Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Rookie (1990)

I knew I wanted to review watch and review The Rookie after I was done with the Dirty Harry movies because it seemed like a natural bookend to the series I did back in March. Well, it took me about three months, but I finally got around to writing about Clint’s ‘90s action bomb. What other blogger, I ask, would be so dedicated to delivering a piece on something as insignificant as this movie? If you’re at all curious about the movie by the time you finish this, it’s playing on Netflix Instant right now. Enjoy.

During Spring Break, I decided to go through the Dirty Harry Blu-Ray set and a funny thing happened: I got the urge to watch more of Clint shooting bad guys. That’s a good thing, right? Now, as I stated in my reviews back in March, I’m not necessarily the biggest fan when it comes to Clint behind the camera – and really, as we found with the directors like Ted Post and Buddy Van Horn, even if he isn’t given “directed by” credit, Clint still directs his movies – but I’m a sucker for Dirty Harry shooting hippies and crooked cops and other types of baddies with his .44 Magnum. I looked back at other Clint action films while I was watching the Dirty Harry series, and the one that stuck out the most to me – probably because it seemed like a natural progression for Eastwood even though he had retired the Harry character with The Dead Pool – was his 1990 film The Rookie. Unlike The Gauntlet (classic Clint action film) or Tightrope (a nice break from the mold for Clint as it delved a little darker into the psycho-sexual thriller subgenre) – two films made while he was still making Dirty Harry movies – The Rookie is a giant piece of shit of a movie. In fact, it’s the argument against those of us that pine for the “good old days” in modern action films. There’s a lot of us out there that decry the modern action film as too spastic (Bourne), serious (Nolan’s Batman), or self-aware (Crank 2), but The Rookie is proof that it wasn’t all John Matrix quipping as he single-handedly destroyed an army, Riggs’ and Murtough’s antics, or even Clint’s own (usually) straight-forward approach to the action film; no, that nostalgic twinge for the good ‘ol days of the action film lends itself to certain blind spots about the ‘90s action film (The Last Boy Scout, anyone?), and Eastwood’s The Rookie is certainly one of the worst offenders of that ever so subgenre-rich decade.

The film is your basic set up for these kinds of action pictures: wily veteran (Eastwood) who doesn’t like anyone in the department has a knack for getting his partners killed; wily veteran’s partner gets killed in opening scene; chase scene follows; police chief gets angry because wily veteran just cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars; police chief gets back at wily veteran by assigning him a wet-behind-the-ears rookie (Charlie Sheen); wily veteran reluctantly takes to the wet-behind-the-ears rookie and forms a bond with him (not after some initial forced, wooden banter); wily veteran is obsessed with a case (the one that got his partner killed, natch) that ultimately leads to his being taken hostage because he goes rogue and leaves his wet-behind-the-ears rookie in the lurch; wet-behind-the-ears rookie has to save him, proving himself to the wily veteran in the process; wily veteran and wet-behind-the-ears rookie get the bad guy but more importantly respect for one another; wily veteran becomes chief by the end of the film while the wet-behind-the-ears rookie now becomes surly veteran (not wily enough, apparently) by repeating all of the opening lines to a new rookie that the wily veteran said to him on his first day; the movie ends.

Oh, there are explosions and chases and horribly written banter that is delivered equally horribly, but that’s not even the worst or silliest or strangest thing about the movie. In that description above, the only thing that may come as a shock to you is that I didn’t really mention anything about the film’s villain; that’s because his actions are so forgettable and overshadowed by the fact that he is played by Raul Julia. I mean, that’s not even that surprising; after all, Julia was a fine actor who could play any type. No, the surprising thing is that Eastwood and co. decided to make Julia’s character German. So throughout the entire film, all I could focus on was not how evil or dickish Julia was supposed to be; I could only focus on how silly Julia and his horrendous German accent were. That’s not even the worst of it as the most inane aspect of the film has to go to the villainess played by Sonia Braga: Julia’s character’s – the head-honcho of a grand theft auto/chop shop operation – girlfriend in the film is so stilted and comes off so phony as a threat that when the film’s infamous female-on-male “rape” scene (the scene is pretty tame, actually, and almost entirely implied), all one can do is roll their eyes and laugh, which is not always a bad thing with these types of movies; but, what made it bad – and ultimately what is one of the film’s biggest faults – is that because I was so unconvinced by the main characters (and not just Eastwood/Sheen; the heavies in these kinds of films are supposed to at least keep you somewhat interested) I was constantly checking the time of the movie, desperately hoping that it is was about to be over.

