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Savant Review:

The Dead Pool

The Dead Pool
Warner Home Video
1988 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic widescreen / 91m. /
Starring Clint Eastwood, Patricia Clarkson, Liam Neeson, Evan C. Kim, David Hunt, Michael Currie, Michael Goodwin, Jim Carrey
Cinematography Jack N. Green
Production Designer Edward C. Carfagno
Film Editor Ron Spang
Original Music Lalo Schifrin
Writing credits Steve Sharon
Produced by David Valdes
Directed by Buddy Van Horn

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Made in a big hurry to fulfill a contract with Warners for yet another installment in the Dirty Harry franchise, The Dead Pool succeeds about 2/3 of the time. It uses a witty script to help over-the-hill Clint Eastwood come through once again as an action hero, yet the direction and production are a bit too skimpy to put the proper oomph in the overkill of America's favorite fascist-lite policeman.


The death of substance-abusing rock star Johnny Squares (Jim Carrey) while filming a music video with obnoxious English director Peter Swan (Liam Neeson) introduces detective Harry Callahan to the morbid game called The Dead Pool. A group of bettors guess which celebrities might die next - Squares was on the list, and now Harry's name is too. With help from his partner Al Quan (Evan C. Kim) and feisty reporter Samantha Walker (Patricia Clarkson), Harry faces a number of bizarre assassination attempts, not knowing if his assailants are hoods avenging a mob boss he's put in prison, or the Dead Pool Killer in person.

Over the hill? Long in the tooth? Eighteen years after first picking up his Magnum, Clint Eastwood comes back and aquits himself well in The Dead Pool, a project that may have been initiated to 'thank' Warners for letting him direct his music-oriented film Bird. Writer Steve Sharon was asked to come up with a good Dirty Harry story fast, and he just happened to have waiting a 'ten little indians' sort of annihilating melodrama, that had already seen one draft as a Dirty Harry story. This accounts for the preponderance of movie-related death scenes, as the original was set in Los Angeles and had a mad special effects man whose killings were inspired by his work tools - drugs, electric cars, a prop harpoon gun, etc.

Filmed efficiently on San Francisco locations, most of the violence in The Dead Pool will be familiar to the fans. The script makes sure Harry interrupts at least one holdup in progress, using the crude but effective rejoinder, 'You're shit out of luck!' Eastwood may have chosen that line from several alternatives, because he was tired of people coming up in public and asking him to Make Their Day. He also confronts a man trying to douse himself with a bucket of gasoline, a situation that was inspired by a real-life occurance, where a newscamera team filmed an identical suicide without making an attempt to intervene. Usually the scripts for these sequels are pretty flat, even John Milius' work in Magnum Force, and the compensation comes in top-notch action scenes. Although there's some good rough stuff on view, a lot of the action is subdued, presumably just to keep costs down - the full price tag for this film was only 14 million.

That, and the unexciting direction of ex-stunt man Buddy Van Horn keep The Dead Pool from achieving its scripted intention of being the biggest and best Dirty Harry of them all. The most harm is done to scenes that were written for outrageous hyperbole, but ended up being scaled down on the set. The original conclusion had Harry shooting a full-sized, deck-mounted harpoon gun, which catapults the bad guy halfway across the harbor, trailing 50 yards of rope behind him in an arc. On paper it was practically a Roadrunner cartoon gag, with Callahan wielding just the crazy kind of Ahab-weapon we want to see Dirty Harry reach for.

What the direction and the production can't take away from the script are the good dialogue and situations. Harry Callahan repeats his 'opinions are like assholes' line from the first film, but otherwise is enlivened with character touches that show him to be just as embittered as always, yet with a new tolerance and creativity to his style. When a publicity cop slights his Asian partner, Harry does a slow burn with Evan C. Kim. Harry just walks out on a reporter's free dinner when she tries to prod him about old cases, but actively pursues her later instead of just waiting for her to come panting in his direction, as all the other women in Harry's life seem to. In the film's best scene, Harry intimidates a mobster in jail by cleverly using a very scary-looking bruiser of an inmate to enforce his word. Worth a good chuckle on DVD, this had the audience at the preview screening in 1988 laughing and cheering.

Several elements of self-parody creep into The Dead Pool, but are mostly kept in check. The best is a Bullitt style car chase up and down the steep Frisco hills - but in this case, Harry's chased by a miniature radio-controlled car loaded with explosives. The way the little hobby toy zooms down the streets and keeps up with Harry's wild driving is hilarious, but serious too. Word is that they actually had to slow the R/C car down during production. It kept beating Dirty Harry's car down the hill!

Obviously mellowed quite a bit, Eastwood is still potent in this, the last Dirty Harry sequel to date. What he lacks in athleticism, he makes up with grit and attitude. The supporting cast is okay, but it's obvious the film was cast as cheaply as possible. Jim Carrey's early scenes show his familiar mannerisms to be fully functional years before his breakthrough comedies. The word is that Carrey's audition tape (the Welcome to the Jungle scene) was incredible -- far more effective than the final product, which looks as though director Van Horn had never seen a music video. Liam Neeson is functional as a red-herring jerk of a horror film director, a thankless and fairly colorless part.

Maybe it was intended as a sly joke, but Savant took an almost personal offense at the basic premise of The Dead Pool. A lot of dialogue is devoted to linking the evils of unrestrained movie violence to real violence and crimes. But who gets the blame, in this sequel in one of the most violence-celebrating series of all time? Horror films! Yes, it's those darn horror films again, which obviously incite all kinds of copycat killings in real life. No, those vigilante, gun-worshipping, lawless testosterone Dirty Harry/ Sylvester Stallone/ Arnold Schwartzenegger action movies never give kids ideas about how glamorous guns and killing are. No siree ....

Warners DVD of The Dead Pool is a solid addition to the line, with a new, clean 2001 transfer, picture and sound. Colors are good, even in the numerous dark scenes, and the audio has been remixed to 5.1 . The only real extra is a trailer, but besides a French track, there are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Korean.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Dead Pool rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: November 26, 2001

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