Friday, March 13, 2009

Film Review: 52 PICK-UP (1986, John Frankenheimer)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 110 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Roy Scheider, Ann-Margret, John Glover, Vanity, Robert Trebor (TALK RADIO, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER), Clarence Williams III (PURPLE RAIN, I'M GONNA GET YOU SUCKA), and a cameo by Ron Jeremy.
Tag-lines: "Greed. Extortion. Revenge."
Best exchange: John Glover: "I could be walking into something." Roy Scheider: "Buddy, you could be walking into surgery!"

Along with JACKIE BROWN, OUT OF SIGHT, and Ferrara's cut of CAT CHASER, I would place 52 PICK-UP high on the list of Elmore Leonard novel adaptations. John Frankenheimer specializes in thrillers that make you uncomfortable by invading both your public (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) and private (SECONDS) spaces, and 52 PICK-UP, as usual, combines both of these unnerving proclivities with a sharp screenplay and an exceptional cast.

Unfortunately, the ending is a tad corny and abrupt (thus robbing the film of its fifth star), but it's still endlessly satisfying in an 80's action way. But on to the performances: Roy Scheider is intense, and the anchor of the film.

He's always great, and here is no exception. Ann-Margret is better than usual, particularly nailing a scene where she's forced to take heroin. Clarence Williams III is terrifying; exuding a menacingly vacant, emotionless stare one rarely sees outside of a real-life psych ward. Vanity isn't even bad, and I thought I'd never say that.

But the real star here is John Glover, a man usually confined to small, charactery roles.

Here he embodies a bubbly sleaziness, a penchant for nicknames ('Sport,' 'Slim,' 'Slick'), and a cheerful, hateful sense of entitlement. He's a villain worthy of the best of David Lynch (say, Dennis Hopper in BLUE VELVET or Willem Dafoe in WILD AT HEART). Every moment he's on screen, the viewer is held rapt, never knowing if outbursts of laughter or eruptions of violence await them. His smarmy narration of the two VHS cassettes played in the film could be a master's class in vocal nuance, inflection, and purpose.

Bravo, Mr. Glover. Four stars. For comparably-toned thrillers with similarly high stakes, see Michael Mann's MANHUNTER, William Friedkin's TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., and Mann's THIEF.

-Sean Gill


BuckAtwater said...

I watched this one for Scheider, but I was really impressed by Glover as well.

If you've never seen it, I thought Scheider and William Friedkin's Sorcerer in '77 was also excellent.

Sean Gill said...


I'm a huge WAGES OF FEAR fan, and I did see SORCERER a few years back, but I think I'm due for a revisit. I recall enjoying it quite a bit. I do love me some Scheider and some Tangerine Dream.

Mike B. said...

Been trying to fill some holes in my Cannon viewing and finally saw this one (retrieved through the local library, no less!). Maybe I've seen stuff like "House of Games" too many times and was watching too closely for hints, but I actually thought the ending was telegraphed too early. Of course, that also made me keep thinking that Scheider's mistress would be revealed alive at some point, but this film was way darker (and oddly matter-of-factly about it) than I bargained for. C'mon Cannon, I didn't sign on for this! Still, though, I dug it. It's actually hard to think of another example where two major stars made a later-career near-classic like this that is so forgotten and relatively obscure. One other thought I had every time Scheider was onscreen was that if Michael Douglas made 52 Pick-Up in 1995 it would have made eleventy trillion dollars, and also probably sucked.