Skip to main content

Now, are you sure you want to have a fight? Because I’m only going to use my thumb.

The Presidio
(1988)

(SPOILERS) “Shit on a shtick” exclaims Sean Connery (RIP) at one point during The Presidio. That was probably also his reaction on learning Mark Harmon was to be his co-star (it seems Kevin Costner dropped out, and then Don Johnson couldn’t catch a break from Miami Vice. You know, manly male types Sean might have vibed with). Much as it would be nice to dispute the prevailing view (“I suppose Harmon could have been stronger” was Sean’s verdict), Connery’s co-star is the weak link here. But even if this had ended up as a reteam for Costner and Connery, I doubt The Presidio would have been a keeper.

That’s down to a very average Larry Ferguson screenplay, one that encourages director Peter Hyams’ most generic impulses rather than inspiring him to turn in a quality journeyman affair (as his previous collaboration with Connery, Outland, turned out to be). In the vein of the later likes of A Few Good Men and The General’s Daughter, there’s a murder investigation focused an army base, the San Francisco Presidio of the title. Aliens’ Jenette Goldstein has been killed, and Harmon’s former MP Austin, now a police detective, is called in, reluctantly collaborating with Connery’s Lieutenant Colonel Caldwell.

There’s bad blood between them because hot head Harmon beat up a colonel on Connery’s watch; he subsequently left the army after getting busted down a stripe. Nevertheless, as is always the case with these things, the at-loggerheads duo gradually develop a grudging respect for each other. This despite Harmon embarking on an affair with Connery’s daughter Meg Ryan (herself keen on provoking daddy; she first encounters Harmon in a braless top).

In part then, The Presidio’s problems derive from there being no bite to Harmon’s bland performance. Which means there’s no energy to his friction with Connery. Which also means the picture spends significant time on a romance that fails to pay off (doubtless Paramount had one eye on the military formula that paid off for them so resoundingly with Top Gun, along with the ex-services vibe of Lethal Weapon). Connery and Ryan work well together, and Connery and Jack Warden, the latter as the retired sergeant major who saved his life, work even better, a couple of old pros hitting an easy chemistry ("I should have left your worthless Scotch ass in the jungle").

But the investigation itself is a fizzle. There’s no hard graft involved, with clues dropping in our heroes’ laps; it turns out the bad guys are smuggling diamonds in water bottles. Those bad guys (Mark Blum’s ex-CIA entrepreneur, Dana Gladstone’s colonel) are quite forgettable – inevitably, whatever disrepute the armed forces fall into represents only a few bad apples – and the reveal that Warden is involved leads to ungainly exposition in which he’s effectively exonerated (he still has to die, of course, in a pretty rubbish shootout climax in a bottling factory, complete with Harmon killing Blum as the former rides a conveyor belt).

The picture’s keen on exactly those kinds of very 80s tropes (Ryan ravishes Harmon on her car before retreating to a fireside rug), but they’re all ones its borrowing rather than inventing, and it shows. Bruce Broughton’s score is forgettably synth heavy. Connery is serviced with an enjoyable grandstanding scene where he beats up an uncouth bar hound with only his thumb (actually, he also trips the guy up, so he cheats a bit). It’s The Presidio’s one claim to fame with regard to anything memorable.

Still, Harmon aside (let’s face it, the small screen suited him better, as NCIS evidenced), it’s interesting to note the picture as the first fruit of Connery’s post-The Untouchables career phase. This might not have been a prestigious example, but the paternal figure he’d tested out in his last few roles (Highlander, The Name of the Rose), would soon lead to more consistent box office. It also represented Ryan’s final girlfriend trophy part before When Harry Met Sally established her as a lead in her own right. Whatever The Presidio’s faults, they can’t be said to lie with either Connery or Ryan.


Popular posts from this blog

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

I don’t think Wimpys still exist.

Last Night in Soho (2021) (SPOILERS) Last Night in Soho is a cautionary lesson in one’s reach extending one’s grasp. It isn’t that Edgar Wright shouldn’t attempt to stretch himself, it’s simply that he needs the self-awareness to realise which moves are going to throw his back out and leave him in a floundering and enfeebled heap on the studio floor. Wright’s an uber-geek, one with a very specific comfort zone, and there’s no shame in that. He evidently was shamed, though, hence this response to criticisms of a lack of maturity and – obviously – lack of versatility with female characters. Last Night in Soho goes broke for woke, and in so doing exposes his new clothes in the least flattering light. Because Edgar is in no way woke, his attempts to prove his progressive mettle lead to a lurid, muddled mess, one that will satisfy no one. Well, perhaps his most ardent fans, but no one else.

It looks like a digital walkout.

