I really kinda pride myself on my familiarity with the cinema of the 1980s. Not only was it the time when I grew up and was watching a lot of films, it has also become a rabbit hole down which I find myself quite often going to remember and discover films I had overlooked from the period. While I would never claim to be knowledgable about all American films from the period, I feel like I've seen or am at least familiar with a large majority of them and many that other folks seem to have forgotten (or never seen in the first place). So when I come across something that I've never even heard of (at least as far as I can recall), it makes me sit up and take notice. I am even more intrigued by 80s films that have at least a couple very high profile cast members. CRIMINAL LAW was just such a blind spot for me. Not sure how, but despite the presence of Gary Oldman and Kevin Bacon (and Joe Don Baker!), I had never seen this movie in all my years as a cinephile. In doing some research, I came across the VHS cover for the movie and realized that it had been among the tapes we had at my old video store in college. Somehow the cover (and the film's title) had seemed just nondescript enough for me to pass over it dozens of times throughout my tenure there. This is unfortunate, because it's a pretty entertaining thriller with two great performances from Bacon and Oldman. Bacon is especially frightening in one of his better psychotic portrayals. The gist of the thing is that Oldman is a hotshot defense attorney who gets Bacon off on a murder charge only to discover he was guilty and has since committed more murders. What follows is a suitable cat and mouse game with ample moments of tension peppered within. A nice ride for fans of the genre or these two actors in particular. One thing I've always liked about Kevin Bacon as an actor is his ability to play both likeable everyman-type guys and despicable villain. There's just something about his face that can go from charming to scary as hell in the space of a few seconds. I think thats a tough thing for a lot of actors to pull off and I must say he does it well. It should also be noted that this is something of an early feature from veteran director Martin Campbell (GOLDENEYE, THE MASK OF ZORRO, CASINO ROYALE) and, along with NO ESCAPE, it's one of his better efforts.
CRIMINAL LAW can be purchased here:
This movie has that good old loveable Cannon Films logo at the front and we all know that means quality stuff. What's neat for me is to see Christopher Reeve in Golan-Globus joint. Reeve is obviously best remembered as Superman, but folks often overlook his other dramatic work outside of that iconic role. If you've seen him in DEATHTRAP, SOMEWHERE IN TIME or even SWITCHING CHANNELS, you'd know that he goes well beyond Clark Kent territory. STREET SMART is another of those gems in his filmography that has been all but forgotten at this point. It's an interesting flipside to Clark Kent in that Reeve plays a reporter (named Jonathan Fisher), but this time he works for a New York magazine instead of the Daily Planet. He's not so mild mannered either. In fact, he's a bit morally questionable. When put under the gun to write a story he's dreamed up about twenty-four hours in the life of a pimp, Fisher decides to take some liberties it in terms of the truth. His story gets a lot of attention, and there's even a real pimp named "Fast Black" (Morgan Freeman) currently on trial for murder that the authorities believe is the pimp in the story. So Jonathan Fisher has gotten himself into trouble by fibbing and the trouble just keeps getting deeper. It's fascinating if a bit uncomfortable at times to watch Christopher Reeve play a character like this. It's just like Cannon Films to drop Superman into the middle of a sleazy part of town and have him get himself tangled up with some folks of questionable values. For a Cannon Film though it's actually more intelligent and well-written than many of the movies they churned out in the 1980s. And as good as Reeve is here, Morgan Freeman is even better. He has shifted away from playing villains nowadays and is relegated to much more G-rated stuff. He is downright menacing in STREET SMART though and it is made all the more disturbing and scary by the fact that he's the nature documentary voice-over guy and the dude who makes the prosthetic for the dolphin in DOLPHIN TALE. There's a great scene where he threatens a girl with a broken bottle of Yoohoo (his drink of choice) and when Christopher Reeve attempts to intervene, Freeman gives a look like he's absolutely ready to carve him up. Rarely has a more effective "Don't F*ck With Me" look been given in a film. STREET SMART is all about great performances to be sure, but behind great performances you'll often find great directors. Jerry Schatzberg may not be a name that is immediately recognizable to you, but he's worth looking up. Watch his movies SCARECROW and THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK after this one and you'll surely understand his talent.