THE HARD WAY
( MCA/Universal Home Video
No retail price given
This film, about an arrogant, annoying Hollywood movie star who tags along with a real-life New York detective to get inspiration for a cop movie, could have been an enjoyable, risk-taking send-up of both the movie biz in general and cop movies specifically. Instead, it's a tame, lame, uneven mix of action and comedy that is entirely predictable when it needs to be innovative.
Michael J. Fox was a perfect choice to play young Hollywood action movie star Nick Lang, who wants to toughen up his screen image. Nick, perhaps the most annoying man in Hollywood, insists that he be allowed to observe New York detective John Moss (James Woods) in action. Moss, perhaps the most easily annoyed cop in New York, says no way. After all, he's in the middle of a major murder investigation. But the mayor insists -- and soon enough Nick has not only moved into Moss' apartment, he's fouling up Moss' efforts to land a killer.
Mr. Woods, like Mr. Fox, is well-cast -- he's perfect as an uptight, on-the-edge gritty cop. But the script, by Daniel Pyne and Lem Dobbs, doesn't allow the characters to determine the outcome of the story. The action elements -- the gun play, the car chases -- take precedent here. It's just such a fatal flaw that the movie itself might have spoofed, but director John Badham seems unwilling to go that far.
THE FIVE HEARTBEATS
Director/co-writer/star Robert Townsend's tribute to soul music of the '60s is such an earnest and heartfelt movie -- full of many fine original songs that manage to capture the essence of the '60s and '70s -- that I almost feel bad for criticizing its limited vision, its lack of ambition and the self-satisfaction that seems to be built into its modest successes. There's nothing wrong-headed or ill-conceived about the film, but a feel-good movie (which this is clearly intended to be) should be genuinely uplifting and transcendent, not merely adequate and pleasant.
"The Five Heartbeats" traces the rise and fall and eventual redemption of a band of musicians over the course of a couple decades -- but their story is told in familiar language and rhythms by Mr. Townsend, who seems satisfied merely to honor cinematic tradition -- and convention -- rather than breaking free of their constraints into more satisfying, uncharted territory.