The Presidio

April 6, 2012

The Presidio is the first major dud among the summer movies, a silly film that employs almost every formulaic situation in the current book. The idea is a clash between an Army M.P. and a city cop when both are investigating a murder that happens on a military base.

This is not an unviable concept, but screenwriter Larry Ferguson and director Peter Hyams (2010) immediately step in the direction of cliché, and they never look back. In fact, the opening sequence is a car chase down the streets of San Francisco. Now there’s an idea that hasn’t been used in a movie in at least a year.

The military base in question is the Presidio, the hallowed compound at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Of course the Army man (Sean Connery) is a stiff-necked, by-the-book kinda guy, and of course the San Francisco cop (Mark Harmon) is a hothead who makes up his own rules. Connery was basically responsible for getting Harmon busted out of the Army a few years before, so these two fellows don’t much like each other, though you may suspect they will reconcile their differences before the final reel.

It probably goes without saying that Connery has a cute daughter (Meg Ryan) with whom Harmon strikes up an affair. And as long as we’re dragging in everything but the kitchen sink, let’s not forget Connery’s corny old pal (Jack Warden) from ‘Nam. Throw in a chase through Chinatown and the obligatory final showdown in an industrial factory, and all of the elements are there.

Except that none of the elements is new, or interesting. The Presidio is bad in many ways, from the regularly excruciating passages of dialogue to the palpable uncertainty of Mark Harmon essaying a tough-guy role (he’s trying to bring his voice down low, in an attempt to get away from his Mr. Nice Guy image).

The worst thing about the film is the way Hyams has left Sean Connery, his Outland star, out on a limb. Connery is fresh from winning the Oscar for his great work in The Untouchables, and he does try to fashion a performance here, but the role is so poorly written he doesn’t have a chance, except to get by on sheer professionalism.

The most embarrassing moment comes during Connery’s drunk scene, when he waxes about how the Army is “America’s Doberman pinscher,” always on the ready but not treated with respect. Or something like that. Anyway, The Presidio should do a fast fade and Connery can get on to what sounds like perfect casting: He’ll play the father of a certain globetrotting archaeologist in the next installment of the adventures of Indiana Jones.

First published in the Herald, June 15, 1988

Yeah, now this is a really awful movie. In 1988, based on the chewy pulp of Capricorn One, I still looked forward to seeing if Hyams might create a decent popcorn picture. The Presidio has the feel of something both contractually obligated and somehow left over from a writers’ strike, a deadness that sucks all the light out of the screen.