Trick Shot

Sometimes successful films — ones that aren’t expected to be, by many excellent people — spawn copycats, a fact as well-known as well-attested. The followers aren’t as awesome as the originals but they’re not always so awful, and the makers, if they care a little, will throw some new stuff in, or at least get people you want to see, to do the old stuff.

So Die Hard, for instance, spawns Under Siege. And while you can’t set Steven Seagal at a Bruce Willis level, Tommy Lee Jones and Eric Bogosian [US one and two] match up well enough against Alan Rickman and Wm Sadler [DH one and two]. Then Under Siege, thank heavens, runs out of steam, and we can catch Jeremy Irons in Die Hard 3, not to mention Samuel L Jackson.

And Die Hard bore other stuff, no pun intended, as we’ll see.

It beget movies that looked like it without being ‘Die Hard on/in/over/under/with a ____ ’

Try Ricochet for instance, made about the same time as the second DH. It looks a lot — a lot — like Die Hard.

Mainly no doubt this is simply the times they were a makin’. The hair, the shoulder pads … if there’d been the gym workout scene, we’d have seen parachute pants.

[The trailers are different, too; remember when there was all that voiceover? We didn’t mind, bec it was that ‘One man … one way’ guy with the absolutely phenomenal voice.]

But Ricochet, which also offers up several future stars in the bloom of youth — Denzel Washington dunking on Ice-T in a pick-up b-ball game, John Lithgow in a ridiculous auburn crewcut, thankfully ditched after that first scene.

It also looks similar bec it has one of the same writers as Die Hard, Stephen de Souza … and one of the same characters! The news broadcaster ‘Gail Wallens’ — played by the late Mary Ellen Trainor, who was Mrs Bob Zemeckis for 20 years.

Then the dopey author from Die Hard with the book about hostages loving their captors shows up in a blip as a talk show host on Ricochet. I prolly missed several others.

This is a quirky flick and you do not think you’re in the presence of greatness … then it turns sly on us.

It’s the sort of film that has a higher rating on RT from critics than from the audience … but not too much. So they get it, but they’re not snoots about it. We know what jt means when audience outweighs critics — a film pushing the right buttons or, less common, a sleeper the critics missed. Here it’s that there’s something more.

Of course the cops have standard issue revolves, with semi-automatics on their own time. One of Washington’s first lines is the labored, ‘A Baretta in the butt beats a butterfly in the boot’ … later we also get, from someone, ‘lying there like a lump on a log’ — which again feels labored. What cop talks like that.

But it’s also the line from someone who’s like, ‘this is my movie and we’re going to do some stuff with it.’

Tolstoy gets a shout-out, as does Melville. Sure, the villain — Lithgow, who is perfectly nasty — uses them for something other than bettering his mind. But at least he’s heard of them. And it gives us this exchange —

‘Anna Karenina?’
‘Not heavy enough.’
‘Well, it was his first.’

There are other fresh scenes — a summation by Washington’s assistant DA … though it might not be too hard to prove nine murders by one guy … photocopies Lithgow makes of Washington’s face that end up looking in no small way like inkblots, and he’s making them in front of a psychopath.

The stuff Lithgow pulls, you want to say, Oh, no way! But they kinda work. None of them work in that all one must do is [once again, as so often with the movies] ask how Washington’s family, friends, and colleagues can be so credulous about the smear campaign. [The scary thing is people do decide things in this way.]

I wanted to know why no one wondered what the fake power company guy who entered his house looked like. There’s also the one about making him a drug addict … when a new single injection site is the only evidence.

[Cold Pursuit skips over the exact same issue]

Denzel puts John in jail, John escapes, fakes his death, slowly, surely, relentlessly ruins Denzel … and we start to get a little annoyed, they’re stretching our credulity, where is this headed, just find the guy and shoot him in the balls and brain, for Pete’s sake already …

[And there are some good lines — ‘As a private citizen, I can kick anybody’s ass I want’ — and good detail — Washington’s character uncharacteristically cuts himself shaving, which shows he’s being sent off his game … not dunking on his childhood buddy, Ice-T anymore who grows up to be a helpful gangsta. A portrait of Hitler topples over. And in a halcyon pre-cell phone era, there are no ginned up ways cell service must be lost.]

More good lines — ‘Is that how you treat your friends? I’m glad we’re enemies.’ … ‘I got it all … respect, money, power, home, family, foreign coffee … ’

And some groaners — ‘We’re with the district attorney’s assistance club. We’re assisting the district attorney so don’t make me club your ass.’ — But even then it’s not hard to see how a street thug, even a savvy, ruling one, might talk like that.

So you stay with it, anyway I did, and if you do, you’ll be rewarded, anyway I was.

It got me, tricked me, I mean.

Just when I’m about to start shouting at the screen, when it gets so bizarre and odd and fantastic [the denotative sense] it gets fantastic [connotative].

Well, it at least gets pretty good, well above average.

Sneaks up on you — being kinda average and silly helps, and wldn’t be surprised to learn this was on purpose.

We’re so media- … geez, infused saturated … none of them seem strong enough anymore. We’re what the [extraordinarily wealthy] asshats are selling … duh, already been said. We believe everything we see … duh I think we know that.

Washington’s character was part of the problem — that summation, for instance. He hasn’t eaten dinner with his wife for six months, he tells us [maybe this helps her doubt him?] and ‘cuts deals with scum for a living.’

You realize there’s no direct evidence of any of his supposed crimes — it’s all images, especially video, and suggestion. He can’t believe they can believe he ‘beat up a clown, robbed my father’s church, killed my best friend.’

We realize we do see how they could believe it; how maybe we could.

And he embraces it — ‘Going crazy is strangely liberating.’

OK, debatable whether that’s actually a groaner. Maybe it wasn’t a cliché 33 years ago. Anyway, in that world it’s true.

OK, you still wonder why Ice-T wd agree to have his whole operation blown up … how the guy wd’ve been fried and then exploded … how no kid is ever going to want to play in that building … how truly awful puns got through — ‘guess you got the point’ … then again, that seems in some of my memory to be a feature for films of that time.

But by then the movie has become a comment on … well, partly itself, since here we are watching a movie on the subject … but yeah. It’s about media and belief and

Put me in mind of Nightcrawler … which shows up almost a quarter century later.

And itself was now a decade ago.

‘Smile for the cameras.’

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