Tag Archives: Jennifer Jason Leigh

The Hitcher (1986)

hitcher

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Chased by homicidal hitchhiker.

Jim Halsey (C. Thomas Howell) who is driving from Chicago to California finds himself falling asleep at the wheel as he travels late at night down a lonely desert highway. To keep himself awake he decides to pick-up a hitchhiker named John Ryder (Rutger Hauer) who immediately begins to behave strangely. Jim manages physically kick John out of the car when his life gets threatened, but then notices that he is continually coming upon him as his drive progresses. Soon the police are after him thinking that he is the one committing the murders that are really being done by John.

This film manages to be a nice blend between Spielberg’s TV-movie Duel and the classic episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’ in which Inger Stevens constantly sees the same hitchhiker as she drives her way through the desert. There are some really good suspenseful moments and a great performance by Hauer that almost makes up for its many transgressions, which unfortunately become more and more numerous.

Now, I did like this movie and tried to overlook a few of the logic loopholes, but eventually they become just too overblown. The biggest one is that John somehow manages to steel Jim’s wallet while also planting a knife on him that has blood from the victims that he has killed, but the only time they are together is when they are traveling in the car and I think Jim would’ve noticed John fishing through his pockets if that were the case. There’s also a lot of timing issues. For instance passengers stop and get off a bus to go inside a roadside café presumably for lunch, but then go right back into the bus just a couple of minutes later, which isn’t enough time for them to eat, go to the bathroom, or even stretch their legs. Another scene has Jim’s girlfriend Nash (Jennifer Jason Leigh) getting kidnapped from her hotel room by John who somehow is able to enter the room without explanation and then takes her out to the parking lot and ties her up between two trucks before the police get called in and try to intervene, but this all occurs in seemingly only a couple of minutes as Jim is in the bathroom when he hears Nash being taken out and he quickly runs out into the parking lot only to see Nash already tied up and the police there.

There is also the issue of how is John able to escape out of a police van after he is caught and handcuffed, which the movie doesn’t even bother to explain or show. Another question some viewers have brought up is why is Jim driving through Texas anyways, which is where this all occurs, since it seems too far to the south from where he needs to go. Some have speculated that maybe he was going to the southern portion of California and therefore would need to pass through the Panhandle of Texas to get there, which is plausible, but the landscape is all wrong. I live in Texas and know that the panhandle region, which I’ve been to, is flat and green and has farmland while the place Jim goes through is barren, sandy and very much a desert.

The film wasn’t even shot in Texas, but instead done in the Mojave Desert in California, which made me wonder why the setting couldn’t have been there since that was supposed to be Jim’s ultimate destination anyways. Then I realized that the police are portrayed as being quite hick and redneck and since Texas unfairly still has that stereotype I’m sure that was the reason for why it was chosen.

The script could’ve certainly been better thought out, which wouldn’t have required the viewer to take such massive leaps in logic in order to enjoy it, but overall I still liked it. I think this was mainly because of Hauer who is terrifically creepy as well as for an extremely exciting car chase that features incredible stunt work and without relying on any of computerized crap either.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 21, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Harmon

Studio: TriStar Pictures

Available: DVD

 

Ea$y Money (1983)

easy money

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Breaking his bad habits.

Monty Capuletti (Rodney Dangerfield) is a married man with two teenage daughters who is trying desperately to make ends meet while working as a child photographer. His oldest daughter Allison (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is set to get married to a man named Julio (Taylor Negron) that Monty does not approve of. Attending the wedding is Monty’s rich, but hateful mother-in-law (Geraldine Fitzgerald) who promptly dies on her way back home. At the reading of her will she stipulates that she will give her entire fortune to Monty, but only if he gives up all of bad habits, which includes his drinking, gambling and drug use. Monty isn’t sure he can do it, but his eager family members try to coach him into trying.

This was Rodney’s first starring vehicle after his breakout success in Caddyshack, but the script doesn’t take advantage of his comic ability. The opening sequence in which the viewer gets an understanding of the character’s personality visually by having the camera pan through his cluttered work area is great and probably the best part of the whole movie, but trying to confine his edgy persona into the sterile role of a suburban dad isn’t effective. His wife, played by Candice Azzara, is much too young and good looking a woman and would typically be way out of his league. His daughters are also too attractive and he was already in his 60’s at the time, which made him much better suited for a grandfatherly role. A much funnier plot would’ve had him stuck with his adult daughters still living at home because they were too ugly to find suitors and his desperate attempts to con someone into marrying them just so he could get rid of them and be able to enjoy  his ‘golden years’ in peace.

