Monday, September 14, 2009

Film Review: JOHNNY HANDSOME (1989, Walter Hill)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Lance Henriksen, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Elizabeth McGovern, Carpenter-fave Peter Jason, Scott Wilson (IN COLD BLOOD, THE GREAT GATSBY). Music by Ry Cooder. Based on a novel by John Godey.
Tag-line: "Revenge has a new face."
Best one-liner: "GEEK!"

Ah, Mickey Rourke. You gotta love a guy who frequently compared his party-heavy personal life in the 80's to HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH. Not 'HALLOWEEN,' not the 'HALLOWEEN series.' HALLOWEEN III. (That's the one where Irishmen, who have stolen part of Stonehenge, orchestrate a sinister plan to kill trick-or-treaters via evil, transformative masks.)

I like to think a little of that comes through, especially here in JOHNNY HANDSOME, one in a slew of masterful Rourke performances from the 80's. Rourke dives headfirst into a role that has him in turns channeling the disfigured John Hurt role in THE ELEPHANT MAN, the 'hood with a new face' Humphrey Bogart role in DARK PASSAGE, and the 'psychologically reformed' criminal Malcolm McDowell role in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

Directed by action maestro Walter Hill (fresh off RED HEAT and EXTREME PREJUDICE); and co-starring sleazy cop Morgan Freeman, fresh-faced surgeon Forest Whitaker, Ellen Barkin (channeling a homicidal, Louisianian Cyndi Lauper),

and stone cold psycho Lance Henriksen (wearing sleeveless cowboy shirts and a giant earring), I feel like this should have been a masterpiece. But it's not. It's enjoyable enough, but it's difficult to enumerate exactly why Hill can't pull it off. It LOOKS great. DP Matthew F. Leonetti (POLTERGEIST, WEIRD SCIENCE) frames many shots wonderfully with neon, foreground elements, and shadows; recalling imagery of bandages being unpeeled from one's eyes. Ry Cooder (PARIS TEXAS, SOUTHERN COMFORT) delivers a solid, if not entirely appropriate, score. The story's sound, too, based on a novel by John Godey (THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1, 2, 3). But something fails in the pacing, and the story fails to truly congeal: by the end, you don't really care about the characters, and it's certainly not the fault of the actors. It's a solid enough little movie, but you can't help but feel that it had the potential to be a classic. Three stars.

-Sean Gill

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