Sunday, January 17, 2016

Oddball Film Report: THE WILD PAIR -a.k.a. HOLLOW POINT (1987)

Note: This review was written for, but has been published here via the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

HOLLOW POINT (1987 - color)
   "Somebody has seen Lethal Weapon!"

   Hollow Point (or, The Wild Pair, as it was originally known) is part of a collection of films we might call Naked Ripoffs. These are films in which the sole purpose is to appeal to the audience that made another movie a big hit. 

    Not that there's anything wrong with such films, as they fulfill the wants of the movie fan. When we see a movie we like, we want to see more of the same, and accept substitutes. So long as the mimic film gives us what it is we're after, and is at least fairly good, we accept these pictures despite themselves.

    Grizzly was arguably as good as it was because it so closely mirrored Jaws, and had the production values missing from so many of the Jaws-a-likes. Indiana Jones sparked a thirst for adventure heroes in jungle settings, and thus Cannon released the two best Jones knock-offs, the Richard Chamberlain versions of King Solomon's Mines and Allan Quartermaine and the Lost City of Gold (films which some remember more fondly than the slightly slicker Jones films, since the Quartermaine pictures were cheaper to secure airing rights to, and thus saw more play on affiliate stations and UHF outlets across the country). 

   So how does Hollow Point do in recreating the flavor of Lethal Weapon? Better than you might think, but still fairly bland compared to the model film. It's an okay action movie, so take that for what you will.

(Another for-what-it's-worth: I haven't seen the film since I first reviewed it for this piece, and I remember almost nothing of it!)
   To start, where Lethal Weapon offered us Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, The Wild Pair is played by Beau Bridges and Bubba Smith. Neither is bad here (although Smith comes off a lot better than Bridges, who pulls double duty here as the film's director), but nor do they manage to replace Gibson and Glover in the viewer's mind. 

   We do get some good supporting players here. Beau has brought his Old Man in on the project, and Lloyd Bridges steals the whole show. Also on hand are vets Gary Lockwood and Raymond St. Jacques. He Who Is Krobar, Andrew Parks, even has a short scene here.
   As I'm sure you all remember, Lethal Weapon revolved around a mismatched pair of plainclothes detectives. Murtaugh was the straight-laced family man close to retirement. Riggs was the suicidal loose cannon who kidded his way around the bad guys until he could get close enough to open fire with brutal dispatch. The pair shared a deep respect for one another and knew of each other's abilities, even if they hardly ever saw eye to eye.  

   Murtaugh and his family managed to fill a gaping hole in Rigg's life and gave him purpose once again. Riggs managed to convince Murtaugh that he was still a good cop with some good years left on the force. Their relationship can be summed up by the scene where Murtaugh invites Riggs into his home to share Christmas dinner with his family, and the two begin to lovingly argue and pick each other apart. The chemistry of the characters, and the men who played them, made them loved by millions, and the pair continued to fight crime in (to date) three more movies.
   Here, things are swapped around a little. Bridges plays Jennings, an FBI undercover man who is investigating the drug trade in LA and has become aware of connections within the local department. Despite this, he finds himself under the command of LAPD's Capt. Kramer (Lockwood), who assigns him partner to street-wise culture vulture Avalon (Smith). 

   The two then follow through on their now combined case, since both are after a notorious drug dealer named "Ivory" (St. Jacques). Ivory, meanwhile, is dealing with an even bigger target, a right-wing ex-Marine who plans to make the streets of America 'safe' for white children. 

   This nutcase is Colonel Heser, played by Lloyd Bridges, who has a compound outside the city where he trains his men for the upcoming war with the government, and uses the LA drug trade to fund his operations. 

    Jennings and Avalon don't really trust each other, mirroring the first Lethal Weapon film. Jennings tends to make over-the-top moves (like taking play money to a drug swap and driving off in Ivory's own car), although Avalon is the more violent of the pair (grabbing suspects by the throat with his huge hands and threatening to kill them). Avalon's slightly psychotic tendencies are balanced by his being the neighborhood's one-man Big Brother program.
   The attempt to re-create Lethal Weapon's comparatively realistic grittiness are here translated into moral depravity. Unhealthy sexuality is trotted out periodically. 

