Annette O’Toole

48 Hrs. (1982, Walter Hill)

About seventy minutes into 48 Hrs., Nick Nolte apologizes to Eddie Murphy for the racial slurs he’s been calling him since Murphy showed up in the movie. Nolte’s just doing his job, he explains, “keeping him down,” which is an unintentionally honest moment about cops and Black men. Murphy nods to it, but says, “that doesn’t explain all of it,” and Nolte sadly agrees. He’s just a racist White cop. There’s only so much he can do.

At this point in the film, Nolte and Murphy are buddies. 48 Hrs. is an eighties buddy cop movie after all. Even if the first act is a bad but mildly amusing riff on a Dirty Harry movie, introducing hard-living rogue copper Nolte, who just happens to have a sophisticated girlfriend, Annette O’Toole. O’Toole’s pointless in the film, which ends up being fine because the movie’s literally got nothing for her. She gets maybe one good line—which isn’t bad for the supporting cast; outside Nolte and Murphy, not many good lines in the film… you’d think with four screenwriters on it and at least three of them desperate to be iconic, there’d be some good lines thrown around.

Not really. In fact, when O’Toole gets hers’, it’s a surprise because it’s on the end of a bad conversation. The writing on O’Toole and Nolte is awful. Somehow they’re likable together, but not because of anything in the dialogue. Or maybe the scene where much shorter than Nolte O’Toole follows him down the hallway and it’s cute is an accident. 48 Hrs. is not successfully directed, so it’s hard to give Hill much credit other than keeping the trains running on time. Even if it does start really dragging at the end of the first hour, after Nolte and Murphy have just had a fistfight to kill time, followed by the threat of another fistfight.

So the movie opens with Sonny Landham breaking James Remar out of prison. He’s on a chain gang. Hill gets to pretend it’s Cool Hand Luke for a shot or two and the James Horner music is really, really good, but then things start to fall apart once Remar escapes and leaves a guard behind to call it in. The calling it in is a bunch of expository nonsense; 48 Hrs. frequently reminds of plot points in the first hour. It’s like the screenwriters were leaving notes for each other where to pick up. Not a smooth script. Not good dialogue script, not a smoothly paced script. Thank goodness for Eddie Murphy and Horner and cinematographer Ric Waite.

Nolte tags along on a routine call with Jonathan Banks, who’s great and sets a way too high standard for the cop acting in the movie, only they’re not prepared for Remar and Landham and Remar ends up with Nolte’s gun. So Nolte has to go get Eddie Murphy out of jail—Murphy and Remar used to do jobs together—so Murphy can help Nolte find Remar. That sequence of the film, outside Murphy’s introduction, isn’t good. It’s way too perfunctory and doesn’t do anything to transition affable tough jerk Nolte from the opening to the cruel racist who’s going to be berating Murphy for the next thirty or so minutes. If the film had just stuck to its convictions and had Nolte be as vocally racist as he appeared… it’d be taking a position on something. But those are questions for non-buddy cop movies so you get the laughs you can. The first turn for Nolte comes during Murphy’s big set piece in a redneck bar. It makes it seem like 48 Hrs. has its set pieces down… but then the fistfight in the streets because the guys are tired is a few scenes later and it’s clear the movie’s got no idea.

The second act ends with a bad chase sequence in a subway station, but at least Hill’s got to try because there’s so much going on, followed by a song montage with Murphy dancing with a girl and Nolte driving through San Francisco to meet him to kick off the third act, which quickly leads to a stole bus sequence, then there’s the big Chinatown finale. So much action. And all of it middling or worse.

During the Chinatown chase sequence, it’s obviously not the three editors’ fault—though earlier some things are definitely their faults—it’s Hill not knowing how to direct the sequence.

Hill’s… a peculiar director for the film. He’s humorless, he’s got terrible instincts with performances: Nolte’s never good, just more mediocre at times than bad, Remar’s disappointing, David Patrick Kelly’s annoying, Brion James’s annoying–Frank McRae’s yelling police captain is worth walking out of the movie on—other than Murphy… nobody’s actually good. McRae and James aren’t in the movie very much and shouldn’t able to mess it up, but they do. Banks and O’Toole get off easy with “too small” roles.

The James Horner score keeps it interesting for the first forty or so minutes, until the way the movie positions Murphy and Nolte gets a little more tolerable, Ric Waite’s photography is good enough in the first act you wonder what happened later on. There are a lot of obvious insert shots in 48 Hrs.—McRae doesn’t even appear to be in the same room with the other actors in his big scene—and they never match. Technically, 48 Hrs. asks for a lot of indulgence. The music’s not good enough to cover it all.

I mean, the San Francisco scenery does do quite a bit of the lifting. I’m not sure the movie could get away being so thin anywhere else.

