It's old news that the urban cop thriller has taken the place of the western as the pre-eminent movie and television genre. From the big screen's LETHAL WEAPON to the small screen's "21 Jump Street," it seems that audiences just can't get their fill of car chases, cop banter, high-caliber shootouts, and screaming precinct captains. The problem is that there...read more
It's old news that the urban cop thriller has taken the place of the western as the pre-eminent movie and television genre. From the big screen's LETHAL WEAPON to the small screen's "21 Jump Street," it seems that audiences just can't get their fill of car chases, cop banter,
high-caliber shootouts, and screaming precinct captains. The problem is that there are only so many story lines that will accommodate the stock cop-movie set pieces. As a result, writers and directors are straining to find new twists on the same old story. Signs of that strain certainly show in
SHORT TIME, a fairly routine cop opera that stars Dabney Coleman and Teri Garr, two of Hollywood's best but most consistently ill-used comic actors. Here Coleman and Garr are trapped in a bland, family-oriented, feel-good comedy-drama that is periodically interrupted by the usual chases,
shootouts, buddy-buddy byplay (Matt Frewer, amazingly billed above Garr, does the buddy duty with Coleman), and precinct screaming sessions (with Barry Corbin, looking understandably apathetic, as the captain). The ensemble is completed by Joe Pantoliano, who contributes virtually the same
performance he gave in DOWNTOWN, again playing a refined but ruthless villain, this time negotiating to buy a load of stolen experimental weapons from a street hood (Xander Berkeley).
The unusually tortured premise finds Coleman in the role of Seattle police detective Burt Simpson, who is one week away from retirement (hence the title). When Burt undergoes a physical examination for his life insurance policy, a bus driver switches his blood and urine samples with Burt's. The
driver is afraid that detection of marijuana in his samples will lead to his firing. What the driver doesn't know is that he also has a fatal disease, and, naturally, when the samples are switched, it appears that Burt is ready to kick the bucket. Checking his insurance policy, Burt learns that
insurance benefits from death in the line of duty would put his young son, Dougie (Kaj-Erik Eriksen), through college and support his ex-wife, Carolyn (Garr), well into the foreseeable future. Since he's going to die anyway, Burt decides to go out of his way to become the target for a bad guy's
bullet. Since there wouldn't be much of a movie otherwise, it turns out that Burt has a charmed life; his line-of-duty suicide attempts repeatedly turn into acts of heroism, leading to some of the film's funnier scenes, in which Burt's incredulous Captain (Corbin) pins medals on a visibly
distracted and irritated Burt. Of course, Burt learns the truth about his good health at the very moment that it looks as though his death wish will be fulfilled. Predictably, along the way Burt also finds time to re-establish his emotional bonds with his ex-wife and son.
There is probably a good movie floating around somewhere in SHORT TIME, but only hints of it are to be found in John Blumenthal and Michael Berry's illogical script. Early in the film, before the misdiagnosis, Burt keeps his partner from chasing a suspect because of his desire to play it safe so
close to his retirement. For his timidity Burt is publicly lambasted by his captain. Later, however, the captain inexplicably tries to calm Burt down, putting him behind a desk as a response to Burt's life-risking heroism. If there is anything in the film that justifies its existence, it is the
scenes between Coleman and Garr, who bring a tender romanticism to their reconciliation. Yet, even here, the script's sloppiness is apparent, since Blumenthal and Berry make no attempt to explain how these two decent, perfectly compatible people could have broken up in the first place.
A second unit director for John Badham on STAKEOUT; BLUE THUNDER; and WAR GAMES, and the son of choreographer Gower Champion, director Gregg Champion obviously knows his way around a car chase. Unfortunately, the extended sequence in which Champion playfully and effectively spoofs the great car
chases in THE FRENCH CONNECTION and BULLITT looks like it belongs in another film. What's more, in the quieter scenes, Champion reverts to a flat television style that emphasizes the meandering incoherence of the script. Coleman and Garr come close to finding the good film that is buried in SHORT
TIME--but not close enough. As it is, SHORT TIME could have been a lot shorter. (Violence, profanity, adult situations.)
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