Friday, February 29, 2008

No Joke

The other night I had a dream that I was watching LOOSE CANNONS. Or maybe I dreamed that I was watching LOOSE CANNONS, but in that dream sort of way, it wasn’t really LOOSE CANNONS. Or maybe I dreamed that I was actually in LOOSE CANNONS. I’m not sure. But why was I dreaming about Bob Clark’s LOOSE CANNONS? I looked up the date of Clark’s tragic and untimely death to see if it was somehow the one-year anniversary, but that’s not for over a month from now. So I don’t have an answer. Can’t I dream that I’m in something directed by Howard Hawks or maybe a Jacques Demy film where I understand French? I mean, LOOSE CANNONS? Really?

I saw it in the theater. How many people can make that claim? I’m not sure there’s ever been a worse film given a wide release in theaters, at least not one that had such an impressive pedigree. Bob Clark directing, Richard Matheson was one of the writers, Gene Hackman and Dan Ackroyd in the lead roles and an impressive array of character actors lending support, there’s gotta be something there, right? Right?

I popped in the DVD last night to take a look at some of it. Yes, that’s right I own the DVD. Sometimes, I need to remember that this thing exists. I didn’t get very far but in its own way the film manages to be interesting due to how spectacularly uninteresting it is. A comedy which doesn’t contain a single real laugh, it runs only 90 minutes and change yet has just about the most sluggish pace imaginable, with scenes that feel like they’re going on and on, with no real point or shape. Even those that last under a minute manage to feel this way. Vincent Canby’s review in The New York Times comments, “LOOSE CANNONS runs only 94 minutes but goes on for hours and hours and hours.” He was right.

Gene Hackman is Macarthur Stern, a Washington D.C. vice squad cop assigned to homicide where he is teamed with Dan Ackroyd’s Ellis Fielding, a forensics expert who is mentally unstable and continually lapses into other identities at inopportune moments, giving Ackroyd chances to do lots of pop-culture impressions like Dirty Harry, Captain Kirk, Popeye, the Cowardly Lion, etc. The pair is investigating a series of murders which leads them to porn king played by Dom DeLuise and get mixed up in a plot which somehow involves a porno film starring Hitler. These are the jokes, folks.

With no real consistent tone or laughs or excitement or even a single believable moment, LOOSE CANNONS maintains some kind of weird hypnotic effect, maybe because it’s a reminder of a time when R-Rated buddy action-comedies shot in full Panavision were more the norm. There’s also some extensive location shooting in Washington D.C. and Manhattan (the unexciting climax is at Grand Central Station) so this obviously wasn’t a cheap movie even though every fiber of its being somehow feels like it was one. I haven’t seen every film Bob Clark ever directed so I can’t say for sure that this is the worst, but it’s hard to watch this thing and believe that he was once responsible for a few very well-made movies.

The film was shot under the title THE VON METZ INCIDENT, which sounds like it should go with something actually compelling. Production began in the summer of 1988 (LICENSE TO DRIVE can be seen on a marquee in Times Square) just after Hackman had filmed his Oscar-nominated performance in MISSISSIPPI BURNING, but the final product didn’t turn up in theaters until February of 1990, when it was tossed into release by Tri-Star. Hackman, who gets to say dialogue like “Safe sex in the 80s is no joke” and “You should write a book—‘Me and My Lobotomy’”, certainly made a few movies for the paycheck in his career but why this one? Did he lose a bet? Did he really want to appear on screen with Dom DeLuise? What makes it so odd to watch is that it’s hard to imagine at what stage it could have been thought to have any potential whatsoever. It’s not a good idea, it’s not well-written or directed or anything at all. Ackroyd’s impressions are second-rate (it’s easy to imagine they tried to get Robin Williams) and Hackman, whose character is in a good mood way too much of the time, is off in his own world, probably well aware that he’s not going to lose his reputation over this thing.

Among the many familiar faces are Ronny Cox, Robert Prosky, Dick O’Neill, David Alan Grier, Tobin Bell, Nancy Travis with a bad Israeli accent, Nancy Parsons from PORKYS in a short scene at the end and a pre-LAW & ORDER S. Epatha Merkerson.

I freely admit that this is the kind of bad movie I’m drawn to. Not the so-bad-it’s-good stuff, but the type of film that while it comes from professionals is so mired in the realm between mediocrity and wrong-headedness that all I want to do is assemble a roomful of people to get them to sit down to view this thing and marvel at its very existence. Drinking will be allowed. I just don’t understand why I can’t dream I’m in an alternate version of some other movie, like a THUNDERBALL which focuses on Martine Beswick’s Paula Caplan. Or maybe I could get a co-starring role in a prequel to BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA which stars Barbara Bouchet’s character. Instead I get LOOSE CANNONS. This is my life.


WelcometoLA said...

Hey, at least you didn't dream you were in Turner and Hooch.

Mapeel said...

Or Titanic, being enveloped by the worst script in the history of the world.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Peel. An entertaining column, as always.

You've inspired me to mount a public defense of Titanic at some point in the future on my site. While it is far from a great film, to hear people calling it the worst of all time over and over and over again while Meet the Spartans somehow gets a pass baffles me.

That said, you probably would not have wanted to dream you were in Mr. Cameron's epic by a long shot.

My choice for movie to dream I was in: Coffee and Cigarettes. I could just sit at a booth and eavesdrop on conversations involving Cate Blanchett, Tom Waits, Bill Murray, Steven Wright, Steve Buscemi and RZA from Wu Tang Clan.

Unknown said...

Amazing post.

You really articulate something about bad movies here -- not the movies people like to gang up on as "bad," the ones made by impoverished or inexperienced people, or those movies that are popular despite being stupid or pretentious or hackneyed so some feel they have to take sides against them -- but the movies (your description) as filling the cracks in the careers of professionals. The movies that just sort of keep the machine running. The ones that simply say nothing, and never seemed to have wanted to. The movies that set their sites low, to entertain, and can't do it. Those films on their own are worth a large part of the conversation about movies, because they are a large part of movies. And we live a great deal of our lives with them. So yes, they find their way into our brains, where they sleep somewhere.

Here, here.

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

Thanks to everyone for the comments, I really appreciate it. I wouldn't want to find myself in TURNER AND HOOCH or TITANIC or a number of other movies. Finding myself in the world of Jarmusch sounds considerably better, especially if John Lurie would stop by to chat for a few minutes.

It's tough to know exactly why certain bad movies maintain such fascination, but they do indeed find their way into our brains. There's nothing about LOOSE CANNONS that is at all good. Yet for some reason, I need it to be there.

Marty McKee said...

For some reason, I showed this to some friends tonight. It was awful in 1990, and it may be actually worse today. Nancy Parsons earns the biggest laughs in the movie. It's weird to wonder why this was made. I would bet my house Hackman and Aykroyd were not the first choices, and when you look at the other roles they were playing then (Aykroyd hadn't done DRIVING MISS DAISY yet), it makes sense that they would choose LOOSE CANNONS. It's interesting only to watch Hackman, who never looks bored or disgusted and even appears to be having a good time. Maybe he was!