A disappointing Hart to Hart reunion movie. Sony's Choice Collection vault of hard-to-find cult and library titles has released Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die, the fourth of eight Hart to Hart reunion movies produced in the mid-90s (Sony has just recently re-released all eight of the Hart to Hart reunion movies in two handy four-volume sets). Starring Stefanie Powers, Robert Wagner, Lionel Stander, and an unimpressive supporting cast including Mike Farrell and David Rasche, Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die tries for Christie with its secluded setting, assortment of suspicious characters, and bodies piling up, but only the most die-hard Hart to Hart fan will take this trip. No extras, as expected.
When best-selling author Jennifer Hart (Stefanie Powers) is invited to the fabulous private Hawaiian island of powerful publisher Alfred Raine (David Leisure) for a three day party, she can't resist taking along her husband, wealthy industrialist Jonathan Hart (Robert Wagner). Unfortunately, just as they're about to leave, Jonathan becomes concerned about a possible hostile take-over of Hart Industries, so he leaves the investigative footwork to his loyal manservant, Max (Lionel Stander), to discover who wants to buy out his empire. Once on the island, Jennifer and Jonathon meet their fellow guests and authors, including a chess expert (James Avery), an ardent feminist (Vicki Lawrence), and a health food nut who cheats on his diet (David Leisure). However, Jennifer is most interested in crime writer Frank Crane (Mike Farrell), an old college pal of Jonathan's, who seems suspiciously clairvoyant when it comes to impending disasters involving the Harts. Will the Harts, with the somewhat indifferent help of Detective Whoo (James Shigeta), solve the mystery...or will they wind up dead on the beautiful beaches of Hawaii?
I'm not going to spend a lot of time discussing Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die, because it's not a particularly successful Hart to Hart exercise, let alone a viable Agatha Christie tribute that will appeal to mystery fans in general. I've enjoyed the previous Hart to Hart reunion movies I've reviewed; however, Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die pretty much misses the mark on most mystery genre levels―unless you're a stone-cold Hart to Hart freak who has to see everything associated with the original series.
And that's too bad, because the same creative team―screenwriter Lawrence Hertzog, director Peter Hunt―behind the two previous successful reunion movies are back for this exercise...but you'd never know it, seeing the results here. It's difficult to know where to start in trying to find out why Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die isn't more successful. The storyline, far, far too reminiscent of far too many other mysteries, never jells because if you're going with such a tired, worn framework, you had better have really interesting, intriguing characters (or at least compelling performers) to buoy us over the familiar patches. And we have neither, here. If the linchpins for the story revolve around the characters created by Mike Farrell and David Rasch, we're in a lot of trouble right from the start. Farrell, an essentially colorless performer, brings almost nothing to the table with his equally anonymous character (we never really believe he'd be a friend to the charming, gracious Jonathan). As for Rasch, who was hysterical as TV's Sledge Hammer, he disappears whenever he tries to play it straight, and he's offered no help with his shadowy, cardboard cut-out publisher character.
One-off goofs like Vicki Lawrence and Fred Willard pop up for some unknown reason and disappear completely, and god knows why, but Paul Williams is back in L.A., as a bookie, doing legwork for (obviously ailing) Stander. James Shigeta doesn't seem to be in on the Abbott & Costello joke concerning his name...probably because it's not much of a joke by this point. And the site of Wagner and Powers doing probably the worst Laurel and Hardy imitation I've ever seen―not once but twice―only further depressed me (and no, I don't find it cute and amusing to see Stan kiss Ollie). By the time the Harts were running around the sparse "jungle" location (that seemed all of about 20 yards long), dodging booby-traps that weren't particularly menacing (there's some big oil drum on a swinging rope in the background that they don't even feature), I wondered what all of this had to do with the previous reunion movies that were so smart and witty, and which were pulled off with a little style and taste. And then it hit me why I was so disappointed: Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die would have been hard pressed to pass muster as an episode on the original series. Why, then, did anyone think it was special enough for a reunion outing?
The full-screen, 1.33:1 color transfer for Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die looked fine, with a soft color palette, a sharpish image, and little compression issues.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo audio track was re-recorded at a solid level, with little hiss, and discreet directionality. No subtitles or close captions.
For crazed fans of the original series only. Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die's premise is far too derivative of other, better mysteries, while its supporting players are either miscast...or just plain boring. And the Harts don't seem so cute here together; I guess they do need more than Powers' and Wagner's personal charm to put over the equivalent of a bad episode from the series proper. A rental for Hart to Hart completists only; everyone else can skip it.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.