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  Hard Way, The Stop That Star
Year: 1991
Director: John Badham
Stars: Michael J. Fox, James Woods, Annabella Sciorra, Stephen Lang, Delroy Lindo, John Capodice, Luis Guzmán, LL Cool J, Mary Mara, Conrad Roberts, Penny Marshall, Christina Ricci, George Cheung, Frank Geraci, Sophie Maletsky, Kathy Najimy, Bill Cobbs
Genre: Comedy, Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: John Moss (James Woods) is a cop on the edge, and tonight he is racing through the New York City traffic on a mission, but other drivers keep getting in his way, even with the flashing light on top of his car. The mission? He’s late for a date, but before he can get there his partner Pooley (Luis Guzman) takes an order over the radio: get to Times Square, because the killer known as The Crasher (Stephen Lang) is about to strike again. Moss is furious, mostly because he knows he cannot pass up a chance to catch this criminal, and soon is chasing him through a nightclub, but too late to stop the psychopath claiming his next victim. A vehicular pursuit ensues, with Moss almost getting himself killed – but someone watching on television is very impressed.

That someone isn’t another psychopath but it is someone who will torment Moss to utter distraction, a Hollywood actor named Nick Lang. He was played by Michael J. Fox, at the time still trying to find a success fitting for the leading actor in the Back to the Future franchise and not finding it with The Hard Way, which failed to find an audience on its release but on the plus side did muster a cult following as expensive flops can sometimes. Was its initial failure justified? You can see why it did, as its commentary on the world of movies was very reminiscent of a work to come a few years later, Last Action Hero, which shared thematic similarities and if anything was even more of a step back and look askance at action blockbusters.

That was one of those shoot ‘em ups with a maverick lone wolf at its heart, no matter that he had a sidekick in the shape of a small boy, but The Hard Way was far more of a buddy movie as had come into vogue in the previous decade where the genre had really established itself as we know it today. These tend to be only as good as the chemistry between the buddies, and in this case Woods and Fox were by far the strongest element, sparking off each other with profane and absurd dialogue and demonstrating a real spiky rapport pitched exactly right to deliver the requisite laughs. The premise is that Lang is one of those pampered stars who wishes to prove himself as a serious thespian, which means one thing: the R word.

Research, that is, and what better method of applying the method than being partner to a genuine New York cop? So it is that Lang is teamed with an aggravated Moss and begins to copy his every move, only with a clueless twist, thinking imitation is the next best thing to actually living the life, which Moss is only too happy to tell him it isn’t. The key line here was when Lang enters the police station and states the experience is “like a movie, it’s so real”, which in a wink to the audience, one of many, indicates the filmmakers were well aware of how artificial the whole thing was, creating a medium that observes itself and takes notes to share with you in the hope you’d chuckle at its self-awareness. Naturally, the settings depicted here look even less like real life today than they did back in the nineties.

To humanise the two cartoonish lead performances Annabella Sciorra was brought in as Moss’s love interest Susan, single mother (to Christina Ricci) and wanting to settle down with someone who can look after her, but not sure he is as reliable as she would want him to be. It would be nice to say this character added depth to what was a macho swear-off, but in the main she was required to look pained from the sidelines and all-too-predictably get kidnapped in typical action movie treatment of females, but against the odds Sciorra managed to make an impression, if only because she seemed like the only sane voice in the whole of the city. One of the insane voices was provided by Lang, who went nuts with his villainous role, only the kind of person you’d find in a nineties psychothriller – we don’t even get to find out his actual purpose in killing these people. If it ran too long in its bloated fashion, at least we were in good company for the duration, marking The Hard Way out as a smart comedy conscious of its own clichés and how to send them up with skill. Music by Arthur B. Rubinstein.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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John Badham  (1939 - )

British-born, American-raised director of mostly medium-sized hits. He progressed from television in the 1970s to direct The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, but his second film was the blockbuster Saturday Night Fever. After that came a remake of Dracula, Blue Thunder, classic Cold War sci-fi WarGames, Short Circuit, Stakeout, the underrated The Hard Way, Nick of Time and Drop Zone, amongst others. He moved back into TV in the 2000s.

 
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