Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Hard Way (1991)

The Action Mutant…
is waiting for his movie deal…where’s MGM with their callback?

The Hard Way (1991)

review by Joe Burrows

You know, all conventional wisdom says I should hate Michael J. Fox. Aside from the usual petty jealousies that a man can hate another for (he’s rich, snags a hot wife, no facial scars, etc.), there’s also the fact that….you know, when someone ends up being too likable. You know, where you can’t find just one little flaw to wrap your finger around and wag it at him. And don’t tell me I’m being too hard because of his condition; I know people that would hate AIDS patients! Yet, I find it impossible to hate the guy. Yes, even after seeing Casualties of War. I bet him being Canadian is a big part of it. Then, how does that explain Dan Aykroyd? Ah, touché, I say to myself.

The Plot, as it was:
Fox is Nick Lang, a pampered Hollywood darling that is starting to tire of all of the mindless pap he’s been starring in as of late. He wants the role of a maverick cop in an upcoming film bad but apparently Mel Gibson (and his firmer, 1991 era ass) is in the lead consideration. In order to show producers he’s credible for the role, Lang requests he teams up with highly strung N.Y. cop John Moss (James Woods) after seeing him on a news report. Of course, the little pisser cramps Moss’ style by ingratiating himself into every aspect of the cop’s life, including his relationship with girlfriend Susan (Annabella Sciorra). And Moss happens to be on the trail of the psychotic “Party Crasher” (Stephen Lang), a serial killer that offs people at dance clubs and invites the police to watch. Somehow, I wouldn’t see Brando going this far for his art.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
You can bet that The Hard Way is a rollercoaster of a movie but not exactly for the reasons you would think. Within the film’s 111 minute running time, it manages to be a Cop/Buddy movie, romantic comedy, hardcore Action movie, screwball comedy, Hollywood satire, drama, has a scene with a cloyingly cute kid (played by future hottie Christina Ricci), parody, etc. And like the flick’s many car crashes, all of the genres collide into one big schizophrenic cluster. What keeps The Hard Way from running off the rails is the energy and showmanship of the two leads. Say what you will about Fox and his familiar mannerisms and delivery but he plays his role with the right comic tenacity. Nick Lang is in over his head but he never demands what he’s used to on the set; he just wonders where it is (like asking Moss when his maid comes in for cleaning) and that delusional act works wonders throughout. Woods is his usual “psycho urbanite operating at 200 mph” self, only more so here because he’s basically parodying his own mad dog cop roles. He’s basically the straight man in this setup, even if it does consist of him screaming profanities and calling Nick vulgar names. Their rapport is sharp, as the comic highlight between them has to be when Nick acts as Moss’ girlfriend in an exercise to get John to open up more. After that, things get more formulaic and there’s a dramatic scene with a follow-up that seems wrong for the movie. Stephen Lang is all over the place as the “Party Crasher”, as I couldn’t tell if his character wanted to be a goof or taken seriously. One scene, he talks street, then like a babbling idiot in another and even breaks out into a Shakespearian delivery in another! Honestly, his psycho would have been more effective if he didn’t talk at all. The film goes overlong by about 15 minutes and is more than a bit far fetched but its never boring, has a good supporting cast and a rousing finale. If you can get by its sudden shifts in tone and buy into the two leads’ act, The Hard Way is a very entertaining Action/Comedy with a twist.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Lewis Black is one of the drunken bankers in the pizza place scene.
- Mos Def made his film debut as one of the “Dead Romeos” in the film.
- Karen Lynn Gorney (the romantic interest in Saturday Night Fever, also directed by The Hard Way’s John Badham) is the woman on the subway.
- Michael Badalucco (Leon: The Professional) is the pizza man.
- Fabio is briefly seen in the opening club scene, though he’s unaccredited.

Body Count/Violence: 6. There’s more comedy than action here, though the action is well done. We have the expected shooting, people going through windows, fistfights, car mayhem, etc. The finale on top of the billboard produces some fun results.

Sexuality/Nudity: One of the drunken bankers moons Moss from a side view. God, I hope it wasn’t Lewis Black (Note: It wasn't).

Language/Dialogue: Pretty strong and constant, with Woods usually providing the fun and vulgarity at a rapid rate.

How bad was it?:
Pretty mixed, with none of the critics really trashing it, nor outright praising it. Ebert gave it ***1/2 but admitted that it was all about energy and nothing new.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
The Hard Way opened in the States on 3/8/91 and finished 3rd behind four week #1 winner The Silence of the Lambs and the opening New Jack City. It dropped back another two spots which each successive week in March and was eventually taken out with a final gross of $25.9 million. No budget was ever made public but Universal ended up making another $39.7 million overseas ($65.6 million total) so the financial results were never aching. Interestingly, the film was translated verbatim in Hindi and remade in India in 1993 as Main Khiladi Tu Anari (aka I am the hero, you the dimwit). Priceless.

Film: ***/*****
Entertainment value: ****/*****

Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.


Anonymous said...

I really wanted to see this movie when it came out, but ended up having to wait until video.

I was pretty disappointed with with. I'm a big Fox fan, but even he couldn't save this movie for me.

As you mentioned, the movie seemed to constantly switch genres and that took away from my enjoyment of it. It's a great plot though, just wasn't executed well, IMO.

Joe Burrows said...

I thought MJF was the best thing here, with Woods being a close second. It just seemed like they were being too ambitious here and were going for too many things, when it really should have just been a competent Action/buddy film.