48 Hrs. (1982) Review

Director: Walter Hill

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 96 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The 1982 action-comedy 48 Hrs. is an excellent example of how the right casting can save a movie. Here, Eddie Murphy is the hero of the production. The story of the picture in question is about a down-on-his-luck San Francisco police officer named Jack Cates (Nick Nolte) who reluctantly teams up with imprisoned con man Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy) to track down a pair of cop killers. It’s often considered one of the first of the “buddy-cop” subgenre, but, in this case, only one of the two main characters is a lawman.

It’s largely thanks to Eddie Murphy that this gritty crime-thriller keeps afloat. The movie really comes alive when he shows up, and it’s hard to imagine anybody else in the role. The plot may be nothing worth writing home about, but when Murphy’s on a roll, he’s on a roll. Be warned, though, that this flick contains quite a bit of racist, sexist, and homophobic language that makes it a little awkward at times.

Director Walter Hill is generally very good at handling action scenes, but I don’t think 48 Hrs. is one of his better outings when judged by carnage alone. The action here feels a little clumsy sometimes. It’s certainly not all bad, but it doesn’t feel up to the Walter Hill par. The sequences of violence, however, do feel appropriately grounded for such a tight, intimate film.

This is an important landmark in the history of buddy-cop movies, and it holds up pretty well today (except for the bigoted remarks, of course). Sure, it would be topped by Lethal Weapon (1987), but it still has a sleazy, dirt-under-the-fingernails charm all to its own. Also, David Patrick Kelly, perhaps better known as “Sully from Commando (1985)” makes an appearance as criminal Luther.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Public Enemies (2009) Review

Director: Michael Mann

Genre(s): Action, Biography, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 140 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Public Enemies is a solid gangster flick that has the misfortune of living in the shadow of the similar Dillinger (1973), which was written and directed by John Milius. The plot of the 2009 picture in question covers the 1930s bank-robbing spree of super-criminal John Dillinger (Johnny Depp). There’s plenty to like about this movie, but just about everything about it was topped back in the 1970s.

The ferocious gunfights that director Michael Mann is known for are very much present here. It probably has as many firearms-per-frame as 1973’s Dillinger and the shootouts are probably more realistic-feeling. The expected highlight in the action department is the firefight at a lodge known as Little Bohemia, but the other sequences of violence work exceptionally well, too.

Perhaps the biggest fault of Public Enemies is how colorless many of the supporting characters are rendered. Sure, the big players in the story get their time to shine, but most of the side members of the John Dillinger gang, for example, don’t stand out at all, which is a stark contrast to how these folks were handled in the aforementioned Dillinger. “Baby Face” Nelson (Stephen Graham) manages to steal the scenes he appears in, though.

Public Enemies is a much more somber and subdued film than 1973’s Dillinger, trying to play things closer to historical fact (although there are still several deviations from what happened in real life). It’s fairly ambitious, but it lacks the flair, pizazz, and print-the-legend audacity that the Dillinger story from John Milius had. I figure that both motion pictures are worth checking out, so make it a Dillinger double feature if you can.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

U.S. Marshals (1998) Review

Director: Stuart Baird

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Thriller

Runtime: 131 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The 1993 action-thriller The Fugitive seems like an unlikely movie to get a sequel, but get one it did. A man named Sheridan (Wesley Snipes), who’s been accused of murdering two government agents, has escaped from police custody, and – you guessed it – U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) is on the case. It certainly isn’t as masterful as The Fugitive, but it’s a better-than-serviceable film that keeps my attention.

This one is a tad different from the original Samuel Gerard movie in that it’s not clear if the fugitive being pursued is innocent or not. Okay, it’s not exactly a wildly unpredictable ride, but it has enough ambiguous situations to keep one’s interest. The whole cast does a good job, but, as you’d expect, Tommy Lee Jones is the standout here as a gruff, yet protective, lawman.

U.S. Marshals tries to outdo the action in the first film with mixed results. Sure, the action set-pieces are probably bigger in scale than most of the ones in The Fugitive, but this one lacks some of the human drama of the 1993 flick. The most memorable sequence in the 1998 picture has got to be the part where circumstances allow Wesley Snipes’ character to escape from the law in the first place (I’m not going to spoil the details of it). There are a few other good action bits here, but they probably won’t stick in your head like some of the ones from The Fugitive.

Yeah, U.S. Marshals might contain a slightly slow section or two (making it less relentless than the 1993 production that it’s a sequel to), but it will still satisfy many viewers who were left wanting more (in a good sort of way) by The Fugitive. Earth-shattering it is not, but there’s enough mayhem here to keep an action buff amused for two hours. It’s not exactly a necessary sequel, but, despite lacking the Harrison Ford factor, it’s one worth watching for fans of the original.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Mercenary (1968) Review

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, War, Western

Runtime: 110 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Man, was director Sergio Corbucci on a roll with those “spaghetti westerns” (Italian-made westerns) between the mid-1960s and early-1970s or what? One of the better known of his flicks from this time period is The Mercenary, also sometimes called “A Professional Gun.” Set during the Mexican Revolution, a Polish gun-for-hire named Sergei Kowalski (Franco Nero) finds himself at the service of Paco Roman (Tony Musante), a Mexican bandit who’s an aspiring revolutionary. Many people will be blown away and many genres will be blended along the way.

The remarkable musical score from Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai is one of the first things the audience notices about the movie, and it leaves a major impression. Jack Palance shows up as “Curly,” the picture’s chilling villain. He’s a quietly sinister threat and Palance’s job holds up as one of the best bad guy performances of the 1960s. The action scenes are frequent and frenetic, with plenty of machine gun mayhem. The standout here is probably the highly stylish showdown in the empty bullfighting arena.

The biggest problem with The Mercenary is that it’s pretty episodic at times. The characters played by Franco Nero and Tony Musante are constantly fussin’ and fightin’ as they move from town to town, with Jack Palance’s “Curly” hot on their trail. A stronger central plot might be necessary. It’s interesting to note that this movie has some moral ambiguity for being a “Zapata western” (a politically-conscious western typically set during a time of revolution or rebellion in Mexico), with neither of the leads exactly being terrific role models.

With its effortless tough guy swagger and effective premise, The Mercenary is a must-watch for spaghetti western fans. Its plot may ramble a bit, but it’s fast-paced enough for this to not be a serious concern. For a winning mixture of action-adventure, spaghetti western, war film, and even comedy, check this one out!

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Richard Jewell (2019) Review

Director: Clint Eastwood

Genre(s): Biography, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 131 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Richard Jewell is made in the terse, economical style that one would expect from a movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Its challenging story (based on true events) is about American security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), who discovers a bomb at a crowded concert at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. However, in this film, it’s really the stuff that takes place after the Olympics that really matter.

The committed performances by the cast definitely sell the picture. Originally, the title character was going to be played by Jonah Hill (who also helped produce the work), but the less-famous Paul Walter Hauser got the role in the end. I think casting a less familiar face for the lead makes the flick a more immersive experience. The resulting movie is taut and efficient, being very effective on the level of making the audience wonder what’s going to happen next.

Despite its engaging nature, the film attracted quite a bit of controversy for its depiction of reporter Kathy Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde), who is portrayed as a sleazy, narcissistic sort who trades sex for news scoops. Scruggs, who died in 2001, was not around to defend herself, and many felt she was being railroaded the same way that the media and the government railroaded Jewell. It’s hard not to hold this against the finished product, but I don’t think it’s quite enough for me to give it a negative review.

Richard Jewell offers a few problems for viewers just trying to enjoy the picture, yet it’s far more entertaining than not. It offers up some complicated moral dilemmas and some good suspense. It goes to show that a feature doesn’t need a big gunfight at the end to be satisfying. There are parts of the flick that are on-the-nose, but it’s a solid, little drama that its target audience will definitely get a kick out of.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972) Review

Director: George McCowan

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Western

Runtime: 100 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

The Magnificent Seven Ride! is the fourth entry into the franchise, and also the darkest. The plot is sort of a combination of The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Dirty Dozen (1967), being about seven gunfighters, including five prison inmates offered pardons for their handiwork, who must protect a small Mexican village from some raping, murdering, pillaging bandits. It just might be the most engaging of The Magnificent Seven films since the original.

Despite sometimes having a made-for-television quality, this movie still manages to feature some very good action sequences. They’re squibbier than the ones in previous pictures in the series, giving them a more violent edge. Sure, these just might be the weakest set of action set-pieces in the franchise (by just a tad), but they’re still better than those found in most other westerns. There’s really a palpable sense of danger and impending doom here.

The Magnificent Seven Ride! features the least notable set of characters in the series. The flick makes a mistake by recruiting five of the titular seven in one scene, so they don’t get much of a chance to show off their individual personalities. Hell, some of these dudes barely get any distinctive personality at all. The character who returns from the previous three features is played by a different actor in this one (making him the third actor to play this character).

Maybe this movie’s a little weak when it comes to fleshing out supporting characters, but I think it does a better job of establishing tension and dread than Return of the Seven (1966) or Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969). It’s a solid men-on-a-mission action-adventure picture with some better-than-average gunplay. If you’ve liked the previous films in the series, odds are good you’ll enjoy this one.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969) Review

Director: Paul Wendkos

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Western

Runtime: 105 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

The third film in the franchise, Guns of the Magnificent Seven takes a cue or two from the then-rising “Zapata western” subgenre, a politically-charged type of movie that typically revolved around revolts in Mexico. In this picture, seven gunslingers are recruited by Mexican revolutionaries to help them raid a fortress-prison where the tyrannical government is holding political prisoners. The feature takes place during a presumably fictional rebellion, but it seems inspired by the Mexican Revolution that took place from 1910 to 1920.

While the flicks of The Magnificent Seven series have always been known for their large-scale gunfights, Guns of the Magnificent Seven is the only one that could be classified as a war movie. It starts off with some typical western film action, before delving into the world of a Mexican insurrection with a big battle involving the seven virtuous heroes storming a cruel prison-fortress. The action scenes here are excellent, as is par for the course for the series.

