Day: March 4, 2011

The Rookie

1990

Warner Bros.

Produced by Howard G. Kazanjian, Steven Siebert & David Valdes

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Written by Scott Spiegel and Boaz Yakin

Clint Eastwood has made film history in two genres: The Western and Police/Cop movies with him either starring or directing (or both) in some memorable roles.  There’s Dirty Harry Callahan, of course.  The Outlaw Josey Wales.  The Man With No Name.  Sheriff Walt Coogan from “Coogan’s Bluff” the movie that was the inspiration for TV’s “McCloud”

However, nobody remembers Clint Eastwood’s one and only entry in a subgenre of the Police/Cop movie: The Buddy Cop Movie which enjoyed immense popularity during the 80’s and the 90’s.  Roger Ebert likes to call Buddy Cop Movies ‘Wunza Movies’.  As in “One’s a…” which is how a description of a Buddy Cop Movie usually starts.  Buddy Cop Movies are ridiculously simple to make.  Two cops, exact opposites in attitude, styles and personality are teamed up.  They hate each other.  During the course of their case (a case that you just know they’ll be kicked off of) they grow to respect and even like each other.  Its friendship/male bonding through bullets, explosions and disregarding civil rights and it’s all good.  The best example of The Buddy Cop Movie is without a doubt the classic “Lethal Weapon” series but Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen took a whack at it with THE ROOKIE.

Nick Pulovski (Clint Eastwood) is a veteran L.A. cop hot on the track of Strom (Raul Julia) a high level chop shop operator.  He’s got them spread out all over the city and employs a team of expert car thieves to supply him with product.  Nick interrupts a robbery in which his partner (Hal Williams) is killed.  Nick naturally wants to go after Strom and put him away for life but the case is taken away from him since he works auto theft and due to his partner’s murder, the case has been bumped up to Homicide.

That doesn’t sit well with Nick and he likes it even less that his new partner is the fresh out of the Police Academy rookie David Ackerman (Charlie Sheen) who comes to work in Armani suits and is from an enormously wealthy family.

In the best tradition of Buddy Cop Movies, Nick ignores the orders of his commanding officer and sets out to put the hammer down on Strom anyway, dragging a reluctant David along with him.  During the course of the case they’ll share tender moments while facing down a bar full of Hispanic bikers, battling attack dogs, getting bushwhacked, tortured and raped by Strom’s enforcer Liesl (Sonia Braga and yes, I’m getting to the rape bit, be patient) surviving explosions huge enough to level city blocks and one apocalyptic shootout after another in which vertical blizzards of bullets are fired at them.  Not to mention their own personal demons.  But if they survive they’ll have a friendship stronger than marriage.  Which is really what these types of movies are all about, really.  Solving the case comes secondary to the heartwarming story of an Odd Couple pairing of cops becoming bosom buddies and life long pals.

Not that Nick and David actually solve anything, mind you.  Their style of police work is to methodically kill all the bad guys until there’s nobody left to arrest.  I think this is one of the few modern day cop movies where I’ve never heard Miranda invoked once.  And search warrants are a joke.  At one point Nick freely admits to David that he’s put an illegal wiretap on Strom because he knows no judge will authorize a legit tap.  It’s that kinda movie.

Clint Eastwood doesn’t so much create a character as embody the cliché traits we’ve come to see in this type of movie.  Failed marriage?  Check.  Alcohol dependency issues?  Check.  Flouting and downright ignoring proper police procedure and regulations? Check.  But he does seem to be having a good time amid all the explosions and gunfights.  And I could be wrong but I think this is perhaps the most violent movie Eastwood has ever directed and starred in.  And if you’ve seen as many Eastwood movies as I have, that’s saying something. Even by today’s standards this is an extremely brutal and violent movie and by the end, Nick and David are as shot up, beaten and bloody as the bad guys they’ve spent the last thirty minutes of the movie killing.

And then there’s the scene that everybody who saw the movie during its original theatrical run remembers: the scene where Sonia Braga’s Liesl sadistically and ritualistically cuts a tightly tied-up Nick with a razor blade then proceeds to stimulate him to an erection. As to what happens next…well, let’s just say it’s not everyday you’re going see a scene like that in a movie and it’s a jaw-dropper for sure.  Not as jaw-dropping as the scene where the baby-faced Charlie Sheen takes on an entire barroom full of bikers as well as a couple of bloodthirsty pit bulls but it’s up there, that’s for sure.

Sonia Braga really has a lot of fun playing Liesl and she is so stunning beautiful even while she’s mowing down innocent bystanders in an airport terminal with an Uzi.  Sonia Braga back then was what Salma Hayek is now and if you’ve ever seen her in a movie, I think you’ll agree.  Raul Julia plays the bad guy with tightly controlled relish and one of the most puzzling things about the movie is that Strom and Liesl are supposed to be German even though their crew is predominantly Hispanic and they speak with Hispanic accents.

Charlie Sheen gets a lot of screen time mid way through the movie since Eastwood gets captured and held by the ransom and Sheen goes on a rampage to try and find his partner.  How much of Sheen’s tough guy act you buy is strictly up to you, of course, but damn if he doesn’t look like he’s having a good time doing all this crazy action stuff.

