TRUST ME, alphabetically: L lets loose on the lame, listless, ludicrous, loathsome and plain lousy…ten l-pills lurk beneath those leaves…..
THE LADYKILLERS (2004)—–Joel & Ethan, the Coen Brothers, have amassed a remarkable record of whipsmart, visually vivid comedies and dramas since they started in 1984 with Blood Simple. Among the two dozen (as of 2016) are a slew of classics. They don’t always score, though, and I give this 2004 remake of the highly regarded 1955 Alec Guinness black comedy a sour thumbs down. Courtly con man Tom Hanks hornswoggles nice old widow lady Irma P. Hall into letting his ensemble of classical musicians practice in her basement. The quirked-up group are really criminals planning a casino heist. It spends an inordinate amount of frantic energy trying to be funny, and fails badly, quickly. The writer/producer/director duo let their trademark clever dialog trip over itself with self-awareness about how cute it is, and way too much of it is loaded down with a string of 89 f-bombs, jarringly out of place for the mood and setting. Hanks mugs like never before: it’s amusing for about ten minutes and then it starts to grate. The visual look is dark and unappealing. 104 minutes, with Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, Ryan Hurst, Diane Delano, George Wallace and Stephen Root. They plugged $35,000,000 into it and came back with $78,000,000. Painful.
THE LAST CHALLENGE—–another of the quintet of dud westerns that made for crumpled cap on the leading man career of Glenn Ford before he turned to mainly TV work and supporting roles. This 1967 snooze is not as bad as the wretched A Time For Killing or Heaven With A Gun, but nonetheless it’s a tired rework of the chestnut about a gunslinger turned sheriff who wants to retire quietly— and then some quickdraw punk shows up.
Ford ambles through wearily. Angie Dickinson, as a brothel madam, looks like she’s bored (obviously not acting) and Chad Everett goes for intensity as the last challenger. Final film directed by MGM workhorse Richard Thorpe, who had 186 credits dating back to 1923. One good line pops up: “Of all the people I know who ain’t worth saving, you’re the first one to come to my mind.” 105 saddle-sore minutes, with Gary Merrill, Jack Elam, Royal Dano, Kevin Hagen, Robert Sorrells, Frank McGrath and Eddie Little Sky.
#3 THE LAST HARD MEN is not about concluding a casting call on a porno film, but rather about a bunch of ruthless outlaws doing a lot of mean stuff and eventually paying for it. Once again, the words “directed by Andrew V. McLaglen” strike fear into the audience, such as it was for this grossly harsh 1976 junk that ranks as far down on the resumes of Charlton Heston and James Coburn as you could get without just inventing stuff. For shame, men. Barbara Hershey gets sexually abused—yet again—uh? was this like, a ‘thing’ or what? With Jorge Rivero, Michael Parks, Larry Wilcox, Robert Donner, Christopher Mitchum. You could sacrifice 98 minutes, or just hit yourself on the head with a rock—it’s quicker and less painful . Deservedly, it came in 128th for the year.
#4 LAST MAN STANDING—-the resume of director Walter Hill includes classics like Hard Times, The Warriors, Southern Comfort, The Long Riders and 48 Hours. It also hauls slop like Red Heat, Johnny Handsome and Another 48 Hours. This awful 1996 actioner belongs in the second group. A reworking of the Kurosawa saga Yojimbo, with borrowing from A Fistful Of Dollars, it’s 101 pointless minutes of glum ugliness, endless bloody violence and dumb posturing. I can take a lot of dude v. dude gunfire but this left me wanting to visit a shrink. Prohibition times, 1932, somewhere in Texas. Terse drifter Bruce Willis pits the two gangs that run the town (with no ordinary residents) against each other and they kill everyone in sight: the End. Humorless dreck cost $$67,000,000 (Bruce alone caging $16,500,000) and bombed, earning only $18,000,000 in the States, $47,300,000 globally. Willis is so terse he’s almost inert. Reviews were suitably brutal. With Bruce Dern, William Sanderson, Christopher Walken, David Patrick Kelly, Karina Lombard, Michael Imperioli. Reload, Walter.
#5 LAWMAN, dispensing lead from 1971, brought British director Michael Winner across the Atlantic and dropped his in-your-face style into our porridge for 27 years, specializing in unsubtle violence (including seven Charles Bronson films). Great cast: Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Lee J. Cobb, Robert Duvall, Sheree North, J.D. Cannon, Albert Salmi, Joseph Wiseman, Richard Jordan, John McGiver, Ralph Waite, John Beck, Walter Brooke, Robert Emhardt, Charles Tyner, John Hillerman. It’s only their professionalism—and the desire to get paid—that kept their eyes open for this 99 minutes of heaviness and gloom as a merciless marshal cleans up a lawless, worth-free sinkhole.
Credit where due, North and Cannon share the best acting passage in the film. Winner’s loser western is plagued, not just by overall been-there tread but by his insistence on that awful telephoto zoom nonsense that hallmarked the era. Best thing here was the poster art. First of a gritty back-to-back Southwest trio for Burt, followed by Valdez Is Coming and the quite good Ulzana’s Raid. Catch that one instead.
