Friday, December 16, 2016
THE HARD WAY (1991)
Directed By: John Badham
Written By: Lem Dobbs & Daniel Pyne
Story By: Lem Dobbs & Michael Kozoll
Cinematography By: Don McAlpine & Robert Primes
Editor: Tony Lombardo & Frank Morriss
Cast: Michael J. Fox, James Woods, Stephen Lang, Annabella Sciorra, LL Cool J, Delroy Lindo, Luis Guzman, Penny Marshall, Mary Mara, Christina Ricci, Lewis Black, Kathy Najimy, Yasin Bey, Michael Badalucco
Nick Lang is a famous Hollywood actor, well known for his action movies. For his next movie, he needs the proper motivation and inspiration for his role. Thus he teams up with the reluctant New York policeman Lt. John Moss. Not only does he have to put up with Nick, who is laborious and out of touch with realities, but he also has to catch a coldblooded murderer.
This is a film I remember being heavily promoted on the radio, television and talk shows and I was really looking forward to it. I am sure the buzz helped as this was LL Cool J's first major film role and he had an album coming out around the same time with a hot single that was on the soundtrack for this film. The good old days of movie tie-ins and marketing that you just don't see as much now. Especially when it comes to soundtracks.
LL was a big part of the marketing. It helped bring in a more youthful and urban audience as this was his major acting debut. Even if the role was more small and supporting. Though he also gets to be the more streetwise detective who is more the joker of the crew.
Now it also helped that I am and was a huge Michael j fox fan. As at the time it seemed like while his movies not a sure thing when it came to success. He was always starring in something and I was more the. Willing usually to go see it. As I had been a huge fox fan from his films but beginning with the sitcom FAMILY TIES. I believe I always liked up to him as he was funny, had great comedic timing, was short like I am and still managed to be a heartthrob as well being energetic and charismatic. Everything you looked for n a star and also what I had hoped to grow up to be. This is one of his most Beloved films for me. Where he had smaller roles like CLASS OF 1984 which was a totally different pace and MIDNIGHT MADNESS. As well as his starring TV-movie HIGH SCHOOL USA. In fact one of the rare film he starred in that I haven't seen is still Paul Schrader's LIGHT OF DAY with Gena Rowland's and Joan Jett
So obviously this film was kind of a big deal as it was more an action film that I had seen him In before. It also had a hard grit and it seemed the first time he was trying something a bit more gritty and challenging though a comedy at heart since the films CASUALTIES OF WAR and BRIGHT LIGHTS BIG CITY.
The film of course is instantly dated and makes fun of Hollywood to a degree and the image of a movie star. Though quickly turns into a more urban action buddy comedy.
It's a high concept film that seems to be written by marketing committee. As it is violent and a rated R film. It remains innocent enough to never qualify as a film to keep kids away from. In fact it seems more aimed at teenagers.
It is certainly a film that couldn't be made today and if it was. Never would it be such a random team-up of lead actors. It would also more be either cutest with more comedy if made today. Making it even more unbelievable or it would be a big budget film where they have to take anything offensive out of the film and as this film aspires to have a steamy grittiness it wouldn't work as well any other way.
Universal Studios originally wanted Kevin Kline and Gene Hackman to star. Which wouldn’t have had the same ring, nor the same kind of hard edge the film seems to have and go for. Which makes it a perfect time capsule to 80’s/90’s new York and times square in particular where the final action set piece takes place.
Shot on the streets of New York it seems like the filmmakers went overboard in making it look super dirty and dingy to match the toughness of the so called reality of the films New York City. Where as in the few scenes in Hollywood everything is clean and overly lit.
James Woods is good and believable in the lead and matches Fox comedically beat to beat, but can also be dangerous and touch when need be. Both characters teach each other lessons throughout that will help each of them to achieve what they seek to get ahead. There is a romantic subplot with James Woods dating Annabella scooters and not being successful mainly because he can't really talk to her or charm her daughter.
This is also the first movie I remember seeing Stephen Lang In a film and being quite impressed. As he seemed to be a one dimensional as far as his mission, but his performance was flamboyant enough that he seemed serious but also was making fun of it at the same time. He seemed to have a sense of humor about all of this. Though still stayed scary almost like an early iteration of the Joker from Batman.
The comedy sticks even if the action plays off as basic and the film seems to seek to have a more urban feel. The film has a very hazy look about it that makes most scenes seem filled with steam and making everything not look sharp but more moist and bland. Though truthfully it also looks like a film that is not quite as sharp or visually talented as director Tony Scott while trying to copy it's style.
Though it does offer a look at the old New York before it became so polished and gentrified.
Director of photography Robert Primes was fired halfway through filming by director John Badham and replaced by Donald McAlpine. Badham thought Primes was working too slowly; he had similar complaints during the filming of BIRD ON A WIRE, their previous (and first) movie together.
The film seems to go for a hard edge in the action scenes that make it feel a bit excessive and like it is going over the top at times but quickly reigns it in with the aftermath. Not necessarily an adrenaline junkie movie but one that seems to make you want to feel the bones crunch. It want to be a tough movie. Though still feels like Hollywood.
Like the character Michael J. Fox plays it wants to be smooth and likeable, but like the character James woods plays is more gritty and tough. That it makes a Compromise but is never clearly defined in either way.
This films as directed by John Badham who seemed to be a go to Director in the 80's and 90's for action films and who o noted every time he made a film. As I could never make a decision as he made some more gritty action films as far as the violence and action but they all seemed to have a heavy gloss that made them look too polished that and usually their plots seemed so ridiculous that they were hard to believe, but with this film and the remake of LA FEMME NIKITA named POINT OF NO RETURN starring Bridget Fonda. Which i saw before LA FEMME NIKITA so to me point was so original and soulful. Now watching it. It obviously pales in comparison, but as is often you usually are more a fan of something were introduced to first even if not the original. So while i love LA FEMME, I have a soft spot for the remake. That I still find watchable despite it's flaws.
The film is a hallmark of 90's action comedies. While not a legendary one. For those who saw it it remains memorable as it follows and introduces a formula. While not rising to classic or great standards. It is good and a worthy watch even if you probably won't end up adding it to your collection.