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Dead Pool, The
Back in '88, a title like The Dead Pool would prick up my ears. It sounds horribly grim. Years later I learned that a dead pool is like an office betting pool, but what you're betting on is which in a particular group of celebrities will be the first to die. Usually on the list are real oldies and folks with dangerous lifestyles. It's a neat world we live in, huh?
Such a game of 'chance' is exactly the subject of The Dead Pool, the final chapter in the five-movie Dirty Harry saga. (It's the final chapter if they don't, as John Milius jokes, come up with a sequel wherein Callahan is retired and fishing. You never know.) It's an ill fitting end, too, as Dead Pool is a near total parody; an almost lighthearted effort featuring precious little logic, some rather unique performances, and enough material to stuff a one-hour television cop show, but not quite enough for a feature-length movie.
Celebrities have started dying in suspicious ways, and mysterious lists with dead pool names and players are turning up at the crime scenes. Dead pool participant Peter Swan (Liam Neeson) comes under suspicion, as celebrity names from his list are the ones ending up dead. But would the ego-tripping horror director really stoop to murder just so he can win the game? Sure, some of the names on his list are folks who haven't been to kind to Swan, but come on, people! Of course Callahan and yet another new partner, Al Quan (Evan C. Kim) are on the case, and Callahan even finds a potential love interest in the form of an intrepid reporter Samantha Walker (Patricia Clarkson) who's dogging the case. Will Callahan figure out who is doing what before 90 minutes is up? Will the painfully obvious murderous motivations produce a villain we've at least seen before in the film, or someone who pops out at the last minute? For a goofy, amusing popcorn shoot-em-up, it doesn't really matter, but make no mistake, even though Eastwood appears, making fun of his steely character, this is not your daddy's Dirty Harry movie.
Foremost, at least the first two Dirty Harry movies dealt with some form of political or sociological issue. The best that can be said for Dead Pool is that it looks at the nature of celebrity (and I got that little tidbit from the commentary track). But other than Callahan being yet again the target of angry mobsters (check the exciting and super-violent opening scene) the rest of the movie reads like a below average slasher mixed with an uninspired Eastwood procedural. Now that I think of it, numerous nods are made to the vagaries of fame, from Callahan almost vaporizing two dudes asking for his autograph, to a bit with a guy who wants to light himself on fire just so people will know who he was. But instead of getting deep into the issue - an odd one at that, for a cop movie - the filmmakers go for silly flash.
Among that silly flash are the most strangely entertaining parts of the movie. For instance there's the astoundingly out-of-place Exorcist-style music video starring Jim Carrey pretending to be Axl Rose, (how did I not know about this?) the high-speed car chase involving a remote control toy corvette, and who can forget Callahan wielding a harpoon gun?
Such lunacy makes Dead Pool imminently watchable, but almost like a lazy joke capping off the series. Eastwood and Clarkson have some nice chemistry, while Kim comes across as a partner who might actually be a good match for Callahan, but most of the interactions - especially Callahan working with his bosses - are played for laughs. You almost expect to hear Homer Simpson yelling, "It means he gets results, you stupid chief!" and that's not so good. The ultimate joke may be Neeson's turn as director Swan, with a bizarre accent - how can Neeson screw up a British accent? - and a fiery character steeped in cliché. While plenty of fun, The Dead Pool as a cop movie is memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, enhanced for widescreen TVs, there's no murkiness in this dead pool. Images are very sharp, there are no glaring compression artifacts, and film grain or damage is not an issue. Colors are accurate but not aggressively saturated, even with blood-red horror movie motifs and Carrey's garish music video, which makes for a nice subdued atmosphere amongst the over-the-top proceedings. A very dark movie, most of the blacks are nice and deep. Opening nighttime shots of the San Francisco skyline are a bit grainy and have some strange lighter areas on the upper right and left hand corners, however. Not sure what that's about, but it is a distraction.
As with the other new deluxe editions in the Dirty Harry series, we get English 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, and four additional Mono Audio Tracks, in French, Spanish, Japanese and Portuguese. My stereo speakers and pseudo-surround sound setting treated me to a well-mixed and exciting soundtrack, with active placement for things like the zippy little RC car zooming around, as well as beefy explosions. Dialog is clear and understandable, with very little hiss and no conflicts with sound effects or soundtrack music. Lalo Schifrin's score sounds fantastic except for the fact that his take on '80s synth-jazz (think Jann Hammer) hasn't aged well. It's funky in all senses of the word. Welcome To The Jungle by Guns 'N' Roses sounds fine too, but it's sooo hard listening to it while watching Carrey do his weird shimmy-shake.
As this is the last entry in the series, extras are pretty well whittled down. A standard sized keepcase nested in a plastic slipcover, with a cool broken glass effect for Callahan's magnum to stick through, makes this a fun package. Included are English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese Language Tracks and Subtitles. Also on tap is a Trailer Gallery with one-plus-minute trailers for all five Dirty Harry movies. A 21-minute featurette titled The Craft of Dirty Harry pretty much covers the last bits of anything you'd want to know about the series, in this case profiling those creative artists who toiled behind the cameras - from editing to scoring - to make the Dirty Harry series the efficient and exciting series it is. Sure, 20 minutes isn't very long to cover such a large range of artists, but it's an interesting look nonetheless. Finally there's the feature-length Commentary Track with producer David Valdes and cinematographer Jack N. Green, who talk about filming in San Francisco for the fifth chapter of the Dirty saga. A mix of behind-the-scenes anecdotes, reminiscences of working with Eastwood and others, and general thoughts/experiences involving filmmaking, its an at times sparse, yet affable and pleasant commentary.
With enough silly activities, elements of self-parody, lack of a deep theme and even more outrageous violence, The Dead Pool is something of a slaphappy goof on the Dirty Harry franchise. At that, it's not the most dignified exit for Callahan, but still a hell of a lot of fun. This deluxe edition DVD, while nicely presented, touts a fairly standard load of extras. If you're a real Harry fanatic and completist, you'll likely have bought the box set of all five movies, so for casual fans of the genre, I'll say Rent It.