Fox // 1975 // 119 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // March 2nd, 2009
"Mickey Mantle sucks!"
After The Godfather II there's a steep drop off in quality of sequels to Academy Award Best Picture winners. The French Connection II might not measure up to Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 classic, but surely it's better than The Sting II and Hannibal, right?
Detective Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman, Unforgiven) is back, and he's still on the trail of that wily French drug kingpin, Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey, Quintet). At the conclusion of The French Connection (winner of the 1971 Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor) Doyle was pursing Charnier through a warehouse in New York; in The French Connection II we find that pursuit has taken Doyle all the way to France.
Despite no knowledge of French language or culture, Doyle teams up the Parisian police in his search for Charnier. Of course, the French don't much dig Doyle's gruff New York demeanor, but then, Doyle doesn't much dig their French daintiness, either. Still, as Doyle closes in on Charnier, and the danger intensifies, the local authorities find it might just be best to let Popeye play by his own rules.
The French Connection hasn't aged well -- it's probably the least regarded Best Picture winners from the 1970s -- and The French Connection II has aged even worse. It also doesn't help that, as with most sequels, there's diminished returns from the original.
This is most evident in the character of Doyle. In one of his career-defining roles, Hackman made the crude, violent schlub not only charismatic, but likeable in The French Connection. Though he was surly, he seemed more a reflection of the gritty New York culture. In the sequel, in which Popeye is a fish-out-of-water in France, he comes off more like an American douchebag. He barks at his French peers, yells at the locals who don't understand English, and pretty much demeans everyone he comes in contact with. Yeah, he's a great character, but taking him to a foreign country only exacerbates his coarseness without revealing any redeeming values.
Still, the bigger problem is that in the intervening thirty-four years since the film's release, police dramas have expanded and evolved, especially on television. With Law & Order and CSI (and their respective spin-offs), as well as grittier fare like The Wire and The Shield, The French Connection II seems tired and tame in comparison. Compared to these shows, there are little deficiencies that rankle, such as a stream of blood that's as fake as any I've seen outside of the original Assault on Precinct 13. But there's bigger issues than production values. For example, as a villain, Charnier seems almost quaint, with his pacific European continence and elegant wardrobe. Sure, he's a violent drug dealer, but we expect much more personality out of our bad guys these days. Short of that, at least give us an evil mastermind; anything but a nondescript French dandy.
Then there's the soundtrack. The blaring horns that punctuate every action sequence inadvertently undermine the scene instead of supplementing it. These are the kinds of music cues that became overwrought over fifteen years ago, and are more likely to cause snickers than a racing heart.
This all is not to say that The French Connection II is a bad film. It's certainly competent, as one would expect, with Hackman returning and the talented John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) taking over directing duties from William Friedkin. The film is just mediocre and forgettable, and yet another case study of why sequels rarely work.
My guess is Fox knows there aren't many French Connection II fans, and accordingly chose to put little effort in the film's restoration on Blu-ray. The extra features -- while admittedly plentiful -- are recycled from an old DVD release. Unfortunately, the grainy picture and flat colors seem to be recycled from the DVD as well. I'm still relatively new to Blu-ray -- I've got about twenty films in my collection -- but this is the first time I've watched a film and found no discernable picture upgrade from DVD. The sound is also problematic. It doesn't seem to have been mixed properly, as I had to crank up the volume to discern the dialogue and wince at the deafening sound of gunfire. The French Connection II is a low-fi film (which one would expect for a film over thirty years old), so it's understandable that the sound wouldn't be too impressive, but did it really have to be this grating?
The French Connection II is a forgettable sequel to one of the more forgettable Best Picture winners in modern times. It's far from a debacle, but isn't likely to make much of an impression on anyone familiar with contemporary police procedurals. Fox doesn't do the Blu-ray any favors either, with a transfer that would be perfunctory even for a DVD. As Blu-ray looks to establish itself, this is a disc that isn't going to create many converts.
Like most sequels, The French Connection II is guilty of being an
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Rated R
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