The Commitments – The Hard Way – tape 1524

Our brief Science Fiction run has ended now. Today we’ve got The Commitments. After watching the frankly disappointing Over The Rainbow a little while ago, it’s good to get back to Clement and La Frenais at their best – helped, of course by Roddy Doyle, writer of the original novel, and co-writer of this screenplay.

It starts off with the most Oirish street scene imaginable, with a street market complete with men checking the teeth of horses, and an old bloke playing fiddle.

The film follows Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) as he puts together a band to play ‘Dublin Soul’. Colm Meaney has a small part as Jimmy’s father, and he would go on to play the same role in the two sequels, The Snapper and The Van.

There’s a tiny part, as Jimmy’s sister, for future pop superstar Andrea Corr.

Also in the band, Angeline Ball

and Bronagh Gallagher

Johnny Murphy is Joey ‘The Lips’ Fagan, an older horn player who’s played with all the soul greats, and he’s on a mission to bring Soul to Dublin.

Sean Hughes pops up as an A&R man from Eejit Records.

Even director Alan Parker pops up at the end as a record producer.

This is a great, fun film, with some excellent music. I can even forgive the slightly leery sexism because it’s consistent with the characters.

After this, another movie, and another comedy. The Hard Way is directed by John Badham, and there’s a short introduction by him at the start of the film.

John Badham has never been regarded as a ‘great’ director, but his body of work contains many much-loved movies. Wargames remains one of my favourite movies, one I can happily rewatch – in fact, I watched it just a week ago. Even his middling films are fun, like Drop Zone or Nick of Time.

The film opens with James Woods driving to a date. He’s late, and he’s perpetually angry. He’s also a cop, which the film lets us know in the most subtle way possible, by having him stick a red light on the top of his car, yell “It’s police business” at other drivers as he drives through oncoming traffic, and lamenting to his partner, with whom he’s driving, that “nobody I’ve seen since the divorce has stuck around for a second date. They don’t like me being a cop. Or maybe it’s my personality.”

I don’t understand why he’s driving to his date with his partner, but it’s a good thing he is, because they get a call that ‘the Party Crasher’ has been spotted in a nightclub, so they detour, and join a large group of detectives going into the nightclub to look for this killer. That looks like a large group of expendable characters to me.

The Party Crasher is played by Stephen Lang, last seen here in Michael Mann’s Manhunter.

Much to my surprise, the Crasher only kills one person in the club, the man he was in there looking for, then escapes in the chaos. Outside, Woods spots him carjacking a tow truck pulling a car, and a chase ensues with Woods hanging on to the door of the truck as the rest of the police chase them down the streets.

But the Crasher gets away after Woods gets knocked off the truck by part of an advertising display for a new film by Nick Lang. “I hate that guy” he says.

So, it turns out, does “that guy”. We get a trailer for the new Nick Lang film, Smoking Gunn II, which is cut off abruptly when the TV screen explodes. Nick Lang (Michael J Fox) hates the trailer. “It’s another big budget, big box office, Nick Lang in one end out the other easy to flush piece of crap.” “You dodn’t have to throw your People’s Choice award” says his agent, the great Penny Marshall.

I have to be honest here. The dialogue for this movie is awful. Marshall actually says “Me. The agent that has managed you all the way to number one.” Is this whole movie just going to be people explaining to other characters who they are?

He wants the part of a hardboiled detective, but the studio want Mel Gibson. “Is it about asses? Is it a butt movie?” So he persuades the New York Police Department to let him tail James Woods, pretending to be his new partner. “Nobody knows he’s Nick Lang” his boss tells him. And remarkably, this appears to be the case.

The Party Crasher is the kind of movie psycho who takes video of his nemesis and draws over them in MS Paint.

This is, mostly, by the numbers plotting. Fox annoys Woods, blows some busts, and gets involved with Woods’ new romance with Annabella Sciorra, giving him advice, but also potentially getting in the way.

Then, on a tip that the Party Crasher was close to them, Woods goes to get him, gives Fox a gun just for his protection, and Fox, naturally, has to get involved, and shoots an innocent man. Woods tells him to say nothing, just to go back to LA, and Woods will take the rap for it. But Fox’s conscience can’t let him get on the plane, and he returns to the precinct intending to confess and take the consequences, only to discover the whole thing had been staged by Woods to get Fox off his back.

There’s another close encounter with the Crasher, where they almost get him, but he gets away, then Fox tells Woods he knows where he’ll be. “It’s the third act. He’ll come after you or someone you love.” Sure enough, the Crasher has Sciorra, and we’re set for a big finale atop the huge Nick Lang moving billboard that we saw being set up at the start of the film.

So not a total classic like Wargames, but there’s something to enjoy, and all the leads are doing exactly what you’d want them to do with the material.

After this, there’s a short interview segment with Steven Spielberg on Jurassic Park.

Then recording stops.

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2 comments

  1. I loved the part where the cop introduces his daughter (Christina Ricci) to Nick Lang and she tells him she prefers Mel Gibson (Cop; “I like Mel Gibson. I LOVE Mel Gibson!”) I helps that he STILL doesn’t like the guy by the end, either…

    I doubt anyone had money on Andrea Corr being the biggest star to come from ” The Commitments. “

  2. Maria Doyle Kennedy was in The Commitments too, she’s still doing pretty well.

    The Hard Way is almost a meta movie in that it’s a high concept movie about a high concept movie. Woods and Fox made a really good double act, better than the material, truth be told. Better than Last Action Hero in what it was aiming for.

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