad cars then quickly race in and surround them like they were waiting for him, but how would they have known he would end up in that area since he veered off the highway in an impulsive spur-of -the- moment way?

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 12, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Eric Red

Studio: Hemdale

Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Blu-ray

 

Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Going back to L.A.

Captain Andrew Bogomil (Ronny Cox), Sergeant John Taggart (John Ashton), and Detective Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) are working on a case known as the ‘Alphabet Crimes’ due to a monogrammed envelope in alphabetic sequence that gets left at the scene of each robbery. Billy decides to get the F.B.I. involved in order to have them help solve the case, but this upsets the new police chief, Harold Lutz (Allen Garfield), who demotes both Taggart and Rosewood to traffic duty and then suspends Bogomil when he tries to come to Rosewood’s defense. On his way home Bogomil gets shot and seriously wounded when he pulls over to help Karla Fry (Brigitte Nielson) who acts as a stranded motorist, but in reality is a part of the organization behind the crimes. When Axel (Eddie Murphy) hears about Bogomil’s shooting he immediately travels to L.A. and again hooks-up with Taggart and Rosewood to solve the case and avenge Bogomil’s assault. 

If  you can get past the overly complex crime mystery, which comes-off as a cheesy variation of Agatha Christie’s ‘The Alphabet Murders’, which apparently was the ‘inspiration’, this sequel, as 80’s sequels go, isn’t bad. Despite Leonard Maltin’s criticism in his review where he didn’t like that Bogomil and Axel had now become chummy and even planning a fishing trip together, I liked it. Maltin considered this ‘inconsistent’ with the first film where the characters were at odds through most of it, but I felt they had grown to like each other after what they had gone through previously and had no problem with it. What I didn’t like though was that Lisa Eilbacher for whatever reason doesn’t return and in her place they stick-in Alice Adair, who plays Bogomil’s daughter, that Axel is good friends with, but since she never appeared in the first one this relationship comes-off as quite forced. 

Having Ashton and Reinhold reprise their roles is great too, but they have little to do. In the first film they worked with Axel more as a team with each using their unique abilities to help take down the bad guys, but here Axel does virtually everything. This was most likely the result of Murphy co-writing the script where he vainly makes his character almost like a super hero and able to solve difficult clues and even at one point hacking into the criminal’s computer system while Ashton and Reinhold act as nothing more than observers who follow along, but add little input. I also didn’t like Reinhold’s character turning into a gun collecting nut, which was something that was never alluded to at all in the first one, but gets played-up here even though it makes the guy seem unintentionally creepy. There’s also a lot of talk about Ashton’s tumultuous marriage to the extent that I felt at some point we needed to see the wife, but never do. 

The humor is silly and doesn’t blend well with the action. What made the comedy work in the first one is that it remained on a believable level, but here starts to get downright stupid. A perfect example of this is when the three guys get into a strip club by pretending Taggart is the former President Gerald Ford, even though he doesn’t look that much like him, but it still manages to fool everybody in the place, which had me eye-rolling instead of laughing. The car chases are a bit farcical, much like the ones seen in a Disney movie, where they attempt to work-in a cheap laugh here and there as it’s going on instead of just making it exciting and realistic. 

I did like Brigitte Nielsen as the villainous and felt that given the time period having a female play a nefarious bad guy was novel. Maltin, in his review, described this as being ‘misogynistic’, but if the ultimate idea is for everybody to be equal then a woman should have just as much chance to play the occasional heavy as any man. Jurgen Prochnow, who plays the head of the evil operation, is too similar to Steven Chekoff, the bad guy from the first installment, to the extent that it seemed like that character had never really died, but instead got reborn through this guy, but his steely, ice-cold presence is cliched, over-the-top, and most of all not interesting.

Having Axel return to L.A. was a mistake and whole thing basically ends-up being a mindless rehashing with no particular point. Like with the first incarnation the producers considered many different potential scenarios before finally settling on this one including having Axel go to Paris and even London where he’d work with Scotland Yard. I would’ve preferred him staying in Detroit and then having Bogomil, Taggart, and Rosewood go there maybe to visit him while inadvertently getting caught-up in a case happening in the Motor City. This then would’ve turned-the-tables by having the three in a foreign environment and seeing how they adjusted to it and would’ve added revealing character development, which is otherwise missing.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 19, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tony Scott

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video 

 

 

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Detroit cop in L.A.

Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) is a Detroit cop who likes working outside the system and by his own rules, which frequently gets him into clashes with his superior Captain Todd (Gilbert R. Hill). When his childhood friend, Mikey Tandino (James Russo), comes to visit him from Beverly Hills, but later is murdered, Axel requests to be put on the case, but Captain Todd refuses to assign him thinking Axel was too close emotionally to the victim to be able to give the case a fair investigation. To get around this Axel requests some time-off for a vacation, so that he can travel to Beverly Hills and do some investigating on his free time. When he arrives he meets-up with Jenny (Lisa Eilbacher), who was a mutual childhood friend of both Axel and Mickey. She works at an art gallery owned by Victor Maitland (Steven Berkoff), who may be the one behind Mikey’s murder. When Axel tries to follow-up on this lead he gets himself in trouble with the police department there and quickly learns that in Beverly Hills everything is very much by-the-book. 

This film is a great example of how an idea for a movie can go through many changes before it finally comes to fruition. The original concept came about in 1975 when Michael Eisner, then head of Paramount Pictures, got pulled over for speeding while driving an old station wagon and was taken aback by the condescending way the Beverly Hills police treated him simply because he was driving a beat-up car. He came to the conclusion that the Beverly Hills police department was highly status conscious and wanted to bring this angle out in a movie. He sent out an open call asking for writers to submit scripts with a premise dealing with an outsider coming into the Beverly Hills police unit and clashing with their culture. Most of the scripts that were sent in he didn’t care for until finally in 1983 the one written by Daniel Petrie Jr. caught his eye. 

Both he and producer Jerry Bruckheimer enjoyed the comical elements that were in it and cast Sylvester Stallone as the lead, but he wanted the comedy removed and they refused to abide, so he walked-off the project and was eventually replaced by Murphy. Director Martin Brest, who had just been fired as director of War Gameshad grown disillusioned with Hollywood and considered getting out of the business, but was hounded so much by Bruckheimer that he had to change his phone number, but when the calls continued anyways he finally flipped a coin, so as to decide whether he’d do the project, or not. When he result came up heads he said ‘yes’ and because of the film’s later box office success he eventually had that coin framed and mounted on his office wall.

Eddie Murphy is clearly the entertaining catalyst that drives this and I was happy that despite him being black his race is never a factor. It’s also great that his hard-nosed supervisor that routinely chews-him-out isn’t some authoritarian white guy either, but instead an actual black police chief, Gilbert R. Hill, who was brought in as a police consultant, but eventually got cast and his exasperated expressions are more than enough to elicit genuine laughs. 

It would though have been nice to see Murphy, at least briefly, in a police uniform as the character comes-off as being too outside the system, so for the sake of balance seeing that at times he was still ‘a part of the team’ and had to conform. He also mentions being an expert thief during his youth, so for added character development this should’ve been explored; what caused him to change his ways and become a cop instead of remaining a thief? Unfortunately this aspect is never answered.

John Ashton and Judge Reinhold as the two cops who initially act like adversaries, but ultimately work together with Murphy as a team, are terrific. During the 70’s and 80’s cops weren’t usually portrayed in nice ways. Most movies either characterized them as being excessively buffoonish, or entirely corrupt, but here they got humanized. Ashton in particular is a perfect caricature of a cop without it having to go overboard and the script makes great use of Reinhold’s wide-eyed expression by working it into him being young and inexperienced. The conversation the two have while in the squad car where Reinhold talks about the ‘five pounds of red meat in the bowels’ was taken nearly word-for-word from what the two used during their audition that got them the roles.  

