Henry Silva

Alligator (1980, Lewis Teague)

Alligator has quite a few things going for it. Lead Robert Forster is great, Robin Riker’s solid as his love interest and sidekick, John Sayles’s script has some excellent moments in it (some of them just being the attention he pays to Forster and Riker’s relationship), the giant alligator effects are solid, Larry Bock and Ron Medico’s editing is outstanding. Unfortunately, director Teague is a bit of a liability. He doesn’t direct actors well, he doesn’t set up shots well, he doesn’t understand scale when it comes to the giant alligator. The film is also shooting Los Angeles for Chicago, which comes off as pointless since there’s nothing Chicago about the film except the casting. They don’t even have second unit shots of Chicago. They shoot second unit against the mountains. Teague’s lack of ability and imagination with the budget hurt immensely.

Other problems–let’s just get them out of the way now–include the score and the plotting. Craig Huxley’s score rip-offs the Jaws theme way too obviously, but then the rest of the music is bad too so it’s not like it should be a surprise. Joseph Mangine’s photography is generally competent–especially given the amount of sewer shots–but lacks personality. Even though Forster and Riker have personality, Alligator doesn’t.

There’s some nice supporting work from Henry Silva as the absurd great white hunter. He comes off the best besides the leads. Dean Jagger is pretty lame as the evil industrialist who unintentionally creates the giant alligator because he’s an evil industrialist. I’m assuming Jagger’s part was supposed to be humorous, but Teague doesn’t have an ear for comedy. At all.

Michael V. Gazzo should be better as Forster’s boss. The only thing Teague does reliably is direct Gazzo’s scenes worse than anything else in the film. Perry Lang’s okay as a young beat cop, Bart Braverman’s okay as the noisy reporter. If the film just had more perfectly okay performances… well, it would still have all the problems Teague brings to it.

It’s hard to dislike Alligator, but only because of Forster, Riker and the film’s somewhat reluctant concentration on their relationship. Oh, and Silva. Silva’s really amusing. And you want to like Gazzo’s performance. It’s just not well-directed enough to get over the budget issues and it’s not well-written enough to get over the directing issues and it’s not well-produced enough to get over any of it. It’s all right. For a giant alligator movie set in Chicago but filmed in Los Angeles without enough good supporting performances, tepid direction and a too wonky script, Alligator is all right.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Teague; screenplay by John Sayles, based on a story by Sayles and Frank Ray Perilli; director of photography, Joseph Mangine; edited by Larry Bock and Ron Medico; music by Craig Huxley; produced by Brandon Chase and Mark L. Rosen; released by Group 1 International Distribution Organization Ltd.

Starring Robert Forster (David Madison), Robin Riker (Dr. Marisa Kendall), Michael V. Gazzo (Chief Clark), Dean Jagger (Slade), Jack Carter (Mayor), Sydney Lassick (Gutchel), James Ingersoll (Helms), Bart Braverman (Kemp), Perry Lang (Kelly) and Henry Silva (Brock).


Above the Law (1988, Andrew Davis)

Above the Law is just about as slick as a film can be. It’s all thanks to director Davis. Even though Davis and star Steven Seagal co-produced, Davis has to overcome Seagal’s acting inability. So all credit to Davis. It isn’t just about maximizing the action, but about getting the plot to provide some interest, so it doesn’t all feel like a commercial for Steven Seagal.

But it is a commercial; Above the Law is an amazing star vehicle. Everything is weighed to make the viewer more and more sympathetic to Seagal’s character. Oh, look, his suffering wife (Sharon Stone in a terribly directed performance) doesn’t want Seagal to battle the CIA task force blowing up Chicago to get Seagal. Oddly enough, the film was released overseas as Nico (Seagal’s character), which suggests some understanding of the egomania on display. But on beautiful display, because even though Davis significantly fumbles almost every action sequence, he’s got these great Chicago locations and he has a great sense of how to use them (which does lead to a rather good foot chase sequence), and he’s got photographer Robert Steadman, who is fabulous.

Unfortunately, editor Michael Brown is awful. He misses visual beats. It doesn’t matter, of course, because Above the Law isn’t actually an action movie, not in a traditional sense. It’s a prototypical mid-to-low budget major studio action movie. Something to not embarrass itself in the theater and do surprisingly well on video.

A slick commercial. Not so much visually slick, but almost pathologically manipulative in making a Seagal a serious movie star. Not an actor; Above the Law never asks Seagal to act. Davis does try to make him likable and is even able to get slight success with Pam Grier (though Davis fumbles directing their scenes; Brown being no help), but it’s not much. It’s never a good performance.

And I don’t even want to look at the Frank Silva villain, which leads to Seagal figuratively throwing away the previous standard–the more exploitative, lower budgeted action movie.

Inoffensive, likable performances from Grier and Ron Dean help a lot. Though Davis is clearly indifferent to his actors’ performances; no one gets any favors. So, either Davis or the editor. Can’t give anyone too much time, otherwise it might not look like Seagal’s a big time movie star.

In the end, Davis is due a lot of respect for this film. He’d be due infinitely more if Above the Law were actually any good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Davis; screenplay by Steven Pressfield, Ronald Shusett and Davis, based on a story by Davis and Steven Seagal; director of photography, Robert Steadman; edited by Michael Brown; music by David Michael Frank; production designer, Maher Ahmad; produced by Davis and Seagal; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Steven Seagal (Nico), Pam Grier (Jacks), Henry Silva (Zagon), Ron Dean (Lukich), Sharon Stone (Sara), Daniel Faraldo (Salvano), Miguel Nino (Chi Chi), Nicholas Kusenko (Neeley), Joe Greco (Father Gennaro), Chelcie Ross (Fox), Gregory Alan Williams (FBI Agent Halloran) and Jack Wallace (Uncle Branca).


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