So, that’s the not-so-good surprising aspects of The Rookie. The good? Well, the rookie is indeed played by Charlie Sheen, and he’s not awful. Oh, he’s as wooden as ever, but it’s actually perfect for the film as it’s juxtaposed with Clint’s eternal coolness and unrivaled screen presence. Yeah, Clint’s Nick Pulovski isn’t Dirty Harry – in fact he’s grating for most of the film as he desperately tries to get over tired lines like “do you have a light?” – but it’s hard not to always find yourself being pulled in to the scenes that involve Clint. The film has other little charms about it that are all-too-brief: the most notable being the very well done action scenes involving cars that were mostly shot in one take with Clint doing a lot of the stunt driving; it’s pretty amazing stuff, actually.

The Rookie should have been the script Clint used for the final Dirty Harry movie, The Dead Pool. Within the Harry canon, this script could have been a lot of fun. Indeed the producers were hoping to piggy back off the success of the Harry series while making more money than The Dead Pool (the lowest grossing film of the series) by “freshening” up Clint’s image with a whole new character and popular young actor to team him up with. Sheen starts off as being appropriately tight-ass, but then when the film requires him to become a Martin Riggs-like loose cannon, the film, once again, begins to feel every minute of its 120+ minute runtime because you just don’t buy Charlie Sheen as menacing. Clint is clearly being goofy and trying to have some fun with the whole thing (I love the scene during a stakeout where Clint falls into this odd diatribe about donuts), but in addition to him trying to shoehorn his stupid catchphrase in the movie (perhaps a subtle jab at what action films had become, but I didn’t care do think that deeply about the film while I was watching it), which is like fingernails on a chalkboard, the movie – whether it’s a gas or satire or some kind of subversive commentary – whatever it is, is just too damn long for any of what’s going on within its ridiculous two hour runtime to work.  

Chalk it up to a missed opportunity because The Rookie could have been a clever commentary about the state of the action film – specifically the buddy cop movie – heading into the ‘90s. Hell, it even contains the old chestnut where the partners walk into a biker bar; as Eastwood’s wily veteran seeks information from an informant, he leaves Sheen’s wet-behind-the-ears rookie to fend for himself. If you can’t guess what happens next, you haven’t been paying attention to movies for the last 40 years. Bar fights are always goofy fun, but here it’s filmed with such dingy lighting, lack of energy, and just an overall sense of obligation for the film to even have a scene like this that instead of it being a nice, clever jab at action clich├ęs, it devolves into the very worst (like Chuck Norris circa straight-to-video ‘90s bad) kind of tired action scene.

The film’s poster speaks to one of the film’s biggest problems: the producers so badly wanted the Dirty Harry fans out there to come and see the new Clint action film that they put a big ‘ol .44 Magnum on the poster when nowhere in The Rookie is a .44 Magnum even seen. The times were changing (as I discussed in my The Dead Pool piece) and they seemed to be leaving Clint – more specifically Clint as a Dirty Harry type – behind. The miserable box office for The Rookie proved that. Sure the film isn’t without its small charms, but it’s more than anything a vivid reminder to all of us out there waxing nostalgic about how they don’t make action films like they used to that sometimes – as is the case with films like The Rookie – that’s a good thing. The movie isn’t Jean Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal (post Under Siege) so-bad-it’s-good/pizza and beer kind of movie; it’s just bad and hard to get through and a reminder of just how special, important, and influential the Dirty Harry movies were.


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