With forty minutes left in its way too long 124 minute runtime, Magnum Force starts getting real tiresome. The film’s already gone through multiple set pieces, with the Clint Eastwood ones pointless to the narrative but apparently what screenwriters Michael Cimino and John Milius think is character development, while the ones related to the a plot—a cop assassinating San Francisco’s top criminals—somehow even less interesting. After an okay first one, director Post runs out of composition ideas but still pads out the hits.
In the meantime there are the women throwing themselves at Eastwood, which is sort of amusing because he gets to mug charm a bit and Christine White showing sexual agency in a housewife in 1973 is kind of unintentionally progressive (ditto Eastwood’s “gay rights” moment, so long as they shoot well, less the film’s sexualizing women of color, Adele Yoshioka and Margaret Avery, in its “see, they can be objectified too” approach), and then the red herring suspect for the killer cop. All the red herring stuff does is make Eastwood look dumb because it’s obviously not the red herring.
Oh, and then there’s Hal Holbrook. So much Hal Holbrook. Holbrook’s Eastwood’s boss and a flag pin wearing straight edge dweeb who berates Eastwood in front of everyone and cracks jokes about him being a killer then flinches whenever Eastwood looks his way. Far more macho are the motorcycle cops, who end up being the de facto suspects because… well, Milius and Cimino aren’t really very adept at mystery plotting. Especially once the movie starts sharing all the information with the viewer and it’s just Eastwood paying catchup. The motorcycle cops are rookies David Soul, Tim Matheson, Kip Niven, and Robert Urich, and then Eastwood’s old buddy and weathered, drunken veteran Mitchell Ryan. Ryan’s also married to White; it’s obvious why she’s snuggling up to Clint versus Mitch Ryan.
Eastwood’s partner this time is Felton Perry, who’s around to be a positive Black character (i.e. only gets called the n-word by White criminals). Perry’s really likable and pretty good–Magnum Force does not have much in the way of good performances, so Perry’s a bit of a godsend. You at least aren’t sorry when he’s around, which can’t be said for, you know, Holbrook, Matheson, Ryan, or Soul. Soul’s probably the best of the bunch, performance-wise, but it’s such a thin character–with the primetime supporting cast and Post’s pedestrian direction (the car chases are dismal), Magnum Force often feels like the action for a bad TV cop show with some scenes from a poorly written Clint Eastwood vehicle thrown in. But never enough of the Eastwood vehicle; he doesn’t get an arc, unless you count hooking up with Yoshioka—and whatever Post thought lingering on what appears to be Eastwood’s character’s wedding photo (the last movie established he’s a widower) just before he gets slamming with Yoshioka… well, it doesn’t work. Even if it’s supposed to be weird. It’s not lingering enough to be weird. Because weird would be some personality and Magnum Force has zip to offer in that department. Even Lalo Schifrin’s scant score disappoints. And when he uses the original movie’s themes… it just reminds this one is such a downgrade.
Frank Stanley’s photography isn’t bad. The three times Post wants him to do things with focus, Stanley can do them. The rest of the time, it’s all well-lighted, just rather boring Panavision. You’d think the poor composition would be better than Post’s terrible direction of actors—who, to be fair, get lousy dialogue from Cimino and Milius—but the third act convinces, no, actually Post’s bad composition is a bigger problem.
Somehow a shootout on an aircraft carrier is boring. Bravo Ted Post. The bad guy frequently shoots six rounds at nothing, reloads, shoots six more rounds at nothing. It takes until the finish, but I guess being bewilderingly in its badness is better than being mundane in it.
The only other thing of note is a scene where Albert Popwell—returning from Dirty Harry but presumably not playing the same punk who didn’t feel lucky—brutally murders a woman. The movie just pauses and says, “Welp, we need some brutal violence against women in this movie, so let’s make it as garish as possible.”
Doesn’t help Popwell’s victim is one of the film’s only likable characters.
As for Eastwood… it’s not a good vehicle. While his material’s not good, it’s also not atrocious; it’s just he has to play stupid without ever actually acknowledging he’s playing stupid because he’s Clint Eastwood, which only makes it more obvious when he’s not smart enough on the pickup. But he’s kind of barely in it? Eastwood’s love life subplot is about as big his non-main plot cop stuff.
The script’s also got some spoofy laughs in it, like it’s a satire of the original Dirty Harry. But it can’t be because Post’s not good enough for it.
It’s an exhausting, unrewarding two hours and four minutes.
Directed by Ted Post; screenplay by John Milius and Michael Cimino, based on a story by Milius and characters created by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink; director of photography, Frank Stanley; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Lalo Schifrin; produced by Robert Daley; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Clint Eastwood (Harry Callahan), Felton Perry (Early Smith), and Hal Holbrook (Lt. Briggs), Mitchell Ryan (Charlie McCoy), Christine White (Carol McCoy), David Soul (Davis), Tim Matheson (Sweet), Kip Niven (Astrachan), Robert Urich (Grimes), Richard Devon (Ricca), Tony Giorgio (Palancio), and Adele Yoshioka (Sunny).