The car chases, particularly the one at the beginning shot in Detroit, are quite exciting and this is one of the rare cop films that manages to blend the humor with the action without having to compromise on either. The only complaint I have, and this may sound shallow to some, is that I couldn’t stand the mole, or whatever it is, on the center of Steven Berkoff”s forehead. I honestly found it very distracting, and there are quite a few close-up shots of his face, so it’s hard not to see it and in fact with each scene he’s in I kept focusing more on that than what was being said. There are pictures on the net of him as a child and even young adult where the growth was not apparent, so I’m not sure at what age it occurred, but since it’s in such a prominent part of his face, I would have, if I were him, had it surgically removed if medically possible. 

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 1, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Martin Brest

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Off Beat (1986)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not really a cop.

Joe (Judge Reinhold) works in the basement of a library. While he doesn’t hate his job he’s still looking for direction in life and feels he has missed his calling though he’s not really sure what that is. He’s friend with Abe (Cleavant Derricks) who is a New York City cop. One day Joe inadvertently messes-up a criminal sting that Abe was working on and in an effort to make it up to him Joe agrees to volunteer for a charity event that will require him to do ballet. It’s part of a city wide effort to get one policeman from each precinct to take part and Abe was chosen by his supervisor, but he has no interest, so he gets Joe to take his place while Joe pretends that he’s a cop in order to qualify for the audition. Joe is convinced he won’t make the cut, but when he meets the beautiful Rachel (Meg Tilly), who’s a cop that’s also trying out for the performance, he decides to press-on with it and in-turn finds that dancing gives him the interesting challenge that was otherwise missing in his life as well as a romantic relationship with Rachel. 

One of the things that really hurts the film right from the start is the totally wacky premise that seems to stretch all credibility. I found it very hard to buy into the idea that a policeman would be obligated, and in some ways almost forced, to get involved in a charity event that would take-up so much of his free time and require an extraordinary amount of rigorous training for no pay. Asking some cops to spend a few hours on one weekend at a soup kitchen passing out meals to the homeless is more reasonable, but pushing people into ballet that have no skills, or business in doing is just plain far-fetched. I felt too it was testing the friendship to obligate Joe in what turns out to being a very time consuming endeavor. Granted he learns to enjoy it, but upfront I can’t expect anyone to go that out of their way, even for a friend, over some simple mistake that the made earlier. Originally, and I can’t remember where I read this, the premise was for the characters to be prisoners and getting involved in the dance charity event would allow them the potential of getting their sentences shorten, which made much more sense, but the producers wanted to take advantage of the spate of comical cop movies that were popular at the time and therefore changed the characters into cops, but this just makes it dumb. 

The attempted comedy doesn’t gel either. It starts out at a park with undercover cops secretly listening into a conversation of two people, which seemed to have been taken right out of the opening scene in the far better movie The Conversation. It’s not made clear if that was meant to be an attempted parody of that one, but it doesn’t work either way and it’s best not to imitate a classic if you can’t improve on it as it ends up reminding one of that movie and how much more entertaining it was than this one. Later on there’s a bank robbery segment, which again seemed strikingly similar to another 70’s classic Dog Day Afternoonand again it’s not clear if this was intentionally stealing from that one in an effort to be amusing, but it doesn’t click either way. 

Reinhold shows why his Hollywood leading man career never lasted. He’s just not funny and all he seems good at is having that wide-eyed deer-in-headlights look and not much else. Other talented actors like Joe Mantegna, as Reinhold’s dance rival, and John Turturro, as Reinhold’s obnoxious boss, don’t get enough screen time and the friction that their characters create isn’t played-up enough, or results in any interesting confrontation. I did though really like Meg Tilly, who plays against type, as she’s usually cast as soft-spoken, flighty characters, but here plays someone who is tough and outspoken and does quite well.

The script, which was written by Mark Medoff, who had better success penning stageplays like Children of a Lesser God and When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?, does have a few heartfelt moments and having a main character feeling lost and directionless in this confusing world will be easily relatable to many, but there are just too many segments where the comedy misses-the-mark. The scenes where Reinhold is forced to try and chase down a thief and another moment where he has to arrest someone, but because he’s not a trained cop he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, could’ve been comical gold, but the film doesn’t play it out enough to be effectively hilarious. It peters-out with a fizzle by the end making it a definite misfire that didn’t do well with either the critics, or at the box office. 

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 11, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Dinner

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 2)