By Marc S. Sanders
It’s kind of sad when two very good actors are provided with really subpar material. The writing can naturally make the performers look bad. Two things can happen. The actors might try too hard or they may not try hard enough. A perfect example of that is John Flynn’s crime drama Best Seller with James Woods and Brian Dennehy. Woods tries too hard. Dennehy isn’t trying at all.
Brian Dennehy is Dennis, a Los Angeles undercover cop. Following a department robbery in 1972, he writes about the experience and then he is on his way to also being a best-selling crime novelist. Fifteen years go by. He’s still working the streets and chasing bad guys while also writing. Though now he’s got writer’s block.
James Woods is Cleve, a professional hitman, who enters Dennis’ life and convinces him to write a book about Cleve’s experiences. Cleve’s motivation for this is to expose a crooked politician that he used to do jobs for and at the same time, the book will become a best-selling true crime novel for Dennis. So, Cleve escorts Dennis around various parts of the country from California to New York then back west to Oregon. Cleve shows Dennis a bedroom in New York where he successfully executed a man with details about where the victim fell to how he did it, step by step. There’s not a shred of dialogue or discovery in this scene. A real estate agent giving a tour of an empty model home is more eye opening. Cleve also brings Dennis to his parents home for a sleepover where he can gain some background material on Cleve’s upbringing. Having just seen the ninety minute film, I can not recall one thing that was discussed at the dinner table with mom and dad. Dennis never looks interested. Dennis doesn’t even have a tape recorder or a pad to write on. Dennis isn’t even necessarily convinced that Cleve is the hitman he says he is. I was convinced, however. Ten minutes into the film, Cleve saves Dennis’ life by shooting a criminal that was about to kill Dennis and he had pretty good aim with his silencer hand gun. What more do you need to know? If Dennis is such a good cop, why can’t he realize what is in front of him? Was that the dilemma of Best Seller? To see if Dennis believes Cleve is an expert hitman?
The story is utterly ridiculous. It doesn’t help however that James Woods carries himself like a nut job when Flynn directs him in cool postures adorned with stylish Ray Bans and knitted 1980’s suits. He gets hyper in front of people he’s threatening and prefers unusual sexual positions with women he just met.
Brian Dennehy hardly looks like he’s in character. His dramatic moments have no impact. He seems undisturbed by this weird guy he’s travelling the country with. Wouldn’t a seasoned cop even keep his guard up while with this likely hitman? Not even a couple of near misses on killing them both seem to faze his Dennis character. The men make a quick escape from a bomb laced taxi cab and they hardly discuss or consider who is behind the attempt on their lives.
I’m not sure what was to be accomplished with this film. It doesn’t explore anything remotely interesting. It’s mostly as boring as Brian Dennehy seems in his role. Both of these actors have had better material to work with in their careers and they work best as supporting character actors like Woods in Casino and Hercules, or Dennehy in First Blood and Presumed Innocent. Best Seller was not a box office hit or even a sleeper hit. It’s not hard to see why.