The script is limp and doesn’t get going with its main premise until the second half with the first part dealing with the daughter’s on-again, off-again relationship with her new husband that goes nowhere and seems added in solely to pad the running time. The idea of Monty having to give up his bad habits is poorly thought out as well as there is no third party coming in to observe that he sticks with it, or hidden cameras placed somewhere to monitor him. It leaves everything up to his family members to ‘keep him on track’ even though they could’ve lied and covered up for him and his ability to cheat at any time was wide open.

The film also does not take enough advantage of the jokes that it does have. One scene has him, in a bout of frustration, swearing at a fat kid that is not behaving, but the camera never cuts back to the parent’s shocked expression, which would’ve been the best part. Another segment has Julio and his friend trying to sneak into Rodney’s house late at night in an attempt to win back Allison, but in the process they snap off the power lines connected to the home and knock out the electricity yet the film never gets the response of the rest of the household when this occurs and instead quickly cuts away and never comes back to it making it seem almost like it never happened. Last, but not least is a scene where Rodney gets an exercise bike for Christmas and tries it out only for him to go crashing into the Christmas tree and hitting his head against the window and yet no one jumps up to see if he is alright even though I would think that would be the most natural response for someone, especially family members, to do.

There is also a scene involving drunk driving, which I found interesting only because 5 years later the movie License to Drive also had a similar scene, but in that one it was somehow considered more controversial and labeled in bad taste even though the scene here I thought was worse because it was done by the main characters, or in this case Joe Pesci who plays Rodney’s best friend.

The segment where Rodney gets shot in the buttocks and forced to hang in midair at the hospital while his injuries are allowed to heal is quite funny as is the scene involving male runway models showing off Rodney’s latest ‘regular guy’ fashions, but outside of these two segments the film falls flat in a script that never gains any traction and is wildly unfocused. Billy Joel of all people sings the film’s title tune in a song that is catchy, but I’ve never heard played on the radio even though all the rest of his tunes seemingly are.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 19, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated R

Director: James Signorelli

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Eyes of a Stranger (1981)

eyes of a stranger

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: News reporter stalks killer.

Jane Harris (Lauren Tewes) is a Miami TV-news reporter who takes a special interest in a local story involving a serial rapist/killer in the area since her younger sister Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) was attacked years earlier that left her without the ability to see, hear, or speak. She starts to suspect that the killer may actually be her neighbor (John DiSanti) who lives in an apartment across the courtyard from hers. She begins sneaking into his apartment when he is away in order to collect evidence unaware that the man has already set his sights on Tracy.

The story was originally conceived as a thriller and the Rear Window-like element adds some interest, but the tension is ruined when it takes out the mystery angle completely by making it quite clear early on who the killer is. The silly gory effects by Tom Savini aren’t up to his usual standard and pretty sparse. The scene where a victim’s head is chopped off his body like a cork popping out of a wine bottle with only one swing of a meat clever looks quite fake. The idea that a killer would    be able to sneak up behind a victim without them ever knowing, which is a common trait in ‘80s slasher films, is also hard to believe as I think most anyone can sense when someone is right behind them without actually having to see them.

Tewes, who is better known for playing Julie McCoy on the long running TV-series ‘The Love Boat’ does an okay job even though she’s never starred in a film since. Leigh, whose first major film role this was, also does well despite the extreme limitations of her part. The only issue that I had with the casting is with the children who were hired to play the women when they were younger during the flashback sequences. Both girls look nothing like their adult counterpart and in the case of Amy Krug who plays Tewes as child she doesn’t even have her same color of eyes.

The motivations of the characters are another issue. In the case of the killer he discards the body of one of his victims along beach, but then gets his car stuck in the sand. A man who was making out with his girlfriend nearby offers to help, but instead of accepting it he kills him, which makes little sense. Some may argue that he stabbed them because he didn’t want to be identified later, but if that was the case then why not at least accept their assistance and then kill them as someone at some point was going to have to offer him a hand and it’s never made clear how eventually he manages to get his car out.

The Tewes character acts equally stupid including when she makes anonymous phone calls to the killer without attempting to disguise her voice even though she is this famous news lady heard all over the city.  She also busily breaks into the bad guy’s apartment twice looking for evidence, but then doesn’t bother to take his blood soaked shirt that she sees him stuff in a parking lot trash can, which could’ve easily connected him to his last victim.

Spoiler Alert!

The film manages to be marginally gripping despite some agonizingly prolonged sequences involving watching the victims slowly become aware that they are being stalked before predictably and routinely getting offed. The segment at the end though where Leigh’s character ‘miraculously’ regains her sight and speech while she’s being attacked after losing it during her previous encounter with a rapist is pure corn and something that happens only in movieland and nowhere else.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: March 27, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ken Weiderhorn

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube