The Hard Way (1991) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running Time: 111 min.
Cast): Michael J. Fox, James Woods, Stephen Lang, Annabella Sciorra, Delroy Lindo, Luis Guzman, LL Cool J, Christina Ricci, Penny Marshall, Kathy Najimy, Mos Def (cameo)
Director: John Badham
Screenplay: Daniel Pyne, Lem Dobbs
James Woods (Cat's Eye, Against All Odds) is John Moss, one of the toughest loose-cannon NYPD cops, and he's out to take down the city's most notorious killer, known to the media as The Party Crasher (Lang, Tombstone). Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future Part II, Part III) plays mega-popular actor Nick Lang, who sees Moss on television one day, and thinks he'd make the perfect role model for acting tips for his next blockbuster movie. In an agreement with the NYPD, Lang gets the chance to be Moss's partner out on the beat, but due to the danger, Moss is pulled off of the Party Crasher case for fluff assignments. However, you can't keep a tough cop down, as Moss continues his pursuit, all the while trying to get off of his glam assignment, because Lang has been getting in his head, in his house, and in his personal life far too much.
The Hard Way proves to be another noisy, cluttered film from director John Badham (Stakeout, American Flyers), filled with typical buddy cop clichés and lots of sensationalistic violence in between. Most of the appeal of the film comes from the interaction of Fox and Woods, both known for giving energetic performances, but without good, funny material to surround them with, all we're left with is a personality piece that might only appeal to fans of the leads.
The real downside to the entertainment value, other than the lack of genuinely smart laughs, comes from the insipid plot and poor conception in the main nemesis. Lang is supposed to learn what it's like to be a cop in the "real world", except the real world is nothing but the most conventional example of a Hollywood police action vehicle. Stephen Lang hams it up to the nth degree as the crazed psycho Party Crasher, filling the screen with broken glass, explosions, and excess noise whenever he makes an appearance. Even when he's not onscreen, the film is still cluttered, noisy, and poorly edited, and certainly not anything remotely close to being exciting or hilarious.
The Hard Way is, at its heart, supposed to be a satire of dumb action flicks, but only succeeds in becoming the prey of its own hunt. Perhaps toning down the volume and pacing, injecting more moments of cleverness, and we might have had a better film to talk about. Without anywhere to go or things to do, Badham decide to try to throw as much action and mayhem at us as possible, requiring the actors to yell and scream throughout most of it. Getting to see some early work by Christina Ricci (The Addams Family), LL Cool J (Deep Blue Sea), and (if you look quick) a very young Mos Def makes for pleasant distractions, but in every other way that counts, The Hard Way is a hard watch.
©2006 Vince Leo