Tim Matheson

Magnum Force (1973, Ted Post)

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.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

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).


Fletch (1985, Michael Ritchie)

While Fletch has its technical high lights and Andrew Bergman’s script is strong both in dialogue and structure (though the Chevy-sized plot holes are a tad rampant), the film hinges on star Chevy Chase (not a car) being arrogant, likable, sincere and funny all at once. And Chase manages it. His dry, self-aware narrative even carries the film over those jumbo plot holes.

Another major factor is the supporting cast. For the most part, Fletch has an extraordinary supporting cast, whether it’s someone with five lines (Ralph Seymour) or someone with more (Richard Libertini). Every single performance in the film is excellent with three exceptions. Joe Don Baker and Tim Matheson are both off. Baker’s too obvious and Matheson doesn’t bring any complexity. Oh, I said three. Yeah, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson isn’t excellent, she’s extraordinary. She isn’t actually in the film for many scenes, but she’s a perfect foil for Chase. Fletch wouldn’t work without her either.

As for those technical highlights… director Ritchie immediately grounds Fletch in reality–as Chase investigates drug trafficking–and it lets him layer on the absurdities later. Even when a scene fails, like a lengthy car chase, it’s still technically competent. Fred Schuler’s photography is good, Richard A. Harris’s editing is better. The Harold Faltermeyer score, while distinctive, has its ups and downs.

Fletch has too much bite to be genial; think amiable but still comfortingly cynical. Great small turns from George Wyner and, especially, Geena Davis. Fletch is a fine time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Ritchie; screenplay by Andrew Bergman, based on the novel by Gregory McDonald; director of photography, Fred Schuler; edited by Richard A. Harris; music by Harold Faltermeyer; production designer, Boris Leven; produced by Alan Greisman and Peter Douglas; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Chevy Chase (Fletch), Joe Don Baker (Chief Jerry Karlin), Dana Wheeler-Nicholson (Gail Stanwyk), Richard Libertini (Frank Walker), Tim Matheson (Alan Stanwyk), M. Emmet Walsh (Dr. Dolan), George Wendt (Fat Sam), Kenneth Mars (Stanton Boyd), Geena Davis (Larry), Bill Henderson (Speaker), William Traylor (Mr. Underhill), George Wyner (Gillet), Tony Longo (Detective #1), Larry Flash Jenkins (Gummy), Ralph Seymour (Creasy), James Avery (Detective #2), Reid Cruickshanks (Sergeant), Bruce French (the pathologist), Burton Gilliam (Bud), David W. Harper (Teenager), Chick Hearn (Himself), Alison La Placa (Pan Am Clerk), Joe Praml (Watchman), William Sanderson (Swarthout), Penny Santon (Velma Stanwyk), Robert Sorrells (Marvin Stanwyk) and Beau Starr (Willy); special appearance by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


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).


Blind Fury (1989, Phillip Noyce)

I’ve been meaning to see Blind Fury again for twenty-one years or so. For a while, I assumed it would be pretty good (not entirely trusting my opinion at age ten) because Phillip Noyce directed it. Unfortunately, Noyce directs it with all the enthusiasm of a cologne commercial. It’s not like there’s much he could have done with the script though.

The titles crediting Charles Robert Carner as a writer are rather misleading. Blind Fury‘s script seems more like a collection of regurgitated scenes from a very special “A-Team,” or something similarly inane.

Don Burgess’s photography is particularly lifeless. No self-respecting cologne commercial would use him. And J. Peter Robinson’s peppy score–Rutger Hauer’s blind swordsman has an upbeat outlook–is constantly annoying.

There’s some decent acting from Hauer though. Occasionally. His accent is sort of solid. He never exactly betrays it, but there’s definitely something not American about him. He just might be too familiar as European. David A. Simmons’s editing did have me wondering when the stunt men took over for him, so there’s another compliment.

Meg Foster is really good, but they kill her off in her only scene. It’s kind of hilarious how poorly Carner constructs Blind Fury‘s plot. Almost all the engaging action scenes happen in the first forty minutes (including five minutes of titles).

Terry O’Quinn’s solid. It’d have been more interesting with him as a lead.

Brandon Call, as the kid Hauer protects, is really awful.

He fits right in.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; screenplay by Charles Robert Carner, based on a story by Carner and a screenplay by Kasahara Ryôzô; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by David A. Simmons; music by J. Peter Robinson; production designer, Peter Murton; produced by Daniel Grodnik and Tim Matheson; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Rutger Hauer (Nick Parker), Terry O’Quinn (Frank Devereaux), Brandon Call (Billy Devereaux), Noble Willingham (MacCready), Lisa Blount (Annie Winchester), Nick Cassavetes (Lyle Pike), Rick Overton (Tector Pike), Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb (Slag), Charles Cooper (Cobb), Meg Foster (Lynn Devereaux) and Shô Kosugi (The Assassin).


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