So should you see THE ROOKIE?  Sure.  It’s a movie that never seems to get mentioned whenever a list of favorite Clint Eastwood movies are put together but it’s a well made actioner with plenty of terrific stunts, fight scenes and clever enough dialog that I think it’s worth a rental.  And it’s downright fun to see Eastwood’s version of a Buddy Cop Movie.  There’s also a bunch of very good support from acting favorites of mine such as Pepe Serna, Lara Flynn Boyle, Xander Berkeley and Paul Ben-Victor.  Watch and enjoy.

121 minutes

Rated R: And boy, does it earn its rating in terms of language and violence.  For the animal lovers out there, be advised that there are scenes of dog fighting so don’t say I didn’t warn you

Vanishing Point

1971

20th Century Fox

Directed by Richard C. Sarafian

Produced by Norman Spencer

Story By Malcolm Hart

Screenplay by Guillermo Cain

VANISHING POINT holds a unique place in movie history: it may be the only existential car chase movie ever made.  I’ve seen this movie maybe three or four times and while it is undoubtedly an interesting movie and one worth watching it’s that type of movie where at the end you sit there and wonder just what the point of the movie was.

Or does it have a point?  Should it even have a point?  Maybe having a point is irrelevant to what the filmmakers were trying to say. Or maybe, like Oblio in the classic 1971 animated film “The Point” it’s supposed to teach us that we don’t have to have a point to have a point.  VANISHING POINT was made back in the 70’s, which was a good time for movies in terms of movies being made that were experimental in nature.  Today we would call this an independent movie but back then this was considered standard movie fare.  It’s a movie that doesn’t spell out everything for you or beat you over the head with explaining every little thing the characters do or say.  The story’s not dumbed down or panders to a demographic.  It’s a strange story with a baffling lead character and even more baffling supporting characters but it does have one of the best movie cars in history: a supercharged 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T that should be considered Barry Newman’s co-star.

Kowalski (Barry Newman) is a professional driver who transports cars from one place to another.  He delivers a car in Denver and insists that he needs to get to San Francisco as soon as possible.  The Dodge Challenger has to go to San Francisco and despite the fact that he’s had little sleep, Kowalski takes the car.  To help him stay awake Kowalski looks up drug dealer Jake (Lee Weaver) and scores a whole bunch of speed.  For reasons that are still not clear to me, Kowalski makes Jake a bet that he can drive from Denver to San Francisco in 15 hours.  Now this means that Kowalski is going to have to do at least 85-90 miles an hour the whole way.   He naturally attracts the attention of the police who take exception to his driving so damn fast and it’s not long before Kowalski is the target of the state troopers of several states who chase after him in cars and helicopters trying to get him to stop.  But Kowalski refuses to stop for anything or anyone.

Kowalski runs into a series of notable characters along the way, outcasts like himself who live on the fringe of society, existing on the edge.  Dean Jagger plays an eccentric old timer who lives out in the desert and catches poisonous snakes to trade to a traveling old time Christian revival show led by Severn Darden.  A pair of psychotic homosexual hitchhikers try to rob him.  He stops at a shack by the side of the road to score more speed from a biker and has a revealing conversation about his past with the biker’s girlfriend, a beautiful blond girl who likes to ride her motorcycle in the nude.  And the strangest of these characters is Super Soul (Cleavon Little), a blind black DJ running an R&B/Soul radio station in an isolated redneck town.  Super Soul listens to the police reports of this wildass driver who is evading every trap the police set up for him and Super Soul starts hailing Kowalski as “The Last American Hero” and brings the chase to national attention.

What makes the Super Soul character stand out is that during the course of the movie, he and Kowalski somehow establish a psychic bond that enables Super Soul to help Kowalski avoid the police traps that have been sent for him.  At least I’m pretty sure that’s what happens.  Like so much else in VANISHING POINT nothing is explained and it’s left up to you to bring your own interpretation of what is going on to the table.

Barry Newman is very good as Kowalski.  He knows that in a movie like this, the less he says, the better.  Through the use of flashbacks we see Kowalski’s past as a war hero, professional race car driver and police officer.  He apparently sees himself as a failure in everything he’s done and that’s what influences his decision at the end of the movie.  Or maybe not.  Maybe he was just really hopped up on the speed.  Who knows?  Cleavon Little is wonderfully manic as Super Soul although you have to wonder just what the hell such a hip black guy who obviously would be more at home in New York or Los Angeles is doing in a redneck town way the hell out in the desert.  If you look close you’ll recognize John Amos (James Evans from “Good Times”) as Super Soul’s engineer.  The rest of the performances are nothing to brag about but they are quirky and intriguing.

So should you see VANISHING POINT?  You should if you want to see a car chase movie that depends more on character and oddball performances than crashes and stunts.  For that, I’d recommend you see “Smokey And The Bandit” (which is the “Citizen Kane” of car chase movies) or “Cannonball Run”.  It’s a very engaging and somewhat surrealistic movie and I can’t explain why it has such a hold on me but it does and that’s enough.   The best thing I suppose I can say about it is this:  if a bunch of philosophers/existentialists got together and decided to make their version of what they think a car chase movie should be they’d probably come up with something very close to VANISHING POINT.

98 min.

Rated PG

P.S.: This movie was remade as a Fox Made-For-TV movie starring Viggo Mortensen in 1997 and that version should be avoided as you would avoid Ebola.  Trust me.  I’ve seen it.