Retro Review: The Dead Pool (1988).
The final installment in the Dirty Harry franchise gives the gruff, magnum carrying detective a bad name.
Since all everyone is talking about this week is Deadpool 2, I decided to catch another film with Deadpool in the title. Having never seen a Dirty Harry movie (but obviously familiar with the iconic character’s reputation) I figured his swan song might be a fun time. I was wrong. Dead wrong.
The Dead Pool was the final Dirty Harry movie, and it made the least money at the box office. While it wasn’t a bomb, it wasn’t a ringing success either. Despite Roger Ebert liking it, most critics gave it a mixed review. I can’t tell if it has just aged poorly or if people were enamored with Dirty Harry enough to overlook the film’s glaring weaknesses. These it has in plenty, from a terrible score to pedestrian dialogue to unremarkable action sequences, making The Dead Pool a deadly bad film.
The Dead Pool (1988).
An infamous horror film director (Liam Neeson) gets the wrong kind of publicity when a coked-up rock star (Jim Carrey) dies mysteriously on set. Detective “Dirty” Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) investigates and discovers that the cast and crew had a “dead pool” game going, where each picked eight celebrities who they thought would die that year. The director unfortunately had the rock star on his list, and things begin to look worse for him when his other picks start turning up dead. Has the slasher maker turned into one of his own murderous characters, or is somebody with an axe to grind setting him up?
Farces of Death.
The Dead Pool is a chintzy affair, despite having a hefty budget of 31 million dollars. The musical score is horrendous synthesizer work that would make John Carpenter cringe, and it accompanies many stock-video flyovers of the San Fransisco skyline. This makes the film feel like a budget TV cop show, and we’re not even 3 minutes into the film!
The action sequences are fairly mundane, or downright laughable. Harry’s MO involves plugging guys with his oversized revolver in a perfunctory manner, and it’s made ridiculous by the final scene in which he trades in his Magnum for a gigantic harpoon gun. Harry’s paired with Evan Kim (Kentucky Fried Movie, Caveman) who can pull off a decent martial arts fight…and he gets to kick exactly one guy before the movie blows him up.
The bombing occurs in the only exciting scene, where the two cops must outrace a remote controlled toy car that has a bomb on it. The set-up is ludicrously laughable, and seeing two grown men running for their lives from a toy car is hilarious. The scene is aping the best parts of Steve McQueen’s iconic San Fransisco car chase in Bullitt, so at least they’re stealing from one of the best car chases in cinematic history…but still, it’s silly as hell.
Dull and Listless.
The dialogue in The Dead Pool is filled with groaners and half baked banter. From the guy who uttered some of the most quoted lines in film history (“Go ahead, make my day!”) all we get is gruff snide remarks and cheese ball tough-guy lines. Harry doesn’t come off as tough and jaded, comes off as cranky and tired of being in these movies. He’s thoroughly unlikable.
Liam Neeson is trying a bit too hard to sell the “imperious auteur” schtick for his character. Jim Carrey is basically doing his rubber face Fire Marshall Bill routine while trying to look like an edgy rock star and lip syncing to “Welcome to the Jungle.” That song was pretty damn famous in 1988, and nobody is going to mistake Carrey for Axl Rose, so I can’t fathom why they thought they could pass that off as his song.
The rest of the cast is filled with thin stereotypes, from the plucky reporter who falls for Callahan despite him treating her like garbage, to the pro-forma cops around Harry, to the tommygun wielding jamokes sent by a crime boss to kill Harry. The worst is the deadpool killer, who can’t fake Liam Neeson’s accent worth a damn and is the kind of stock villain you’d expect from a syndicated episode of Batman. The only likable character is Evan Kim’s detective Quan, but he has to put up with racial stereotypes…and then they blow him up.
Should Have Taken Early Retirement.
The Dead Pool is a bad action flick that wastes the legendary persona of Dirty Harry. Clint Eastwood seems to have already started his transformation into a bitter senior citizen by this point, and his character is given nothing interesting to do or to say. The film itself has a propensity to phone in most of its plot and characters, making it an unremarkable entry into the genre where it is not outright bad. There’s no tension in the dead pool game scenario since its obvious that it’s a frame job carried out by a cardboard cut-out villain.
Watching The Dead Pool did not make my day, and I didn’t feel very lucky to have sat through it. Whatever Dirty Harry may have had going for him in his earlier movies, he lost it before this installment. I guess in all the excitement, the studio must have lost count of how many good movies Harry had in him. Was it five, or only four? Turns out it was definitely four.