Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Film Review: FALLING DOWN (1993, Joel Schumacher)

Stars: 3.4 of 5.
Running Time: 113 minutes.
Tag-line: "The adventures of an ordinary man at war with the everyday world."
Notable Cast or Crew: Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Rachel Tictotin (TOTAL RECALL, CON AIR), Tuesday Weld (PRETTY POISON, LORD LOVE A DUCK), Barbara Hershey (THE RIGHT STUFF, THE STUNT MAN), Raymond J. Barry (COOL RUNNINGS, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY), and Frederic Forrest (APOCALYPSE NOW, TRAUMA, THE CONVERSATION). Music by James Newton Howard (WATERWORLD, UNBREAKABLE, ER). Cinematography by Andrej Bartkowiak (PRINCE OF THE CITY, Q&A, TWINS, SPEED).
Best one-liner: See review.

Despite its famous rant pertaining to certain golden-arched dining establishment (well, technically it's 'WhammyBurger'), FALLING DOWN is kind of like McTAXI DRIVER.

We've got our white male rage, our paramilitary transformation, and our casual racism; but instead of delving deeply into our hero's mind to see the deadened core, the writhing frustrations, and the bubbling violence firsthand (like in ROLLING THUNDER, HARDCORE, or RAGING BULL), we've got ridiculous situations, clichés, and a parade of one-liners. On an intellectual level, this film is a failure. It tries to mimic the mere trappings of past masterpieces (the Schrader flicks I’ve named, the snowglobe breakage from CITIZEN KANE, the hypnotic traffic jam that opens 8 1/2), in my opinion, so that it doesn't have to ask the tough questions, and instead would sorta just slide into the pantheon of greatness like a slick little puzzle piece. Well, that didn’t work. So why almost three and a half stars?

Well, as Freddy Krueger would attest, I am a sucker for one-liners. And these one-liners are damn solid. And they’re all delivered by a horn-rimmed, wearily psychotic Michael Douglas.

I am also a sucker for scenes that could have easily been culled from a classic Golan-Globus flick. Scenes like this one.

To a convenience store owner, as he trashes his overpriced goods: “I’m just standing up for my rights as a consumer!” To a would-be drive-by artist: “Take some shooting lessons, asshole!”

To a rich, crusty golfer: “You're gonna die, wearing that stupid hat. How does it feel?”

It feels pretty good from out here, Mike.

As such, the entertainment level is where FALLING DOWN succeeds. Most of the time, it feels like a straight-up comedy. Hey- it’s from the director of D.C. CAB, not THE SEVENTH SEAL. And, even in 1993, it adheres to that ironclad rule of 80’s cinema: if there’s ever a fancy, special order cake present, it must not be eaten: someone will be sucker-punched and –KER-SQUASH- land right on top of it. Frederic Forrest gets a nice bit part as a closeted Neo-Nazi:

Frederic Forrest: terrifying.

Rachel Ticotin plays -gasp- a tuff Latina cop, Tuesday Weld sends a postcard from Nagsville, U.S.A., and Robert Duvall’s a worn out detective on that clichéd last day before retirement (but still manages to imbue his cardboard role with an abundance of humanity) .

Rounding out the talent is hazy, sweltering, evocative L.A. cinematography by Sidney Lumet-lenser Andrej Bartkowiak. I'm getting sweaty just thinking about it. In all, I'll pass along about three and a half stars.

-Sean Gill

6. BLIND FURY (1989, Philip Noyce)
7. HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951, John Farrow)
8. HIGH SCHOOL U.S.A. (1983, Rod Amateau)
9. DR. JEKYLL AND MS. HYDE (1995, David Price)
11. 1990: BRONX WARRIORS (1982, Enzo G. Castellari)
12. FALLING DOWN (1993, Joel Schumacher)
13. ...


J.D. said...

All this film needed to be truly complete was for Duvall to say at least once, "I'm getting too old for this shit." It's been awhile since I've seen this film so maybe he did say it?

I dunno, I have a love/hate relationship with this film. In some respects, it is a fun ride as we get to see Douglas as if his Gekko character from WALL STREET had been downsized and he nothing left to lose and decided to pick up a baseball bat and go all WALKING TALL on anyone who pissed him off. But then, as you point out, its directed by Joel Schumacher who has all the subtlty of say, Oliver Stone (but without his skill). That being said, THE LOST BOYS and FLATLINERS are guilty pleasures but I digress.

I can't fully come down on this film because it has some truly wonderfully, gleefully trashy action set pieces. Cannon Films fodder indeed.

Sean Gill said...

Totally. While I certainly enjoy this thing in all its bazooka-blastin' glory, I find myself taking a few big steps back whenever somebody suggests that it possesses cogent social commentary, as it's pretty much got all the profundity of, maybe, DEATH WISH 3. That being said, I don't reallly get all the Schumacher bashing. It seems that his name is one of a handful that come up whenever someone wants to pile on a 'Hollywood' director, and the brains behind CAR WASH, D.C. CAB, and THE LOST BOYS should not be uttered in the same breath as a McG or a Breck Eisner.

J.D. said...

Ack! McG! can't stand that guy. Brett Ratner either! They are the antichrists of cinema! Breck Eisner is pretty bad - SAHARA sucked but he got good notices for THE CRAZIES remake which I'm cautiously optimistic about.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Ha! Yes, the subtlety of a frying pan to the head, but for all its flaws I love Falling Down. I love Michael Douglas. I knew guys like this growing up. They just never had the complete meltdown. If they had, it would have been just like this.

Falling Down is an imperfect film, and I agree with you both about Joel, but this is one of his highlights and I do place it in the infinitely rewatchable queue. It's the rare exception to most of his work save for maybe The Lost Boys.

Sean Gill said...

Yeah, you gotta love Douglas. And you have to wonder if it had been cast with a less likable actor, would it take on an entirely different timbre? I.e., if Forrest's and Douglas' roles had been reversed? The Forrest character's inclusion is certainly of note, though- in order to get us as an audience on board, they need to show what D-FENS is NOT- as in Mike Leigh's NAKED where our misogynistic, rapist 'hero' is shown in juxtaposition to an even douchier, COMPLETELY evil yuppified rapist. In both cases it makes the offensive protagonist more palatable, and in the case of FALLING DOWN, excuses the silly grin on my face.

(And as an entirely nonsensical side note, when I was watching him rampage in CRITTERS 2, I couldn't help but wonder what it would have been like if FALLING DOWN had starred 80's übernerd, Eddie Deezen.)