Against All Odds is another of those sweaty, hot looking movies that builds up a great sense of atmosphere. It may be that the director was too busy whipping up this atmosphere to notice that the movie was coming unglued, because Against All Odds is a rambling piece of work that succeeds neither as a love story nor as a thriller. It bears scant resemblance to the 1947 film on which it is based, Out of the Past, directed by Jacques Tourneur. That film was a lean, hard story about a guy with a past, a shady deal and a bad girl. It hurtled toward the hero’s eventual doom with efficiency and terseness.
Against All Odds meanders through a more complicated scenario. The story may be more ambitious, but it’s also more confused. And the film is so awkwardly shaped that it seems to come to a full halt a few times.
This washed-up Los Angeles football player (Jeff Bridges), at loose ends, agrees to go to Mexico to find the girlfriend of a sleazy bookie (sleazy James Woods) who is also the daughter of the football team’s wealthy owner (Jane Greer, who played the lead in Out of the Past opposite Robert Mitchum).
Woods has evidence incriminating Bridges in a fixed game, and Bridges is more or less blackmailed into looking for the girl, who stabbed Woods before she ran away. When Bridges finds the girl (Rachel Ward) on a Caribbean island, he quite naturally falls for her himself. Their island idyll is cut short when they realize that Woods will not give up looking for her.
But Bridges finds out that Ward plays a mean game, too; she leaves him standing on top of a Mayan temple with blood on his hands. At this point, the film switches back to Los Angeles, and you start to get almost as confused as Bridges’ character must be.
The love story gets woven into a bigger scam that involves Greer’s development of a Los Angeles hill into condominiums, and the devious and dangerous ways this is done. But by this time, so many crosses have been doubled that it’s hard to keep up with the complications.
Director Taylor Hackford – who scored such a big hit with 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman – has paced the film to an inappropriately lazy beat. A fast car chase toward the beginning of the movie and some nice suspense in an office building toward the end are taut sequences, but there’s too much slack in between, and many things don’t make whole lot of sense. For instance, Woods’ henchman (Dorian Harewood) hangs around in a lot of scenes, but ultimately doesn’t seem to be there for any reason.
And the film is almost humorless – a disappointment when you’ve got a very witty actor, Jeff Bridges, in the lead, as well as some supporting players with solid comic credentials (Alex Karras, Saul Rubinek, and Swoosie Kurtz especially; only Kurtz gets to supply some much-needed comic relief).
The acting of former model Rachel Ward seems to be improving. She’s a whole lot less wooden here than she was in TV’s The Thorn Birds, certainly, and she throws herself into the love scenes with gusto. She’s so gorgeous that the relative merit of her technical skills stops mattering after a short while.
First published in the Herald, March 3, 1984
A lot of plot revealed here. Maybe I didn’t know what else to say about this blah remake. And yet no mention of the impossible-to-escape Phil Collins title song (the film’s only Oscar nomination). My description of Out of the Past sounds odd now, as that movie strikes me as voluptuous rather than lean or terse, but maybe I was trying to make a point. Richard Widmark’s in this movie, too.