Wednesday, 5 February 2014

LA cops are told to play by the rules… Shotgun (1989)

I had put it off for too long, I thought, as I supped a pint of bitter and enjoyed a fine Bolivar No.1 at the Rose & Crown. One of my loyal readers had long badgered me for a particular film review and I had continually demurred. Now, in a more philosophical mind, sheltering as I was beneath an outdoor heater as the cold wind whipped around me, I thought it high time that I shared this film with the general public. For one reader, at least, it will come as a welcome surprise, others will bay for my blood at having introducing them to this truly eccentric motion picture... So let me set the scene.

1989 was a year of many seminal events: the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the start of the Gulf Conflict, the birth of my younger brother, Hugo Rubinstein, the resignation from the UK Cabinet of Geoffrey Howe, the seventh season of popular Jersey-based crime drama Bergerac, Tyson vs Bruno, Arsenal winning the league... I could go on. 

It was not, however, a seminal year for cinema with some highly disappointing films rising to the surface, remember this was the year that Driving Miss Daisy won the best picture award at the Oscars! Only a few diamonds lurked amongst the general coal stock of celluloid rubbish: Black Rain; The Last Crusade; Uncle Buck; Kickboxer and Lethal Weapon 2 couldn't make up for a number of turkeys: 

  • Ghostbusters II (dire - especially Peter McNicoll's role - a poor man's Rick Moranis)
  • Licence to Kill (one of Bond's most disappointing outings)
  • The Abyss (more like the Abyss-mal)
  • Troll 2 (famously regarded as the worst film ever made) 
  • Born on the 4th July (sanctimonious rubbish masquerading as high drama) 
  • Dead Poets Society (a banquet of mawkishness)

Then there are films that you just cannot put your finger on, these special features that defy good or bad but just fall into a category of unadulterated brilliance. No, I am not talking about John Matuzak's 'One Man Force' or Don Johnson's 'Dead Bang', I am talking about the seminal  Stuart Chapin and Riff Hutton buddy-cop vehicle 'Shotgun' <click to see trailer>.

Released against the backdrop of the collapse of communism and the cultural vacuum left by the ending of Miami Vice, shotgun was made to tackle some of the major issues affecting people in the USA: narcotics, prostitution, police welfare, gun crime, shifting consumer values and border control.

Set in a fictious, but all too real LA, two cops, the hard-done-by and world-weary Ian Jones (Chapin) and Max Billings (Hutton) are on the trail of a grim English lawyer, Rivington, who likes murdering call girls in his spare times using S&M sex as his weapon of choice (a biting piece of satire from the writers of the screenplay, indicting the exponential growth of the hardcore porn scene during the 1980s). It’s tough, gritty realism told masterfully through some edgy shots, punchy material and hard-boiled dialogue

Our duo cut a fine pair, with Jone depicted in very much the style of the day: ginger ponytail, cowboy hat, Arran sweater, jeans and trademark naval overcoat - if ever there was a cop look this was it! Billing, a more senior figure, pressed and pressured by the rigours of the job is the ‘yuppie’ of the two, a family man with his eyes on the top job. He has a wife and kid, he needs the steady income of a desk job whereas Jones, the maverick, merely needs the succor of his badge and the bottom of a whisky bottle. However, sometimes Billings lets his hair down, much to the viewer's relief (as we become so involved with the lives of these two over the course of the flick) and dons a leather jacket and trucker cap to go ‘undercover’ in some of South Central’s seediest districts. 

For much of the plot they pursue the evil Rivington and his cocky sidekick, known only as ‘Rocker’ through fleshpots, dirty video stores and old skool hip hop night clubs . As much as there is the great thrill of the chase, this film could also be seen as a picture of a city in urban decay. The director using a very jerky rough-cutting editing method and low quality filming equipment merely emphasises the plight of those trapped in a downward spiral to destruction. 

As the two cops pick up leads across town, delving more and more into Rivington’s sleazy empire things start to become personal. When the boys start getting too close the corrupt lawyer decides to send a warning shot, gunning down the protagonist’s ‘only blood relative’, his sister. 

Sitting in the dimly lit bar following the ordeal, Chapin, an actors’ actor if ever there was one, delivers one of the finest, most poignant monologues in film history which exhibits how important family loyalty is to this film. Yes, it may be a booze drenched passage, but it smack of Bukowski, delivered from the heart and convincing the viewer that Jones and his sister had a unique bond now cruelly severed by a hideous villain. Hutton is also no slouch, offering an understated, quiet majesty to his intense performance as a close friend, the shoulder to cry on... you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. 

Chapin is a master of versatility, at one moment a mild mannered, almost zen-like in his approach, the next a copper-on-the-edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown. His eyes blazing with intensity, he quits the force in a flurry of confusion involving oranges been chucked at senior officers and some diarrhea-based analogies. He impulsively becomes a bounty hunter, giving an insight on the bleak prospects that await an ex-cop trying to make ends meet in the late 80s. Tragedy strikes again as his former, newly promoted ex-partner, Billings is gunned down by the bad guys because, like a horny dog, Ian Jones had been caught sniffing tail at close range one too many times. 

Like the special amp in ‘This is Spinal Tap’ , Jones cranks it up to notch 11. This time it’s personal, it’s one thing to kill his sister, but to critically injure his partner is another matter all together and so, in the same vein as other great buddy cop films, I’m thinking ‘Tango & Cash’, ‘48 Hours’, ‘Beverley Hill Cop’, ‘Stakeout’ and ‘Running Scared’ this one ends with a spectacular gun fight. Without giving too much away it involves a custom-made tank, a gun-toting English toff wearing a panama hat, a cravate and smoking a cheroot, a over-fortified Mexican hacienda, massive explosions and of course the film’s signature shotgun. It’s a rollercoaster and you need to get yourself on board to enjoy this non-stop ride. 

At the end of the day a film is only as good as its sum parts, where the script sometimes might falter Chapin and Hutton knock the ball right out of the park with bravura performances, defying the populist Academy and Screen Actors’ Guild to deliver a film that both shows the vulnerability of South California detectives but also opens up the seedy underbelly of a consumer society obsessed by cheap thrills. Is this a must see? I think yes! 

No comments:

Post a Comment