While it was great to see this on the big screen, to laugh with an audience at va-va-voom Nick the mechanic and watch everyone jump from shock when Mike Hammer cracks open the Pulp Fiction suitcase and hell peeks out, it’s kinda still not a great movie. Filmed as a cheap quickie and looks like it, the bulk of the plot is Mike following one lead to another to another – and as Josh pointed out, you could delete any one (or all) of those chain links without harming the overall plot structure. What’s important is Mike starts out getting mixed up with a dame in trouble, she is killed and he’s presumed dead, then he tracks down her story finally leading to a bad man with a case of nuclear material which explodes, destroying a beach house reminiscent of the one in Lost Highway. And while we’re on the subject of films influenced by this one, I recognized scenes and locations excerpted in Los Angeles Plays Itself.

Wes Addy and Ralph Meeker:
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Ralph Meeker who, two years later, would appear in movies by Fuller (Run of the Arrow) and Kubrick (Paths of Glory), was so badass in this movie, the Feds declared it to be 1955’s number one menace to American youth. Badassery is all relative, of course, and he’d soon be out-badassed since the production code was in decline. Hammer and his main squeeze/work partner Velda (Maxine Cooper, of nothing else) are sleazy divorce investigators/instigators until Mike picks up doomed girl Christina (Cloris Leachman, whose career seems to defy summary) on the highway. She’s recaptured by the baddies and tortured to death, then blown up in Mike’s car with Mike, who survives with revenge on his mind. Right away Mike’s in trouble with his cop buddy Pat (Aldrich regular Wesley Addy) who pulls his gun license, and with two thugs (Jack Lambert, who played a bully with a whip in Stars In My Crown, and the great Jack Elam of Moonfleet the same year as this) who work for the evil doctor (Albert Dekker of Siodmak’s The Killers, unseen besides his shoes till the very end). Mike enlists his mechanic Nick (Nick Dennis of Too Late Blues, A Streetcar Named Desire), who gets a car dropped on him by baddies, Velda, who saves Mike’s ass at the end (unless you watched the original ending in which they appear to die in the beach house explosion) and the dead girl’s roommate Gabrielle (TV actress Gaby Rodgers) who turns out to be a baddie spy.

Nympho Marian Carr (Ring of Fear) and bad dude Paul Stewart (Citizen Kane, In Cold Blood):
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My favorite thing about the movie is the strangeness of the beginning and end scenes. The nuclear-material-in-a-suitcase factor is most interesting for being so mysteriously underdeveloped, giving the movie a sense of richness that the main investigation plot lacks. With the sound effects and flickering lights at the finale, it acts more like a portal to another world than a physical material. Also great is the shock opening, with a girl running in the night, breathing heavy on the soundtrack before being picked up by Mike, the credits rolling upside-down across the screen.

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Only other Aldrich movie I’ve seen (besides Limelight, on which he assisted) is Twilight’s Last Gleaming from the other end of his career. Written by A.I. Bezzerides (Thieves’ Highway, Track of the Cat) and shot by Ernest Laszlo (While the City Sleeps, Stalag 17).

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Set in the near-future of summer 2008, which would’ve worked better had the film played more than a couple film festivals in its intended release year of 2006.

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I could go on and on summarizing plot strands and talking about story bits like Liquid Karma being harvested from the center of the earth and injected into Iraq war soldiers to give them psychic communication powers, TV ads that feature cars fucking each other, multiple sets of identical twins, triple-crossing double-agents in an undercover war between government spy corporations and the neo-Marxist underground… but it’s not worth recounting, really. I find the following bits more interesting:

1. The casting choices. Are they meant ironically, humorously, or meta-post-something? Admittedly some of these people are good actors, but it seems like stunt-celeb casting akin to Steve Guttenberg dancing in a reality show. These people actually appear in this movie:
– teen idols The Rock, Buffy, Seann William Scott, Mandy Moore & Justin Timberlake
– TV comedy vets John Larroquette, Jon Lovitz and Will Sasso
– SNL comics Nora Dunn, Cheri Oteri and Amy Poehler
The Princess Bride‘s Wallace Shawn
– Christopher “Highlander” Lambert
– The ghost expert from Poltergeist (now in her 70’s)
– Donnie Darko’s uptight teacher, but with an unpleasant fake accent
– Donnie’s dad Holmes Osborne
– Janeane Garofalo (somehow I did not recognize her)
– Kevin Smith in heavy old-man makeup
Mulholland Drive‘s Rebekah Del Rio (below)
– 80’s movie nerd Curtis Armstrong (Cusak’s wired friend in Better Off Dead)
– Miranda Richardson of Spider and Sleepy Hollow
– Bai Ling of Dumplings and Sky Captain

