Pink Cadillac

October 18, 2012

Clint Eastwood runs out of gas in Pink Cadillac, a redneck comedy that looks suspiciously like a bone thrown to his longtime fans.

Eastwood, as a director, has become interested in ambitious projects such as his brave three-hour jazz biography, Bird, and an upcoming adaptation of White Hunter, Black Heart, in which he plays a ruthless film director in Africa (a character modeled on John Huston). But Eastwood is a shrewd businessman who knows which side his bread is buttered on, thus the margarine slapstick of Pink Cadillac.

Clint plays a skip tracer, a guy who finds runaway bail jumpers and brings them back to custody. His boss says, “If I may quote the immortal Olivia Newton-John, ‘Have you never been mellow?'” Actually, Eastwood seems pretty mellow. Indeed, he’s just marking time.

His new quarry is a young mother (Bernadette Peters) who has been wrongly implicated in the counterfeiting scheme of her sleazy husband. When Eastwood finds her spending some of the funny money in Reno, he quickly packs her off. Naturally, it doesn’t take long before she has charmed him and convinced him that she’s lily white. And Clint takes a more active role in her welfare when the sleazy husband kidnaps her baby, which leads to a white supremacist camp where hubby is a card-holding neo-Nazi.

Pink Cadillac is in the vein of Eastwood’s monkey movies, Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can. There’s no orangutan, but there’s a lot of silliness, much of it absolutely leaden. Buddy Van Horn directs with such laboriousness that it takes forever to establish the simple perimeters of the story.

The climax, in which a lot of things blow up at the supremacist camp, is perfunctory. However, between the setup and the finale is some reasonably laid-back banter between Eastwood and Peters, and John Eskow’s barbed script invents some goofy disguises for Clint to assume (he does a very good tobacco-chewing cretin).

There’s no “Go ahead…make my day” here, but the closest facsimile comes when Eastwood points a gun at the villain’s head and asks, “Are you an organ donor, Alex?” Dirty Harry would’ve smiled.

First published in the Herald, June 1, 1989

A bad one. But then, given his performance at the 2012 Republican National Convention, we can conclude that Eastwood’s comedy sense runs along a narrow line of personal taste. Still, typing up the plot of this thing makes it sound lunatic enough to actually be intrigued, if I hadn’t already sat through it once.

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Sudden Impact

September 29, 2011

Clint Eastwood, who has directed eight films since 1971’s Play Misty for Me, has shown an interest in making smaller, more personal movies lately. And since he still reigns as one of Hollywood’s top box-office draws, if he wants to make a small, personal movie, he can make it.

But some of his pet projects have fizzled with audiences accustomed to Eastwood’s gunslinging or his comedic partnerships with orangutans. Bronco Billy died in the summer of ’81, and Honkytonk Man disappeared last Christmas.

Eastwood—who has displayed competency behind the camera—is no dummy (even though some of his critics have accused him of being as animated as the average ventriloquist’s prop). He knows his fans love to see him stalking the streets of San Francisco in the guise of Inspector “Dirty Harry” Callahan.

Just in time for the lucrative Christmas season, then, arrives Sudden Impact, the new “Dirty Harry” installment, the first one since The Enforcer in 1977. Eastwood produced and directed this entry, as well as essaying the role of Harry Callahan once again.

Clint’s hair may be a little thinner on top these days, but he still has the steely gaze and the steady walk that embody Callahan’s brutal code of justice—a code that doesn’t always sit too well with Harry’s superiors at the San Francisco Police Department.

Sudden Impact isn’t 10 minutes old before Harry’s wiped the floor with a whole bushelful of assorted Bay Area punks, psychos, and culturally backward types. But he doesn’t look for trouble, he says; it just seems to follow him around.

The bloodletting gets so bad that the department sends Harry off to the sleepy coastal town of San Paulo, to check up on a lead in a murder case, and mostly just to get him out of San Francisco. He doesn’t know—although the audience does—that the murderer is in San Paulo, right under his nose.

We learn early that the strange series of murders is being perpetrated by a painter (played by longtime Eastwood leading lady Sondra Locke) who is avenging the 10-year-old rape and beating of her younger sister and herself.

So she’s got her code of justice, too; clearly a woman after Harry’s heart. And sure enough, the two find themselves in a tentative romantic involvement.

