Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Video: Hickey & Boggs (1972)

This downbeat crime drama starring Bill Cosby and Robert Culp was named the “revelation” of a series of films screened in Berkeley that feature Los Angeles playing itself. I can only hope they found a better print than the one that recently surfaced on video. It looked like it was taped off late-night TV, with all of the ads for debt consolidation services edited out. I don’t know when my DVD player will forgive me. I don’t even know if it should.

It says something about the movie that I stayed with it in spite of the picture quality. Cosby and Culp play characters far removed from the jovial world of I SPY. They’re ex-LAPD cops struggling to keep their PI business afloat; in their first scene, Cosby says they only have enough money on hand to pay the phone company or the answering service but not both. Deliverance comes in the form of a missing persons case that, as such cases always do, turns ugly and complicated. So does the storytelling. The script by Walter Hill attempts to create mystery by throwing us into the middle of events, but more often than not generates confusion. A choppy editing style only makes matters worse.

Still, the film holds your attention. Culp, directing his first and only feature, makes great use of seedy L.A. locations. He also fills out the cast with terrific actors just beginning long careers (Vincent Gardenia, Michael Moriarty, and a very young James Woods) and underplays nicely himself. It may be strange to see Cos wielding a Dirty Harry pistol, but he carries it off. The elastic face that has moved an ungodly amount of gelatin (it’s made from hooves, you know) can also convey many levels of disdain. The film plays like a companion piece to Robert Altman’s 1973 adaptation of THE LONG GOODBYE in more ways than one, sharing its scornful attitude toward the notion of a white knight traversing mean streets alone. As Cosby says more than once, “the job isn’t about anything any more.”

The script was an early effort from Walter Hill, one of the masters of tough-guy cinema best known for THE WARRIORS and 48 HOURS. He’s directed his share of dogs like LAST MAN STANDING, a half-assed gangster remake of YOJIMBO. But he’s also responsible for plenty of underrated films like the noir thriller JOHNNY HANDSOME and 2002’s guilty pleasure UNDISPUTED. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for his “rock and roll fable” STREETS OF FIRE (aaah, Diane Lane). Currently he’s working on HBO’s western DEADWOOD, which is only fitting; his WILD BILL is one of the better takes on the Hickok legend.

TV: The Tony Awards

Hugh Jackman hosts a three-hour telecast that gives him two (2) production numbers, one featuring several ad libs. And I don’t get one VAN HELSING joke? Color me disappointed. Two of his X-MEN costars turned up as presenters. Why not go all out? I’m sure Halle Berry has some tenuous connection to the theater. And I know for a fact that James Marsden wasn’t busy. Jackman did deserve his award, though. I saw him in THE BOY FROM OZ and he was nothing short of astounding. The show’s a lox, but he’s great.

Hearing LL Cool J and Carol Channing rap together gave me a sense of the old ‘60s term ‘happening.’ As in, “Sweet Jesus, I can’t believe this is happening.” Jackman then had to follow up with a joke about Carol getting arrested for a drive-by. That Bruce Vilanch. What a caution.

Miscellaneous: Links

One of my summer movie questions is answered: Michael Moore did not consult with Ray Bradbury before appropriating the title FAHRENHEIT 451. And according to newly opened Politburo files, Josef Stalin had a considerable Sam Goldwyn streak in him. More proof that everybody really wants to be in show biz.