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2. Apparent product-placement for Bud Light in both the movie and the comic, and empty references/namechecks of Robert Frost poems and Robert Aldrich films and Philip Dick novels. A location called “Fire Arcade” could fit in this category as well.

3. The post-modern fractured storytelling aspect, complete with lots of internetty technology business in plot and presentation. Doesn’t work as well as it did in Redacted, and it remains to be seen whether this concept will ever work completely in any movie (a fixed-length linear medium) or whether movies should simply not try to emulate DVDs, CD-ROMs and websites. At least the story was told in chronological order (as was Redacted).

A scarred and blood-drenched teen idol, who must’ve shot a lot of scenes that got cut out of the picture since he never quite seems to fit in:
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4. The gall of this thing to exist, with its bad acting, big budget and mishmash story. It truly feels like Kelly was afraid that this might be his last film (it won’t – his Cameron Diaz and Cyclops starring follow-up with hardly any stunt casting is in post-production) and wanted to make it about every single idea he’d ever had all at once. Global warming! Internet privacy! Individual identity! The US perpetual war machine! Fart humor! Religion! If you want to be unkind you could say the fractured storytelling wasn’t even purposeful but just reflects Kelly’s total lack of focus on a single story or concept.

5. Commonalities with Darko (Kelly’s continuing obsessions with pop songs, 80’s culture, time travel and memory).

Parts of the comic, like the rapidly-growing baby and the bit about certain people evolving beyond the need to defecate are missing from the film except in coded messages. You poo too?
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But these are the most interesting aspects of a kinda uninteresting movie. I’d have to say the whole enterprise was a waste of time, time better spent watching Stephen Chow kick stuff in Royal Tramp II. At the end there is an explosion, a young guy who goes through a rift in the space-time continuum, and someone who is shot in the eye. Why would a studio pay $17mil for a crappy remake of Donnie Darko? Then there’s a line about the messiah being a pimp. This is the way the movie ends. This is the way the movie ends.

Movie is set on Sunday Nov. 16, 1981.

The President: “Screw church.”

The Vietnam War was a show for the Russians, which we intended to lose, just to prove that we had the will to sacrifice troops for no good reason. General Burt Lancaster knows this and is going to force the President of the United States to publically admit it on the air. This is our premise.

Wait, it gets better. Burt will achieve this goal by taking over a nuclear missile station and threatening to launch nukes at Russia unless the President obeys.

Burt breaks in:
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What goes wrong: Burt doesn’t count on the very evil military (who stay in power because of their legacy of secrets) being willing to kill his hostage, the President (who hadn’t even known about the vietnam conspiracy).

President Charles Durning (Waring Hudsucker, also in The Sting and Hi Mom):
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Lancaster’s buds are Burt Young & Paul Winfield. Young gets shot in an almost-successful anti-Burt operation towards the end, and Winfield is mostly on Burt’s side but manages to reason with him a little, convince him of the futility of launching the missiles.

Winfield, of White Dog:
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I don’t know a whole lot about Aldrich. This seemed a kinda low-budget effort, with a 70’s TV-movie look to it, except in the hugely stylish split-screens which sometimes divided into three or four simultaneous actions or angles.

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But wait, have I mentioned that Thee Great Richard Widmark plays Burt’s nemesis General MacKenzie?

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Widmark does go to church, seen below with his wife, one of the only appearances of a woman in the film.

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This was the final film of Charles McGraw (below), star of “The Narrow Margin”, appeared in “The Birds” and “The Defiant Ones” and “A Boy and His Dog”, and previously appeared with Burt Lancaster over thirty years earlier in “The Killers”.

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Other things:

Paul Winfield: “Jive-ass honky!”

Widmark’s pager goes off in church, back when that was socially awkward rather than business as usual.

Multiple product-placements for Coke.

Burt: “Gentlemen, we are now a superpower.”

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