It’s ostensibly a Nolte vehicle, which starts as a fine one, turns into a terrible one, but then turns into an adequate one for Murphy. Not all of Murphy’s scenes are good. Maybe a quarter of them fail. But the successful ones are big hits.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Walter Hill; written by Roger Spottiswoode, Hill, Larry Gross, and Steven E. de Souza; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Freeman A. Davies, Mark Warner, and Billy Weber; music by James Horner; production designer, John Vallone; costume designer, Marilyn Vance; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Nick Nolte (Jack Cates), Eddie Murphy (Reggie Hammond), James Remar (Ganz), Sonny Landham (Billy Bear), Annette O’Toole (Elaine), Olivia Brown (Candy), David Patrick Kelly (Luther), Brion James (Kehoe), Jonathan Banks (Algren), James Keane (Vanzant), and Frank McRae (Haden).


Cross My Heart (1987, Armyan Bernstein)

Cross My Heart has a significant problem right off. Its gimmick work against the film. The opening scenes establish Annette O’Toole and Martin Short’s leads as they prepare for a date. Each has the help of a second (for exposition’s sake, though it doesn’t make the exposition particularly natural); both actors are appealing, both characters are appealing. The opening scenes set up the viewer knowing the truth about each character, which they plan on hiding from the other.

Hence the title.

Then the date starts. And O’Toole’s really good. She’s often doing these delicate movements while Short’s stuck in a lame romantic comedy. The more she does them, the worse Short gets. The middle of the film is mostly real time on their date and, while his character is believable, Short’s no longer likable. And the film’s gimmick of preparing the viewer in advance backfires. It makes O’Toole the protagonist, which the film isn’t set up to do.

Oddly enough, even though the script’s used up all of its goodwill by three-quarters through, once the actors get to play the characters straight–particularly Short (like I said, O’Toole’s always good)–everything starts working out. The chemistry between the stars is so good, it’s too bad director Bernstein and co-writer Gail Parent wasted so much time on the insincerity (and using it for joke fodder).

Real nice support from Paul Reiser in a small role and nice photography from Thomas Del Ruth.

It’s fine, but the actors deserve more.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Armyan Bernstein; written by Bernstein and Gail Parent; director of photography, Thomas Del Ruth; edited by Mia Goldman; music by Bruce Broughton; production designer, Lawrence G. Paull; produced by Lawrence Kasdan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Martin Short (David), Annette O’Toole (Kathy), Paul Reiser (Bruce), Joanna Kerns (Nancy), Jessica Puscas (Jessica), Corinne Bohrer (Susan) and Lee Arenberg (Parking Attendant).


Cat People (1982, Paul Schrader)

Cat People is so brilliantly made, often so well-acted, it's surprisingly those elements can't make up for its narrative issues. Screenwriter Alan Ormsby has a big problem–he's got to turn his protagonist from a victim to a villain to a victim. Sadly, he and director Schrader choose to employ the lamest technique possible towards the end of the second act… a revelatory, expository (if nicely stylized) dream sequence. With the Giorgio Moroder score, it seems like a really cool looking music video.

Shame it derails the narrative and People never fully recovers. Some of the final scenes' dialogue is really lame.

But there's so much good, starting with Schrader. He has a few directorial approaches he uses repeatedly throughout the film. First is the way he shoots eyes–his actors appear to stare into the camera (or just to the right of it). It makes the viewer feel like a voyeur. Schrader repeats that theme throughout the film. He's showing these personal moments, which requires excellent acting from his cast. Even Malcolm McDowell, who's playing an extraordinary creep, gets these little moments.

In the lead, Nastassja Kinski is mostly excellent. Once the film loses its rhythm, she's in trouble, but she still remains sympathetic. John Heard's good as her paramour. Annette O'Toole's excellent as the other woman. Ruby Dee and Ed Begley Jr. are great in small parts.

Cat People succeeds because of Schrader's attention to detail. Despite the story problems, a lot of the film is flawless.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Schrader; screenplay by Alan Ormsby, based on a story by DeWitt Bodeen; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Jacqueline Cambas, Jere Huggins and Ned Humphreys; music by Giorgio Moroder; produced by Charles W. Fries; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Nastassja Kinski (Irena Gallier), Malcolm McDowell (Paul Gallier), John Heard (Oliver Yates), Annette O’Toole (Alice Perrin), Ruby Dee (Female), Ed Begley Jr. (Joe Creigh) and Scott Paulin (Bill Searle).


Smile (1975, Michael Ritchie)

Smile is the story of the week of a regional beauty pageant in a northern California town. It’s not exactly the story of the pageant, though it does look at some of the contestants, but it also looks at how the event affects the locals.

Bruce Dern gets top billing and he does tie most of the story threads together. He’s a car salesman and the lead pageant judge. His son (Eric Shea) gets in trouble related to the pageant contestants, his best friend (Nicholas Pryor) is married to the pageant organizer (Barbara Feldon). Through Feldon, there’s a lot more with the pageant itself, but no real direct ties. The film’s two salient character relationships are between Dern and Pryor and how they experience their lives and then between Joan Prather (the film’s closest thing to a protagonist) and Annette O’Toole as two contestants who are rooming together for the week.

