Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Retro Review: LOOSE CANNONS (1990)

(US - 1990)

From its initial pitch meeting all the way to its tragic February 9. 1990 release in theaters, there had to be hundreds of opportunities for someone in a position of authority and influence to put their foot down and say "Enough! Stop! We're better than this!" and pull the plug on LOOSE CANNONS. Yet somehow, the film was scripted, given the greenlight, financed by a major studio, cast with real actors, filmed, edited, and actually exhibited in cinemas on a nationwide level. It's interesting to ponder that a comedy about the purported existence of a homemade Hitler porno might actually make you wish you were watching the Hitler porno instead. Shot in 1988 but shelved for nearly two years, LOOSE CANNONS was made during that pre-UNFORGIVEN period when past and future Academy Award-winner Gene Hackman was workaholically embracing his inner Michael Caine and turning absolutely nothing down. As a result, fine Hackman films like NO WAY OUT, ANOTHER WOMAN, BAT 21, THE PACKAGE, MISSISSIPPI BURNING, and NARROW MARGIN were mixed with forgotten trifles like SPLIT DECISIONS, FULL MOON IN BLUE WATER, CLASS ACTION, and COMPANY BUSINESS, and an outright disaster like SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE. But LOOSE CANNONS was something else entirely. It's a LETHAL WEAPON knockoff so ill-advised, so misbegotten, so utterly wrong-headed from the word go, and a comedy so excruciatingly unfunny that it easily ranks as the legendary actor's all-time worst movie. How bad is LOOSE CANNONS? So bad that it's also Dan Aykroyd's worst movie, and I'm not forgetting NOTHING BUT TROUBLE. Hell, director Bob Clark (BLACK CHRISTMAS, MURDER BY DECREE, PORKY'S, A CHRISTMAS STORY) also made BABY GENIUSES and SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2 and LOOSE CANNONS might even be his worst movie. And how is it that legendary writer Richard Matheson (yes, that Richard Matheson!) was responsible for this script?

Sporting a Redskins jacket throughout, Hackman is D.C. vice cop Mac Stern, who finds himself partnered under duress on the pursuit of the Hitler stag film with forensics and investigative genius Ellis Fielding (Akyroyd), a schizophrenic who's just off sick leave and happens to be the nephew of Stern's captain (the venerable Dick O'Neill). Fielding is the real deal when it comes to detective skills, but there's a problem: when he's stressed out or in a tense situation, his multiple personalities emerge. Of course, LOOSE CANNONS is a comedy and it can't be held to the notion of realism in that a clearly deranged cop with multiple personality disorder would be allowed on the streets, but LOOSE CANNONS also can't even hold itself to the notion of being even remotely amusing. Scene after scene offers Mac and Fielding getting into a situation where Fielding goes into a sub-Curly Howard freakout before breaking out seemingly random impressions that are supposed to be funny just by simple recognition (is LOOSE CANNONS an early precursor to the Friedberg/Seltzer spoof movies?). Witness Mac and Fielding in an S&M bar brawl as Aykroyd busts out quick-succession riffs on the Cowardly Lion ("Put 'em up, put 'em up!") and Clint Eastwood ("You feel lucky, punk?") before spazzing around the bar karaokeing the LONE RANGER theme. During a car chase where he's behind the wheel, he starts babbling like a NASCAR announcer before running through impressions of every cast member on STAR TREK, right down to the inevitable "Warp speed!' and "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor!" Aykroyd doesn't stop there: before it's all over, he'll do some Woody Woodpecker, The Road Runner, Popeye, croon the LOVE BOAT theme, quote BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, and sing CCR's "Proud Mary" when they jump into a river. Apropos of nothing, he'll yell Sylvester's "Sufferin' succotash!" and Tweety's "I tawt I taw a putty-tat!" He'll shout Desi Arnaz's "Luuucy!  You got some 'splainin' to do!" and The Church Lady's "Isn't that special?" He'll break out some Pee-Wee Herman and some "Oh no, Mr. Bill!" It's so not funny that it's actually uncomfortable watching Aykroyd flail around like he's on a delayed SNL-era coke jag, making a completely hyperventilating ass of himself as if he's been goaded into doing all of these ridiculous impressions by a group of asshole buddies laughing at him and not with him.

And then there's Hackman, whose Mac mainly just stands around wondering what kind of partner he's got, but if you look closely, there's a seething, palpable rage in the actor's eyes and in his line readings ("Are you bullshitting me?") that makes it very possible that an agent is about to get shitcanned. One of the worst buddy/cop movies ever made, LOOSE CANNONS strands a very capable supporting cast in a stifling miasma of aggressively awful anti-comedy: Dom DeLuise as a porn producer; Robert Prosky as an ex-Nazi who wants the Hitler smut film buried before he becomes the new German chancellor; Nancy Travis as a Mossad agent; Paul Koslo as a villainous henchman; David Alan Grier as Mac's vice partner; S. Epatha Merkerson as a cop; and Ronny Cox as a dickhead FBI agent trying to stonewall Mac and Fielding's investigation. About the only thing LOOSE CANNONS gets right is going ROBOCOP's "Dick Jones" one step further and giving Cox the role he was born to play: a glad-handing, asshole company man named "Bob Smiley." LOOSE CANNONS manages to go an entire 94 minutes without even the slightest hint of an oncoming chuckle, and its sappy, feelgood turn when Mac and Fielding start bonding is forced, unearned horseshit. People throw the term "trainwreck" around a little too liberally when it comes to bad movies like this, but this is a trainwreck--the longer it goes on, the more perversely fascinating it becomes, right down to the bombastic and bizarre closing credits tune performed by Aykroyd and Katey Sagal. Aykroyd always had his unfunny streaks (this followed CADDYSHACK II and MY STEPMOTHER IS AN ALIEN), not to mention the bad luck of having this turd get dropped in theaters just as he got a surprise Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as Jessica Tandy's son in DRIVING MISS DAISY--making LOOSE CANNONS the NORBIT to his DREAMGIRLS--but what in Popeye Doyle's name is Gene Hackman doing in this? How did he read this script and think "Yep, this is a winner! Count the Hack Man in!"? Did he read it? Or was he just saying yes to whatever fit in his schedule and paid the most? Retired from acting since 2004's WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT, a career move he may have first contemplated on or around February 9, 1990, Hackman had a reputation for being a prick even on the set of good movies. Can you imagine how surly he must've been behind the scenes here? Let's see that footage. LOOSE CANNONS vanished from theaters quickly and people seem to have granted Hackman the courtesy of never mentioning it. There has yet to be a revisionist cult revival of apologist VHS fanatics calling it a misunderstood masterpiece or a neglected classic. There is no one lamenting the void in their moviegoing soul that could only be filled with future Hackroyd buddy teamings. The film did briefly resurface in the news in 2013, when a strip of film found in a Calgary landfill appeared to show Aykroyd crouching near a dead body. Police thought it might've been evidence of a long-buried crime, and in a way it was: it was raw footage from LOOSE CANNONS. When reached for comment, Aykroyd issued a curt statement saying "The film should've been left in the landfill where it belongs." It's too bad he didn't say it using the voice of a random pop culture figure. (R, 94 mins)

How much balls do you think it took to ask Gene Hackman for this autograph? 

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