   Our first big scene where we meet Jennings is inside a strip club where there's more for sale than the aesthetic activities. Avalon is unaware (and is never told) that his girlfriend works here as a call girl, apparently under the thumb of Ivory himself. Later, Jennings needs to gather information on his own and drops off Avalon in a triple X movie house (the movie being shown features a girl much more attractive than I would expect to be in such fare, although the guy with curly hair and big dorky mustache is about right. Needless to say, the scene we're present for isn't very explicit, thank God). 

   In short order, thugs attempt to kill Avalon, making him more suspicious of Jennings. Later, the good guys must meet with their informant, and do so in the back room of a 'adult' shop with lots of ugly electronic devices on proud display. The back room where the meeting is held is some kind of a sex booth.
   More in line with the Lethal Weapon aesthetic is a scene where Avalon invites Jennings to lunch after giving their informant a message to pass on to Ivory. Avalon and his girlfriend have set Jennings up with a plain older woman as his date, and Jennings politely smiles his way through the situation. As they are ordering, a noise on the roof gets everyone's attention. The informant's dead body then drops in front of the big picture window they're sitting at, hanging there for all to see. Then a small army of thugs begins to open fire with machine guns. 

   Over all, the script could have been just slightly modified and been used in an actual Lethal Weapon episode. Col. Heser is a villain one can see bugging Riggs and Murtaugh, and there's even a musical score which occasionally evokes LW's sax motif. All in all, though, it fails to capture the energy of the film being copied. 

   Where Lethal Weapon had a raw edge and roughness, Hollow Point just comes across as sleazy. You can certainly find worse action movies to spend your time on, and the stunt-work and action set pieces aren't bad at all. The film hits the marks it needs to, its just that the chemistry isn't as strong.
   And the ladies, I'm sure, would get a lot more out of seeing Mel than seeing Beau.
   The one thing here that really stands out is Col. Heser, or rather the man playing him, the late Lloyd Bridges. 

   Bridges is such a dynamic performer that he takes the script's half-hearted characterization and creates a figure one could almost like were it not for his insane thoughts on race. Lacing his evil rhetoric with a few grains of truth concerning America's placement in the world and proud heritage only adds dimension to the character, knowing how he has twisted the truth to fit his own slanted view. 

   Heser, we learn, is a born leader who commands a very natural respect and admiration from his men, most of whom served under him in the Vietnam war. When his decision to kill Jennings is questioned, Heser counters by asking if he has ever given an order without reason or good judgment. In response to this, the underling snaps to attention and plans to carry out the order. 

    Making this work better is that Heser doesn't rant or have his men slain for making mistakes. He is a charismatic man who believes he is doing what is best for his beloved country, a country his son gave his life to defend. He comes across like a normal guy as he plays with his young grandson, and is a charming friend to potential funders of his cause. Even when torturing a man at one point, he remains calm and collected, and even a little impressed with the stamina of his victim.
    All that is countered by his being a racist creep who believes the only way to save the country is to put the black man back in his place. As Jennings explains, Heser "thinks Washington, Adams, and Hitler were all on the same team." In lesser hands, the role could have fallen apart. Bridges manages to make Heser a figure who you can almost admire, while at the same time hating his living guts.
  Meanwhile, there are some problems with the wrap-up that I can't really address in the interest of those who might wish to see the film. Just let me say that Lethal Weapon 2 has some company in the "how is it possible these guys aren't behind bars" sweepstakes. 

    There's also a painfully farcical scene involving Avalon's cat, coming scant seconds after, and scant seconds before, a very effective scene where a body turns up. I'll avoid going into it, but it prompts a very scene-countering laugh. Ye be warned.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

DAHL coming in '16!

   One of my graphic novel projects has been picked up for 2016 publication by Jim Main. DAHL is the story of a curious mermaid and the frightening discovery of her human friend. Inks are by Leonardo Martins. Yippee!