December 10, 2019

flashpointFlashpoint is exactly the sort of nothing movie that gets thrown away in the post-blockbuster lull at the end of summer. It has almost no discernible box office potential, but it’s by no means a bad little film.

If it follows the usual life-span for a movie like this, it’ll probably last a couple of weeks in first-run houses, then fade quietly away. It’s likely few people will notice.

There is an intriguing idea at the heart of Flashpoint, and it’s the kind of gimmick that might have made a competent suspenser. But the film flops around from one thing to another, and never narrows down to the element on which it should concentrate.

It’s about a couple of Texas border policemen, one laid-back (Kris Kristofferson), one young and fiery (Treat Williams). The mainspring for the most interesting of their adventures is their discovery of a long-buried jeep with a surprise in the glove compartment: $800,000. They get set to go to Mexico with the cash, but questions nag. They’re determined to find out where the money came from, and then go down to Mexico with it.

As their search progresses  there’s evidence that the money – and the dead jeep driver – may have been connected with a certain famous political assassination. If this thread had been focused on, Flashpoint might have been one of those shamelessly fun “What If” movies. But all kinds of things are dragged in: an airplane drug bust, the computerization of the border patrol, a mysterious old man who lives at the edge of the desert.

Lamest of all are the totally unecessary love interests for Kristofferson and Williams, played – rather well – by Tess Harper and Jean Smart. They exist early on to establish the playful, good-ole-boy nature of the two men. After that, there’s not that much they can contribute to the story; in fact, they just get in the way of the potentially fruitful central plot.

But even given the aimlessness of some of the plot turns, the film is hardly a chore to watch. The director, William Tannen, making his first feature here after a career of directing award-winning commercials, consistently goes for pretty desert compositions, framing people against mesas and sagebrush. And he keeps things moving along – the film clocks in at just over 90 minutes.

Maybe he rushes too much. At the end, when we supposedly find out what the big secret was with the $800,000, it’s still not quite clear just how some of the people in the film were involved with it – or why everything’s hitting the fan at this particular moment.

The big revelation seems anti-climactic, since you’ve already figured it out if you’ve really been watching the movie and picking up clues. Possibly the filmmakers should have spilled their secret earlier gotten it out of the way, then gone more for suspense than mystery.

But these things didn’t happen. Speculating about them is just another “What If” game, like the movie: interesting, but ultimately irrelevant.

First published in the Herald, August 1984

Director Bill Tannen has had a long career, and his IMBd page notes his creation of the “Girl Watcher” ad campaign for Diet Pepsi; he later made a scattering of feature films, including Hero and the Terror, with Chuck Norris. I remember Flashpoint as a true oddity, a real How Did This Get Made? sort of experience – not bad, but strange. The cast includes Rip Torn, Miguel Ferrer, and Roberts Blossom; the music is by Tangerine Dream.