While director Ritchie is fantastic and Richard A. Harris’s editing is amazing, Jerry Belson’s script is the thing to Smile. He’s got a lot of great jokes, these sad, little realistic jokes. There are a couple moments–usually with the direction and editing helping a lot–of uproarious humor. But Smile is usually very real and very depressing.

Excellent performances from the entire cast, particularly Dern, Pryor, Prather and O’Toole. Feldon’s good too, as is Michael Kidd as the down-on-his-luck Hollywood choreographer.

Smile is wonderful; Belson and Ritchie create a magnificent clash of hope and reality.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Michael Ritchie; written by Jerry Belson; director of photography, Conrad L. Hall; edited by Richard A. Harris; released by United Artists.

Starring Bruce Dern (Big Bob Freelander), Barbara Feldon (Brenda DiCarlo), Joan Prather (Robin Hudson), Annette O’Toole (Doria), Nicholas Pryor (Andy DiCarlo), Michael Kidd (Tommy French), Geoffrey Lewis (Wilson Shears), Titos Vandis (Emile), Dennis Dugan (Logan), Melanie Griffith (Karen), Maria O’Brien (Maria), Colleen Camp (Connie), Paul Benedict (Orren Brooks), William Traylor (Ray Brandy), Dick McGarvin (Ted Farley), Eric Shea (Little Bob), Adam Reed (Freddy), Brad Thompson (Chuck), Denise Nickerson (Shirley), Caroline Williams (Helga), Kate Sarchet (Judy) and George Skaff (Dr. Malvert).


The Best Legs in Eighth Grade (1984, Tom Patchett)

The Best Legs in Eighth Grade aired on HBO. Apparently, their original programming has gotten a lot better since the eighties.

It’s difficult to describe Legs. Bruce Feirstein’s script seems to be meant for stage–the biggest surprise isn’t just he’s had a career since, it’s discovering he was an in-demand writer at the time–director Patchett might be suited for a sitcom (but nothing as emotive as a soap) and there are only two (cheap) sets.

Annette O’Toole is responsible for every good moment in Legs, except for one Jim Belushi contributes.

O’Toole has some problems with Patchett’s direction, but she overcomes it. She’s outstanding. Sadly, she’s opposite Tim Matheson, whose performance is indescribably bad. Some of it’s the script, but a lot of it’s Matheson. Kathryn Harrold is tepid as the object of Matheson’s lust. Vincent Bufano, in a tiny part, is strong.

Besides O’Toole, Legs stinks.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Tom Patchett; written by Bruce Feirstein; edited by Ken Denisoff; music by Lee Holdridge; produced by Kenneth Kaufman; released by Home Box Office.

Starring Tim Matheson (Mark Fisher), Annette O’Toole (Rachel Blackstone), Kathryn Harrold (Leslie Gibson), Vincent Bufano (T.C.) and James Belushi (St. Valentine).


Superman III (1983, Richard Lester)

Superman III–deservedly–gets a lot of flak, but it’s actually the most faithful to the comics in a lot of ways. It plays out like a late sixties, early seventies Superman comic–“The Man Who Killed Superman,” turning out to be a bumbling, generally well-meaning guy like Richard Pryor, or “Superman Versus the Ultimate Computer.”

Superman III is also Superman versus the neo-cons (one has to wonder if, while the computer hijinks influenced Office Space, the oil plotting influenced Dick Cheney). The film’s villains are constantly weak, with Robert Vaughn (whose character has some great lines) and Annie Ross turning in dreadful performances.

But it didn’t have to be bad, which is what’s so upsetting about it. The stuff in Smallville with Clark Kent meeting up with his high school crush is often fantastic–it lets Christopher Reeve add a facet to the performance and Annette O’Toole’s great as the love interest. Even better is when she gets to Metropolis–it’s only one scene (she wasn’t back in IV) but the dynamic with her and Margot Kidder seems like it would have been outstanding.

Poor Marc McClure gets a lot of screen time at the beginning… then disappears. But the same goes for Reeve. Once Superman turns into evil Superman, he’s in the movie even less.

Pryor’s good. His dialogue’s weak, but his performance isn’t.

Lester’s direction is mostly good, though the slapstick fails–cinematographer Robert Paynter is a disaster.

But then, disaster is Superman III‘s keyword.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Lester; screenplay by David Newman and Leslie Newman, based on characters created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; director of photography, Robert Paynter; edited by John Victor-Smith; music by Ken Thorne; production designer, Peter Murton; produced by Pierre Spengler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Christopher Reeve (Superman / Clark Kent), Richard Pryor (Gus Gorman), Jackie Cooper (Perry White), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Annette O’Toole (Lana Lang), Annie Ross (Vera), Pamela Stephenson (Lorelei), Robert Vaughn (Ross Webster), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Gavan O’Herlihy (Brad) and Nancy Roberts (Unemployment Clerk).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Superman.
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