The trial of criminal genius Michael Bosworth (Mickey Rourke) is a subject of high security, for the authorities are sure he's planning an escape, but as far as that goes they believe they have every exit covered. So when he starts to rough up people in the courtroom over his objections to his lawyer, Nancy Breyers (Kelly Lynch) and how she is handling his case, he is escorted from the room, though is allowed to see her for a consultation. However, this is a ruse, and she has a pistol strapped to her thigh for she is his girlfriend and wants to help spring him - but once out, where can he go?
How about Anthony Hopkins' house? Or rather, the house of his character, a lawyer and Vietnam War veteran called Tim Cornell? If you have trouble believing Hopkins had ever fought in Vietnam, and not just because his dodgy American accent, then your troubles are just beginning with one of the films which acted as a nail in the coffin to director Michael Cimino's career, having begun so promisingly and wound up squandering that with tales of bad behaviour and worse, work that simply wasn't up to par. Desperate Hours was a remake of the Humphrey Bogart and Fredric March minor favourite of the house invasion genre, and even had its writer Joseph Hayes onboard.
He had written the play and the novel too, based on a true incident, so you might have thought he knew the material inside out, but he reckoned without changing tastes and the whole production attempted to update it to 1990 with more sex and violence with farcical results. Everything here was trying way too hard, from the picturesque landscape shots so out of place in a gritty thriller, to the actors offering performances which made it a wonder anybody ever took them seriously again. Suffering most in this regard was Lynch, who made the least convincing lawyer of all time, in a role that was meant to be played straight anyway, a bottle blonde neurotic who acted with about as much professionalism as her boyfriend, and to make matters worse her blouse kept opening.
Not that she was alone in the movie's bizarre fantasyland idea of how people behaved, as Lindsay Crouse in the part of Brenda Chandler, the cop leading the investigation, was just as ludicrous with her apparent Foghorn Leghorn impersonating accent and downright odd turns of phrase, not to mention heading up a gang of agents for whom the phrase trigger happy must have been coined. Their actions are about as convincingly competent as Lynch's lawyer was, so they were in good company, but while all this was going on outside what was happening inside the Cornell abode? Well, in a take on an old movie that anticipated what Martin Scorsese would do with Cape Fear soon after, the nuclear family is not all its cracked up to be, and as with Scorsese this was absurdly overwrought.
The difference being that Martin enjoyed a big hit with his movie, and Cimino did not here. Tim is estranged from his wife Nora, played by Mimi Rogers starting out passive aggressive, then ending up snivelling pathetically for the rest of the movie once Michael makes his entrance, as if this film had definite issues with women that Crouse's hard as nails lawwoman was not going to make up for when she was so hopeless. All that said, if you were in the mood for a movie that never dreamed it was trash until some meanie came along to shatter its illusions, this Desperate Hours was more fun to watch than something as pompous as Michael Haneke's Funny Games or a more hateful home invasion effort you might have seen at a drive-in during the seventies. That didn't make it any good, but watching Hopkins and Rourke bark at one another had an appeal to the bad movie buff in many of us, especially as Mickey's remarkable dental work was quite hypnotic. Music by David Mansfield.
One of the most controversial directors to emerge from the burst of American talent of the nineteen-seventies. None of those directors had a totally easy ride from the critics or public, but he seemed to suffer the most, having started out moving from advertising to writing scripts for Silent Running and Magnum Force. Once Clint Eastwood noted his promise, he hired him to direct Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which some still believe is his best effort thanks to Eastwood reining him in. But next was The Deer Hunter, an Oscar-garlanded Vietnam War drama that the world responded to far better than any before, and he had his pick of projects.
Alas, this success went to his head and he became increasingly unbalanced, as the horror stories from his next movie Heaven's Gate would show, a huge flop that still divides opinion on its merits to this day. Cimino resurfaced with Year of the Dragon, a Mickey Rourke cop vehicle tainted by racism, and The Sicillian, an unpopularly benevolent view of an Italian crime lord. The Desperate Hours was a remake laughed off the screen in most places, and his last feature was spiritual drama The Sunchaser, barely seen in cinemas. He was discussing new projects to the end, but it seems his ego continually sabotaged his undoubted talent.