#6 LET’S GET HARRY—–junk 1986 action flick has ‘Harry’ (Mark Harmon) kidnapped by drug dealers in Colombia. His brother collects a motley group to go after him when the US government refuses help (too busy in bed with the cartels?). After assorted dull scrapes with assorted ‘Colombians’ (it was filmed in Vera Cruz, Mexico) the good guys take on the bad guys. After re-editing, director Stuart Rosenberg wanted his name taken off the result and so credit is given to the fictional Alan Smithee. Since Harry’s brother and his home town buddies are just average Joe American’s (complete with firearms), they are lucky to have the help of a mercenary (Robert Duvall) and a big-game hunter who is also a car dealer and a coke-snorter (Gary Busey). Ben Johnson is the Dad, so this is serious stuff going down. Silly 80s rescue-from-foreign-hellhole tripe, running 102 minutes, with Michael Schoeffling, Glenn Frey, Rick Rossovich, Matt Clark, Elpedia Carrillo and Gregory Sierra. Originally meant to be directed by Samuel Fuller, it rescued less than $141,000 from ticket buyers.
#7 LIPSTICK—-as in “on a pig of a movie”. Fashion model Margaux Hemingway, 22 in her film debut, plays a…fashion model …who is brutally raped by her sister’s music teacher (Chris Sarandon in full creep mode). When the case against him is acquitted, Margaux and sis (played by real Hemingway sis Mariel, also in her debut, at 14) move to another state, but then the perp is there and rapes the younger sister, too. Revenge is Margaux’s, sayeth the script of this really unpleasant offering, directed by Lamont Johnson. Written by David Rayfiel, whose output ranged from the swell (Three Days Of The Condor, Absence Of Malice) to the swill (This Property Is Condemned, Castle Keep). Lasting 89 minutes, co-starring Anne Bancroft (why?) and Perry King. Critical scorn battled notoriety and the trash made $8,329,000 in 1976. Mariel went on to some decent work (Manhattan, Personal Best, Star 80), but Margaux bore the backlash brunt of this crud, and the film that was intended to launch her instead helped send her on the road to drug abuse, depression and her eventual suicide at 41.
#8 THE LIVELY SET—–tilt your head back and pour some Tabasco sauce in your nose. That might help keep you awake during this 1964 ‘youth’ fare, which has James Darren as a snippy mechanic working on hot rods and romancing Pamela Tiffin. Add (or subtract) Doug McClure. Focus enough on the Chrysler Turbine Car (thoughtfully provided by…) to have nuts about that stuff tune in. Get Bobby Darin to compose the music, have Jack Arnold direct, feature a song by the Surfaris called “Boss Barracuda”. Somehow it did not hold me. With Joanie Summers, Marilyn Maxwell, Charles Drake, Carole Wells, Greg Morris, Russ Conway, Dick Whittinghill, Wink Martindale (!) and Ken Berry. Forgettable 95-minute racing & loving programmer drew an Oscar nomination for Sound Effects but had its carburetors handed to it by the winning crew of Goldfinger. “Shocking. Positively shocking.”
#9 LOSIN’ IT—–this 1983 dross concerns four young males trying to lose their virginity. It’s set in 1965, and has the lads going south of the border into Tijuana to accomplish their mission (shot on the US side, in Calexico, California, as if that makes any difference to anyone for any reason). It has some historical note as one of the young horndogs is Tom Cruise, 20, in his breakout year, when he also logged The Outsiders, All The Right Moves and Risky Business. Safe to say, this one is not as good as the other three. Directed by Curtis Hanson, it also stars Jackie Earle Haley, Shelley Long, John Stockwell, John P. Navin Jr., Henry Darrow, Rick Rossovich and Joe Spinell. Reviews were unkind and it flopped, earning only $1,246,000 against a cost of $7,000,000. Cruise was so embarrassed by the film, which his agent insisted the fledgling kid take, that he skipped the premiere. He later said: “I learned a great lesson in doing that movie. I realized that not everybody is capable of making good films. I decided after Losin’ It I only wanted to work with the best people.” Not tragically bad, but for sure a 100 minutes you can waste elsewhere.
#10 LOVE AT LARGE—–Glenn Erickson, the brilliant movie reviewer I most admire (and agree with about 90% of the time) really likes this 1990 romance/mystery/comedy-drama and it pains me to have to say I’m on the other side of the divide here. It doesn’t pain me as much as watching this all the way through did, about as much fun as being locked in a stairwell with Wolf Blitzer and Sean Hannity for the weekend. I wanted to like it, because I enjoy Tom Berenger, Anne Archer, Elizabeth Perkins, Annette O’Toole, Ted Levine and Ruby Dee. Plus it’s got Kate Capshaw, Neil Young and one of my favorite overlooked character actors, Gailard Sartain. But…it’s written & directed by Alan Rudolph. Rudolph has directed 16 films (as of 2016): I’ve seen 12, and liked exactly one– Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle (and that chiefly for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s portrayal of Dorothy Parker). Never been quite able to figure out why the guy’s work turns me off, but I don’t like the rhythm, the characters, the cutting, the photography–they always come off mannered and pretentious. Maybe I’m all wet (this has happened), but to me this self-amused glop misfires from one end of its 97-minute crawl to the other. I’m not alone; reviews were dismal and it tanked for business, making a paltry $1,436,000. Love Lies Bleeding…