Tuesday 1 February 2011

Movie Review: The Dead Pool (1988)

Unfortunately leaving the worst until last, Dirty Harry comes back for one final ill-advised mission, but instead of ending the series with a bang, The Dead Pool just leaves a sour aftertaste in the mouth.

The shallow plot has someone sequentially killing famous residents of San Francisco, apparently working off a "dead pool" list that started as a harmless joke. Inspector Callahan is investigating the murders while fending off assassination attempts from the goons of a high-profile gangster that he helped to jail. Schlocky horror film director Peter Swan (Liam Neeson) appears to be a likely suspect behind the dead pool murders, but attention soon shifts to a mysterious sick psycho obsessed with Swan. Meanwhile, television reporter Samantha Walker (Patricia Clarkson) attempts to get to know Callahan better, but generally just serves to get in the way. Callahan finds his name on the dead pool list, and needs to stop the murderer before Dirty Harry becomes the next victim.

Several weaknesses undermine the movie. The main villain is an unnamed, faceless bi-polar lunatic, consumed with the career of horror film director Peter Swan (Liam Neeson). We get to know the bad guy too late in the film to care, and the cardinal sin of creating a hollow centre where the focus of evil should reside is an inexcusable blunder. The Dead Pool also subjects Callahan to a couple of assassination attempts so over the top that the movie enters the realm of the farcical.  Dirty Harry was always meant to be larger than life; but this does not mean that he can survive unscathed from thousands of machine gun rounds while trapped like a sitting duck in two separate ambushes.

The one engaging scene has a small remote controlled car, hiding a powerful bomb, chasing Callahan and his partner through the scenes of San Francisco. It a clever variation on traditional car chases, but in keeping with the rest of the movie, the scene ends in disappointing thoughtlessness as Callahan gets himself trapped and then waits for the bomb to explode under his car -- getting out of the car and up some stairs would have been handy.

Jim Carrey makes a brief appearance in a supporting role as a drug-addicted rock star who is the first victim of the dead pool murders, and there is an inexplicable emphasis on Guns N' Roses throughout the movie, with the band members having walk-on roles. Director Buddy Van Horn, better known as a stuntman, appears to be out of his depth and directs with no more than minimal functionality.

The Dead Pool is the final chapter in the story of one of the most colorful police characters in the history of the movies. Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, the ideas ran out before Dirty Harry harpooned his final victim.

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