By Marc S. Sanders
Sometimes five is too much. It was for Clint Eastwood as Inspector Dirty Harry Callahan. The Dead Pool was the fifth and final entry in the famed crime drama series. Eastwood moves slower this time. He does not come off as much of a rebel any longer. Most notably, the story doesn’t have the feel of a Dirty Harry film. The cop who was infamous for questioning the laws set in place seems to be just slotted into this film.
The Dead Pool is directed by Buddy Van Horn, who had a long career as a stuntman and assistant director for many of Eastwood’s films, and other actors like Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda. He does a ho hum job with the picture. I don’t need to be treated to inventive shots or camera angles to enjoy a movie. I have yet to visit San Francisco, but at least Buddy Van Horn provides enough locales to feel like I’m getting a serviceable tourist view.
A twisted game is being played in the underground scene. People are making lists and betting on local celebrities they expect to die soon. One name includes a heavy metal rock star played by James Carey, later to be known as Jim. There’s also a snobby film critic who is a deliberate inspiration of Pauline Kael. (Kael’s reviews were not too kind to many of Eastwood’s films over the years, particularly the original Dirty Harry.) At the bottom of the list is Harry himself, who is surprisingly favored by the police department officials – first time that has happened – for putting away a powerful mob boss. A side story consists of the boss giving orders out to his crew to take revenge on Harry and provide some escapist shootouts to move the film along.
The police department want Harry to cooperate as their hero poster boy. Harry doesn’t care for fame, though. It’s not his style. Yet, a persistent television reporter (Patricia Clarkson) wants his story. A little romance is implied but Harry is not one for gossip fodder. Unfortunately, Eastwood and Clarkson are really lacking chemistry here.
The rock star and the movie critic are murdered. Harry must be next, and a horror film director (Liam Neeson) seems like the prime suspect because his dead pool list had included all three names.
The Dead Pool is not a terrible movie, but it does not live up to other Dirty Harry installments. Primarily because it does not follow the character’s familiar mantra against the bureaucrats and the flawed system of prosecution and law enforcement that he’s always been challenged with. At times, I’m looking at Eastwood and I’m asking myself who is this guy? Sure, he’s got a few one liners of dry wit. The famed eyebrow stare is there too, and the .44 Magnum as well. However, Harry doesn’t seem to stand apart so much from everyone else as he did in the other films. Beyond the giant gun, that is what made Harry Callahan so famous on screen.
The investigation that Harry is assigned to with a Chinese American cop (Evan C Kim) is very bland. We hardly get to know any of the victims or what they stand for, and when the true killer is revealed, it turns out to be a last-minute introduction of someone we’ve yet to see. There’s no surprise to the culprit behind all of this.
The series is also well known for the partners that Harry is forced to work with. In The Enforcer, Tyne Daly brought out Harry’s regard towards women working in his dangerous field that demonstrated his initial frustration followed by his reluctant acceptance. In the first movie, Remi Santori came about when it was okay to say that Harry took issue with all kinds of demographics, including Mexicans. A chumminess nicely developed between those two guys as they tracked down the killer, together. The second film, Magnum Force, offered a partner to also care about. These are good side performers that colored in much of the Harry Callahan lore. In this movie, Evan C Kim has one standout moment in the first ten minutes where he surprises everyone, especially Harry, with how he disarms a robber by use of martial arts. It’s a great scene. After that, though, he’s given nothing to do. This actor had promise for more interactions with Eastwood. It just never delivered.
The series started in the gritty times of 1971 when political correctness was not ever considered. By the time the last two films were released in the 1980s of Ronald Reagan, who famously adopted “Go ahead. Make my day,” for Gorbachev, there was a new wave of sensitivity abound. I like to believe with the prior installment, Sudden Impact, Harry Callahan learned something new about himself with regards to the rights women had or were denied of while still applying his own code. With The Dead Pool, the writing seems reluctant to go anywhere near a potential debate, and so it drips itself into a stale slasher movie with the cop ready to fire his six shooter.
The grand highlight of the film is a car chase on the hilly streets of San Francisco, which is the best place for a car chase, always. What separates this one from the others is a little remote-controlled car that pursues Harry and his partner, ready to activate its equipped detonator at just the right moment. The editing of this sequence is really fun, and it’s a great salute to Bullitt and other gritty, urban cop films, particularly the Dirty Harry movies. This toy car flies over fruit stands and careens through sidewalks and over sewer holes. Meanwhile Harry screeches down one hill after another trying to evade this pesky rapscallion. It’ll definitely put a smile on your face while the moment lasts.
I recall being eager for another Dirty Harry movie. I grew up loving many of Clint Eastwood’s films. Dirty Harry is a favorite character of mine. Yet, I also remember feeling really let down when my dad and I walked out of the theatre. The Dead Pool just doesn’t have the same flavor as the other Eastwood products. Again, it’s not the worst picture. It’s standard cop fare coming in at a lean ninety minutes. Eastwood and the rest of the cast are okay with what they’re doing. I just would’ve changed the name of the main character listed at the top of the cast list. He could have been Dirty John Doe for all I care.