So, what about the characters? Well, no set of gunfighters will ever top the crew we saw in the original The Magnificent Seven (1960), but this film does an adequate job of introducing some fresh faces for the audience. The seven here don’t always feel like they’re given proper depth, but at least they’re easy to tell apart. One of the characters from the previous pictures returns (I won’t spoil who), but is played by a different actor.

Guns of the Magnificent Seven is a step up from Return of the Seven (1966). There may be a slow moment or two, but it doesn’t completely imitate the first flick in the franchise. Full of explosions and a big body count, this one will be appreciated by action-adventure junkies and merely tolerated by most others. If you’ve stuck with The Magnificent Seven series through the second installment, why not watch this one too?

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Return of the Seven (1966) Review

Director: Burt Kennedy

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Western

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The second film of the series, Return of the Seven (which is sometimes called “Return of the Magnificent Seven“) is largely just a rehash of The Magnificent Seven (1960), down to the Elmer Bernstein musical score, which repeats all of the same notes. Opening in the same village that the first movie is set in, a gang of bandits arrive and abduct all of the men, leaving only women and children. Apparently, this isn’t the only town that’s been raided in such a way by the bad guys. Of course, it’s up to seven heroic gunslingers to find out where the men are being held (and why) and rescue them.

Let’s start with the good, shall we? The action scenes, while not quite up to par with the ones in the original, are terrific, featuring plenty of explosions and people falling off of horses. The characters are fleshed out well enough, for the most part. Also, the premise of selfless gunmen putting their lives on the line to save the day is still badass. As I mentioned earlier, the musical score is almost identical to the one from the first flick, but it’s still riveting music.

While the characters are easy to tell apart from one another, the reduced runtime of this flick doesn’t really do them any favors. A slightly longer picture would’ve given the inhabitants of it more time to make their mark. There’s also a few instances where characters from the first movie are replaced by different actors in Return of the Seven. I’m not really going to say who, in case it spoils the ending of the 1960 feature, but they’re just not as charismatic as the originals.

For me, Return of the Seven is perhaps the weakest of the films in The Magnificent Seven series. It sticks so close to the formula of the first installment, while reducing the runtime, that it sometimes struggles to have an identity of its own. Still, I can think of worse sequels from other franchises. It’s serviceable if all you want is some rootin’, tootin’ Wild West shoot-’em-up action.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) Review

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 88 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG (theatrical cut), Not Rated (unrated cut)

IMDb Page

The Planet of the Apes series had been dark before, but, with the fourth entry, it became outright pissed-off. In a fascistic future where all dogs and cats have died due to a plague from outer space, apes are used as pets and slaves by humans. However, one chimpanzee, Caesar (Roddy McDowall), has violent revolt on his mind. This, right here, is the best of the original set of sequels to Planet of the Apes (1968).

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is seething with revolutionary fervor. This is an angry and incendiary film, built around a slave rebellion…and it almost plays out like a start-your-own-state-of-anarchy playbook. It is available in two versions: the standard, PG-rated theatrical cut (that’s still plenty vicious) and a bloodier unrated version with an alternate ending.

The big draw of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is the final action sequence, which lasts about twenty minutes. It is certainly the most sustained scene of mayhem that the franchise has seen yet. It’s exceptional, with humans and apes duking it out at the “Ape Management” building and in the streets of the city that the picture is set in. Its budget wasn’t unlimited, but director J. Lee Thompson (who had previously helmed The Guns of Navarone [1961]) uses his resources very effectively.

Roddy McDowall gives a surprisingly good performance, considering that he’s covered in chimpanzee make-up. It’s a little odd seeing dirty apes, when they’re being used as slaves, serving humans food and touching all of their precious belongings. Get past that, and you’ll be rewarded with a fiery, dramatic, action-oriented sci-fi film with plenty of passion. Forget satire and nuance, let’s get straight to violent revolution!

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) Review

Director: Don Taylor

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 98 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

IMDb Page

Somehow, after the ending of Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), the Planet of the Apes series was kept alive, and the third film in the franchise is one of the more unique entries into its canon. Three ape astronauts – Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira (Kim Hunter), and Milo (Sal Mineo) – arrive in the 1970s United States in the salvaged spacecraft used by the humans in the original Planet of the Apes (1968). This one is special, being the least action-oriented of the series.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes actually starts out like a fish-out-of-water comedy. How would these apes react to being slapped down in the middle of the twentieth-century United States? It’s mostly light stuff, but the film’s increasing thriller elements mean this merriment doesn’t last forever. There are no clear heroes or villains here.

As mentioned above, this picture is not very concerned with physical action. It’s more about exploring complicated moral dilemmas, something it does quite well. Despite a minimum of fighting, the film does end on a very grim note. Like the previous entries in the Planet of the Apes series, its G rating from the MPAA should be ignored.

The plot of Escape from the Planet of the Apes is mighty contrived and implausible, but it’s a successful midway point for the 1960s/1970s incarnation of the franchise. No explosions or intricately choreographed fights here, yet its solid pacing and unafraid examinations of important moral matters make it a winner. It’s sometimes regarded as the best of the sequels from the ’60s/’70s series, and, while I don’t agree with that, it’s definitely a feature worth watching.

My rating is 7 outta 10.