Saturday, May 30, 2015
Recent Watches: The Hard Way (1991)
His movies are mostly forgotten. Kids don’t even know what “Family Ties” is these days. One such forgotten movie is “The Hard Way,” a buddy cop flick Fox co-headlined with James Wood. When I first saw the movie as a really young kid, I thought it was actually a very edgy, violent role for Fox. Because kids don’t understand irony. “The Hard Way” is actually something of a parody of buddy cop flicks, an intentionally outrageous stab at the genre.
Nick Lang is a Hollywood superstar, the face of the hugely successful “Smoking Gunn” franchise, movies suspiciously similar to the Indiana Jones series. Lang, however, is not satisfied with the wildly popular popcorn movies he’s doing and wants a serious role, like in a cop movie. Meanwhile, ultra-hardboiled detective John Moss is on the trail of demented serial killer the Party Crasher. After catching an especially abrasive interview with Moss, Lang is inspired. He works out a deal with the police captain that puts him on an extended ride-along with Moss, as research for the role. Moss is really not happy about that, afraid that Lang’s actorly bullshit will interrupt his search for the killer.
“The Hard Way” was directed by John Badham. The guy behind “Saturday Night Fever,” the Frank Langella version of “Dracula” and, uh, “Short Circuit,” has a pretty distinctive style. Badham tends to exaggerate stuff in pursuit of a particular aesthetic. “The Hard Way,” from its opening minutes, clearly takes place in a very ridiculous world. A silly, robotic billboard stands above Time's Square. The Party Crasher – just the fact that movie calls the serial killer that attacks parties the Party Crasher is a sign of its goofiness – shoots up a very silly party. What follows is a highly exaggerated car chase and concludes with someone thrown into a giant cigarette. One sequence takes place in a part of Manhattan that appears post-apocalyptic and features a ridiculous all-Asian gang. One scene has the two leads driving in bright white pimp-mobile. Even the hot dog stand is ridiculous. The point is: “The Hard Way” is a very silly movie.
And James Woods is right on that wave length. Woods is an actor of great hammy abilities and, when allowed to run rampant, can be wildly entertaining. From the beginning, Woods is swearing, cussing, throwing things, and generally being the biggest, most abrasive asshole in the world. It’s glorious to watch. Woods takes the hard boiled detective thing as far as possible, making a cartoonish cop. What’s also great is the movie is willing to play this ridiculous character in the opposite direction. See, Moss has a love interest, a girlfriend he’s trying to keep interested, with a kid that doesn’t like him. So we get to see Woods be an exaggerated super-cop, at full Woods, as well as underplay it as a nice, normal-seeming guy. Sometimes in the same scene! The best of both words! I still don’t know if “The Hard Way” is a good movie but it is a great James Woods movie.
One part of “The Hard Way” that made an impression on me was Stephen Lang as the Party Crasher. Lang is as unhinged as the villain as Woods is as the hero. His apartment is full of board games. He records the TV interviews with the detective, playing them back on a loop. He edits his face into a video game where he runs through a maze, shooting cop. He sings silly songs to himself while stealing a car. Lang mugs, grimaces, and grins maniacally. It’s a totally out-of-control performance, of Nic Cage-ian levels, and a blast to watch.
“The Hard Way” was a mediocre money maker when released and absolutely no one talks about it anymore. That’s not entirely fair. Yeah, as a movie, it doesn’t stick in the memory very long. But if you want to see James Woods and Stephen Lang completely tear it up, and a pretty fun Michael J. Fox performance too, I would say definitely check it out. [7/10]