Free Guy (2021) (SPOILERS) Ostensibly a twenty-first century refresh of The Truman Show , in which an oblivious innocent realises his life is a lie, and that he is simply a puppet engineered for the entertainment of his creators/controllers/the masses, Free Guy lends itself to similar readings regarding the metaphysical underpinnings of our reality, of who sets the paradigm and how conscious we are of its limitations. But there’s an additional layer in there too, a more insidious one than using a Hollywood movie to “tell us how it really is”.

It becomes easier each time… until it kills you.

The X-Files 4.9: Terma Oh dear. After an engaging opener, the second part of this story drops through the floor, and even the usually spirited Rob Bowman can’t save the lethargic mess Carter and Spotnitz make of some actually pretty promising plot threads.

He's not a nightstalker, and it'll take a lot more than bench presses to defeat him.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) (SPOILERS) The most successful entry in the franchise, if you don’t count Freddy vs. Jason . And the point at which Freddy went full-on vaudeville, transformed into adored ringmaster rather than feared boogeyman. Not that he was ever very terrifying in the first place (the common misapprehension is that later instalments spoiled the character, but frankly, allowing Robert Englund to milk the laughs in bad-taste fashion is the saving grace of otherwise forgettably formulaic sequel construction). A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master boasts the most inventive, proficient effects work yet, but it’s also by far the least daring in terms of plotting, scraping together a means for Freddy to persist in his nocturnal pestilence while offering nothing in the way of the unexpected, be it characterisations or story points.

Give daddy the glove back, princess.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) (SPOILERS) Looking at Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare , by some distance the least lauded (and laudable) of the original Elm Street sextet, you’d think it inconceivable that novice director and series old-hand – first as assistant production manager and finally as producer – Rachel Talalay has since become a respected and in-demand TV helmer. For the most part, Freddy’s Dead is shockingly badly put together. It reminded me of the approach the likes of Chris Carter and Sir Ken take, where someone has clearly been around productions, absorbing the basics of direction, but has zero acumen for turning that into a competent motion picture, be it composition, scene construction, editing or pacing. Talalay’s also responsible for the story idea here, which does offer a few nuggets, at least, but her more primary role actively defeats any positives.

Monster nom nom?

The Suicide Squad (2021) (SPOILERS) This is what you get from James Gunn when he hasn’t been fed through the Disney rainbow filter. Pure, unadulterated charmlessness, as if he’s been raiding his deleted Twitter account for inspiration. The Suicide Squad has none of the “heart” of Guardians of Galaxy , barely a trace of structure, and revels in the kind of gross out previously found in Slither ; granted an R rating, Gunn revels in this freedom with juvenile glee, but such carte blanche only occasionally pays off, and more commonly leads to a kind of playground repetition. He gets to taunt everyone, and then kill them. Critics applauded; general audiences resisted. They were right to.

Give poor, starving Gurgi munchings and crunchings.

The Black Cauldron (1985) (SPOILERS) Dark Disney? I guess… Kind of . I don’t think I ever got round to seeing this previously. The Fox and the Hound , sure. Basil the Great Mouse Detective , most certainly. Even Oliver and Company , so I wasn’t that selective. But I must have missed The Black Cauldron , the one that nearly broke Disney, for the same reason everyone else did. But what reason was that? Perhaps nothing leaping out about it, when the same summer kids could see The Goonies , or Back to the Future , or Pee Wee’s Big Adventure . It seemed like a soup of other, better-executed ideas and past Disney movies, stirred up in a cauldron and slopped out into an environment where audiences now wanted something a touch more sophisticated.

Oh hello, loves, what year is it?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) (SPOILERS) Simu Lui must surely be the least charismatic lead in a major motion picture since… er, Taylor Lautner? He isn’t aggressively bad, like Lautner was/is, but he’s so blank, so nondescript, he makes Marvel’s super-spiffy new superhero Shang-Chi a superplank by osmosis. Just looking at him makes me sleepy, so it’s lucky Akwafina is wired enough for the both of them. At least, until she gets saddled with standard sidekick support heroics and any discernible personality promptly dissolves. And so, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings continues Kevin Feige’s bold journey into wokesense, seemingly at the expense of any interest in dramatically engaging the viewer.

The voice from the outer world who will lead them to paradise.

Dune (2021) (SPOILERS) For someone who has increasingly dug himself a science-fiction groove, Denis Villeneuve isn’t terribly imaginative. Dune looks perfect, in the manner of the cool, clinical, calculating and above all glacial rendering of concept design and novel cover art in the most doggedly literal fashion. And that’s the problem. David Lynch’s edition may have had its problems, but it was inimitably the product of a mind brimming with sensibility. Villeneuve’s version announces itself as so determinedly faithful to Frank Herbert, it needs two movies to tell one book, and yet all it really has to show for itself are gargantuan vistas.