John Badham's THE HARD WAY takes the easy way in this middling hybrid of the comic sendup and police action genres.
Volatile New York City homicide detective John Moss (James Woods) is told by Captain Brix (Delroy Lindo) that he's being taken off the infamous "Party Crasher" serial killer case to partner with well-known action hero Nick Lang (Michael J. Fox), who wants to do undercover research for an upcoming
film role. Moss stalks out of Brix's office, but not before Brix warns him, "You got two ways to deal with this. You got the easy way and the hard way. Do yourself a favor and make the right choice."
No sooner does Moss leave the office than he's kicking a cigarette machine, obtaining a lead on the Party Crasher killings, and ripping the fake mustache off of his new partner Lang's lip. After Lang implies he will reveal to Captain Briggs that Moss is secretly still working on the Party Crasher
case, Moss grudgingly allows Lang to tag along. The pampered star soon finds himself in the middle of a gang war, battling subway thugs, and advising Moss on the finer points of dating a new acquaintance, Susan (Annabella Sciorra). But when Moss is set to bust the Party Crasher himself (Stephen
Lang), he makes sure Lang will not be around by devising a fake shooting. Convinced that he's shot an innocent bystander, Lang decides to leave town. At the airport, however, he changes his mind and returns just in time to help Moss pursue the Party Crasher, who escaped from the bust and is at
large once again.
After the Party Crasher abducts Susan, Moss and Lang chase him to a final battle on top a Mount Rushmore-like head of Lang, advertising his latest movie. Lang is shot--though not mortally--while saving Susan, Moss kills the Party Crasher, and everyone ends up watching the premiere of the new Nick
The comic moments have nothing outrageous to play off against the police thriller plot and the police thriller plot has no new twist to make it interesting, so the viewer is left to muddle through a lukewarm stew, and only the star performances remain to make the film worth watching.
Unfortunately, neither Woods nor Fox is at his best in this film, and their incompatibility, rather than setting sparks, makes it look as if they're in two different movies. James Woods, attempting once again to cross over to mainstream stardom by teaming with another popular actor (as he did with
Glenn Close in IMMEDIATE FAMILY), parodies himself with such single-minded intensity that he succeeds in replaying his kinetic, twitchy role from 1988's COP without one shred of comic awareness.
Michael J. Fox, unconvincing as a Mel Gibson/Harrison Ford action-adventure star, is even less convincing when he teams up as Woods's partner. Fox's comedic gifts work best as a center of sanity and moderation off of which the comedy can play and which can be responded to (BACK TO THE FUTURE, THE
SECRET OF MY SUCCESS). But with Woods performing at such a fevered pitch, Fox's more tempered responses become completely ineffective.
Shockingly, the only comic moments in the film come from Stephen Lang, who plays the Party Crasher serial killer. In dyed blonde hair and glasses, a John Denver on steroids, Lang, with his over-the-top dog shouts and deranged laughter, gives this film its only spark. An interesting moment occurs
halfway through the film, when Lang is having lunch with Susan. During their conversation, it becomes clear that Susan is becoming attracted to Nick and he to her. At this point, an interesting plotline might have been pursued. But, consistent with the rest of film, this quiet moment is
immediately discarded as the film barrels ahead in its formula-laden mode. The next scene has Susan denying their attraction and before the viewer's head stops spinning, Nick is shooting it out on the subway with a vicious gang of thugs. So much for intelligence in another battle-scarred high
concept film for the 90s. (Violence, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: John Badham's THE HARD WAY takes the easy way in this middling hybrid of the comic sendup and police action genres. Volatile New York City homicide detective John Moss (James Woods) is told by Captain Brix (Delroy Lindo) that he's being taken off the inf… (more)