Saturday, 19 October 2013

Movie Review: Against All Odds (1984)


An overcomplicated romantic drama with neo-noir elements, Against All Odds packs way too much plot around an unconvincing love triangle, but also manages to sprinkle some excellent moments that hint at what could have been a better movie.

Veteran Los Angeles Outlaws footballer Terry Brogan (Jeff Bridges) is reaching the end of his career. Injury prone and considered too old, he is cut from the team, despite having the sympathy of coach Hank Sully (Alex Karras). Deep in debt, Brogan gets no help from his lawyer friend Steve Kirsch (Saul Rubinek) and so accepts an assignment from slimy gambling czar and nightclub owner Jake Wise (James Woods). Wise wants Brogan to find his lover Jessie Wyler (Rachel Ward), who took off on him and stole $50,000 in the process.

Jessie is the daughter of Grace (Jane Greer), the owner of the Outlaws. Grace is married to political fixer Ben Caxton (Richard Widmark), who is working behind the scenes with Kirsch to grease the gears and secure approval for Grace's coveted mountainside development project. Brogan tracks down Jessie in Mexico, and they become lovers, hiding out in the jungle and ignoring Jake's ever more frantic phone messages. Jake finally dispatches Sully to find both Brogan and Jessie, triggering unexpected bloodshed and a return to Los Angeles, as the sordid worlds of football gambling and political corruption collide in a frenzy of blackmail, back-stabbing and violence.

Against All Odds contains several memorable highlights that belong in a better movie. Terry and Jessie make steamy love in a Mayan temple, causing the walls to sweat. Kid Creole and the Coconuts perform the smoothly corrupt My Male Curiosity in Jake's nightclub. Terry and Jake engage in a hair raising, high speed Porsche versus Ferrari duel on the road, weaving in and out of traffic in an old fashioned, dim-witted mano-a-mano confrontation, among the best crazy car chases put to film.

And the closing shot strikes gold. Director Taylor Hackford sustains a long hold on Jessie as she stands on her future and stares longingly as her past leaves her behind, enhanced by Phil Collins' legendary Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now), one of the finest tragic tunes from the films of the 1980s.

But a lot also goes wrong in this movie, a loose updating of 1947's Out Of The Past. There are too many plot threads blowing in the wind and competing for attention. Jake, Kirsch, Grace, Sully and Caxon from a dense nexus of evil-doers, engaged in political corruption, illegal gambling, match fixing, and greedy developers outmanoeuvring environmental activists. With too much going on, the love and lust elements take a back seat and the second half of the film, back in Los Angeles, spirals out of control. Terry gets involved in ridiculous situations to create artificial thriller elements, Jessie's actions are irrational, seemingly manufactured to needlessly prolong a damaged love triangle.

The film finally begins to teeter on the edge of a parody rather than an homage to the film noir genre. Bloodied dead bodies are stashed in bathrooms, guard dogs growl, a minor corporate secretary (Swoosie Kurtz) suddenly reemerges to help Terry break into a safe, guns are waved all over the place, and James Woods as Jake Wise descends into manic intensity mode, blood vessels about to pop as both his love life and corrupt business empire are threatened.

James Bridges and Rachel Ward do generate sustained heat, although Ward's acting is simply not up to par. Her delivery is wooden, almost amateurish, and except for that final shot, she struggles to generate any genuine emotion. Bridges is better, frequently shirtless and more believable as a slightly dim football player with the rug of his life suddenly pulled out from below him. The Eric Hughes script simply forgets to demonstrate any source of attraction between Jessie and Jake, leaving part of the romantic conflict woefully vacant, and reducing James Woods' role to that of slimeball extraordinaire. Richard Widmark and Jane Greer (who starred in Out Of The Past) add welcome veteran sophistication to the supporting cast.

While not exactly a car wreck, Against All Odds is more a lingering curiosity than a good film. There are moments that deserve standing and staring, but also a lot of nondescript debris cluttering the scene.






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