But there can’t be too much time devoted to the mushy stuff in an action movie such as this one, and Eastwood shrewdly piles on the gun play. He’s done a pretty good job of it, considering the fact that the script is a fairly old-hat series of showdowns.

As usual, the bad guys aren’t just bad, they’re vermin, engaging in every kind of animalistic behavior. By the end of the movie, the audience was cheering each extermination.

It’s a good finale—a whirring, spinning shoot-out at a carnival. Eastwood may not be Alfred Hitchcock, but he knows how to stage a fight.

And Sudden Impact may not be great cinema. But Eastwood fans are going to like it.

First published in the Herald, December 14, 1983

It was nice of me to allow that Eastwood had displayed competency behind the camera, but to be fair to me, he hadn’t reached Unforgiven levels yet, and Sudden Impact is no great film. It did give the world an all-time catchphrase in “Go ahead…make my” etc., cannily appropriated by the sitting President at the time.


Heartbreak Ridge

June 21, 2011

The U.S. Marine Corps has withdrawn its official approval of Clint Eastwood’s Heartbreak Ridge, even though the Corps participated in the actual filming of the movie. The Marines evidently feel that the cussing, brawling soldiers portrayed in the film are not in keeping with the image of the Corps.

Yeaaaahhh, right. Marines have never been known for spilling salty language.

Actually, even real Marines might have trouble keeping up with the film’s blue streak, which is incessant (and occasionally shamelessly amusing). James Carabatsos’s screenplay doesn’t miss many profane possibilities.

The Marines’ withdrawal of approval is quite silly. Surely they realize that Heartbreak Ridge, for all its swearing and punching, portrays the service in an utterly attractive light.

Eastwood, on holiday from mayoral duties in Carmel, Calif., is in familiar territory. He plays a hard-nosed Marine, a veteran of Korea and Vietnam, who returns to the reconnaissance platoon where he got his start. He intends to kill the time before his retirement by passing along the fundamentals (and his collection of suggestive one-liners) to a predictably rag-tag collection of soldiers.

Equally predictably, Eastwood knocks heads with his immediate commander (Everett McGill), a creep who’s never known combat and who refers to Eastwood as an anachronism and a relic. It follows that Clint will have to teach this upstart a thing or two about combat (preferably hand-to-hand).

He’s also saddled with an ex-wife (Marsha Mason) whose proximity—surprise—rekindles an old flame. That’s expected, but the few scenes they share are the film’s only interesting moments, as he startles her by asking, “Did we mutually nurture each other?” and other other touchy-feely sentiments he has absorbed from women’s magazines—a curious and poignant attempt by this leathery old boot to enter a newer world (and a tweak of Eastwood’s macho public image, which he sometimes satirizes within his own films).

But most of the film has Eastwood riding herd over his platoon, and what a thoroughly uncompelling bunch they are. The film needs an ending that will allow the men to prove themselves, so it’s conveniently set in 1983 before the invasion of Grenada. You know how that one came out.

Heartbreak Ridge represents a back-stepping for Eastwood (he produced and directed), as his films of the last decade have gotten progressively more interesting. This movie is so conventional, so eager to press the right crowd-pleasing audience buttons, that you wonder whether Eastwood was scared off by the darker territory he experimented with in recent movies such as Tightrope and Pale Rider.

It should do well enough at the box office. And the Marine Corps can rest easy. Not since Top Gun has there been such an effective recruitment poster for the armed services.

First published in the Herald, December 6, 1986

It may have been a step back, but Eastwood went charging right ahead again, diving into a couple of unusual directing projects (Bird and White Hunter, Black Heart) while playing it safe with a Dirty Harry sequel (albeit a very peculiar Dirty Harry sequel). I had the experience of watching the film at a press screening while sitting next to David Thomson, who was in Seattle to speak at an Orson Welles series that Tom Keogh and I had organized for a new non-profit organization. (I remember looking through the next edition of the Biographical Dictionary of Film to see how Heartbreak Ridge had fared.) This was at the Northwest Preview Room, a tiny screening theater that weirdly occupied a section of a building perched on the side of an urban cliff. The theater had a separate entrance from the rest of the building, although every once in a while we’d have to go in through the main entrance (which was really a roof—the whole thing was odd) and the occupants of the building—at the end it was Seattle Opera—were always mighty puzzled about what we were doing in that little room. Lousy place to see movies. I must’ve seen at least a thousand films there, sitting in the second row because the sightlines were bad.