Friday, 6 May 2011

Loose Cannons (1989)

A dark meditation on such late-Eighties hot-button topics as post-traumatic stress disorder, the revival of fascism and the seedy underbelly of the LA porn network that one would normally expect to find within the covers of a particularly harrowing James Ellroy novel...

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Loose Cannons (1989, Bob Clark)

Dan Aykroyd, Gene Hackman, Dom DeLuise, Ronny Cox, Nancy Travis, Leon Rippy, Kurt Ludigsen, Danny Aiello III.

Box Notables:
Extreme sun damage.

Tagline: ‘A comedy with personality… Lots of them.’

Trailers: War Dancing, The Flash, House Party, Heart Condition, I love You To Death, My Stepmother Is An Alien

“Every night, humpitty-hump, sloshitty slosh – I feel like I’m living in a goddam pussycat theatre!”

Loose Cannons
provides the final, incontrovertible evidence that the Eighties video boom had breached the celluloid city walls of Hollywood and was nearing the castle keep in which the chaste maidens of Taste, Logic and Subtlety awaited their ill-starred fate with the resignation of those whose deaths have long been foretold. Bob Clark’s 1989 buddy-cop farrago could thus enter the kingdom unchallenged - and all hell followed with it: Colombian torturers, porn kingpins, Aryan swordsmen, malevolent Franciscan monks and Mossad black-ops teams, all circling a home movie featuring Adolf Hitler submitting to ritual execution at the hands of his SS fops in a grainy orgy of gay S&M fetish excess. This bedlamite army comes enveloped in a noxious cloud of pestilential incongruity that serves to make this comedy one of the most unpleasant specimens this august blog has dared place before you.

Enduring the most hellacious spell of his short but bitter mid-career purgatory, all-star grouch Gene Hackman looks highly uncomfortable in the role of hard-bitten, ass-chewing Washington DC vice cop Mac Stern. Cocooned in his burgundy satin Redskins jacket and the world’s tightest stonewashed Wrangler’s, the audience is heartily invited to view Mac as a regular schmo who’s loveably out of step with the passing fads and fashions of the modern world such as computers, forensics and probable cause. What he more closely resembles, however, is an intransigent and suicidal burnout whose none-too-distant obituary will surely close with the words “… before turning the gun on himself”. This becomes just that bit more likely when he is partnered up with big-boned manchild and tremulous super-sleuth Dan Aykroyd, who is quite, quite insane.

Gene's weapon of choice - an old timey sewing machine.
Years earlier, we are informed in unnecessarily gruesome detail, Dan was tortured mercilessly for days on end by some revved-up cocaine cowboys after his cover was blown during an ugly drug buy. It was an ordeal that shredded his mind like a bad cabbage and has left him mentally unable to tolerate any form of violence or brutality. After a long spell in the pacific environs of a Franciscan monastery he eventually feels psychically prepared to rejoin the force and is paired with Hackman to trace the whereabouts of the Nazi bongo. Unfortunately his return to active police duty is premature and a punch-up in a strip club nudges him back over the edge of his precipitous lunacy and into the yawning chasm of what the back of the video box insists is ‘hilarious motormouthed mayhem’. For the rest of the film his fractured brainpan flits around the dial spewing out a staccato volley of easily recognisable advertising soundbites, grossly embarrassing sub-Robin Williams schmaltz and such wearisome screw-loose staples as the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, Dirty Harry and the cast of 'Star Trek' (this last consisting entirely of him bellowing “I’m Mr. Spock! I’m Mr. Spock!”).

These schizo episodes are apparently so disarmingly entertaining that they routinely stupefy any potential assailants into a state of slack-jawed impotence and also succeed in re-awaken Hackman’s long dormant inner child. Before you know it, Gene’s quoting Dylan Thomas, sporting lovebeads and saving the world from the dawn of a New Reich by finally tracking down that aforementioned Nazi snuff-movie and handing it over to the Israeli Secret Service.

Chortlesome stuff, no?

The man most directly responsible for the script of this watery lemon would seem to be one Richard Matheson, the man who wrote Duel for Spielberg and author of the fine novel ‘I Am A Legend’, upon which – through no fault of his own - several poor films have been based. And though it is absolutely atrocious at every turn, can one truly blame the man for seeing how far he could push his luck when he realised that the lunatics were most assuredly running the asylum… “How about a dreamlike opening scene in which Dom DeLuise, dressed as the Queen of Hearts, faces off against a German samurai… in the fog… in powerboats… for reasons we’re never going to explain? They’ll never let us get away with that… What? Eh? Oh.”
'You mean you didn't read it either?'
Handed such free rein, it’s no wonder he felt no compunction to complete a script that would in any way conform to what people might expect from an action-comedy, but instead offers a dark meditation on such late-Eighties hot-button topics as post-traumatic stress disorder, the revival of fascism and the seedy underbelly of the LA porn network that one would normally expect to find within the covers of a particularly harrowing James Ellroy novel.

For his part, Aykroyd, as buffs among you will know, had already starred in various arrangements of the basic building blocks that make up Loose Cannons, but by mixing the audience-friendly dementia of The Couch Trip with the distasteful violence and unnecessarily vicious bad guys of Dragnet, he here produces a chef-d’oeuvre as chimerical and unreal as a ten ton butterfly. Hackman was to realise just ninety minutes too late that his talents lay away from comedy and would swiftly muscle himself back onto the A-list with Unforgiven and The Firm. Director Clark went on to helm Fudge-A-Mania, Baby Geniuses and... oh, mercy... The Karate Dog.

Originally published in Little White Lies #17

1 comment:

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