There's only one way these two are going to get along…the hard way.
After the tremendous blockbuster success of Back To The Future Michael J. Fox seemed to have nowhere to go but down. In the late '80s and early '90s Fox had a string of disappointments (in box office returns) with such films as Bright Lights, Big City and Greedy. In between he had a few mild hits (Back To The Future Parts 2 and 3,Doc Hollywood), but nothing like his success in the original Back To The Future. One of the films during this period released by Universal Pictures, was The Hard Way, directed by John (Stakeout) Badham and co-starring James Woods. A mediocre failure in theaters, The Hard Way didn't deserve the floundering it did on it's way in (and out) of the multiplexes. A sharp script, fun performances and tight action made this a much above average action/comedy. But how does the DVD stand up?
Facts of the Case
Nick Lang (Fox) is one of the hottest movie stars around. His films are big box office hits all over the world and he lives it up in his pampered Hollywood home with money, women and food. But something is missing in his life. See, everyone sees him as a young, brash Hollywood sex symbol (which, of course, I can relate to.) But Nick wants to be THE consummate actor. There's a part opening up in a new big budget film to play police officer Ray Cazzanov, and Nick wants it more than anything, and he's willing to do ANYTHING to get the part, even on the job "research."
Enter Lieutenant John Moss (Woods), one of NYPD's finest…and crankiest. Moss is a grizzled veteran of the force, none-too-happy to be placed on assignments that don't include trying to track down a local killer, The Party crasher (Stephen Lang). The Party Crasher has been shooting victims all over town, and Moss is bent on finding and catching him (especially after their last run in which left Moss a bit bruised and battered.) Unfortunately, Moss is taken off the case by his Captain (Delroy Lindo) and placed on patrol with an undercover Lang who's trying to research his part as realistically as possible. Moss is not a happy camper.
Only because he's forced to, Moss totes Lang with him on the job, which includes trying to hunt down The Party Crasher. While Moss takes his job seriously, trying in vein to find a killer before he strikes again, Lang is full of bubbly energy, giddy at the prospect of getting to hold real handcuffs or seeing a crime scene in action. It's a potent mixture that makes for fast action and quick laughs.
Pity poor Michael J. Fox. Except for a small handful, his films have not always faired well at the box office. This is a shame, as many of them are, in my very esteemed opinion, such great entertainment. Notice I did not say they are all GREAT films, but they are great entertainment. This is mostly due to Fox, who always brings such high energy and fun to his acting. The Hard Way is one of those films that upon first glance looks about the same as any other cop-buddy film, just another Lethal Weapon retread. But when the film connoisseur looks a bit deeper, this has a much different flavor to it. Sure, you have two mismatched partners who can't stand each other. And yeah, you have a killer on the loose that they have to catch. And yes, there is a woman involved as "the love interest." But what sets this apart are the performances.
I've never been a huge James Woods fan. I will admit that I do have somewhat of a bias against him. I've read a few articles in some magazines that didn't show him in a very good light (ah, America…where we can mold opinions about stars we know nothing about by reading one entertainment based article about them! Viva Journalism!) He came off as a bit of a chauvinist and a jerk. I didn't think he was particularly good in Ghosts Of Mississippi or John Carpenter's Vampires, but in The Hard Way Woods turns in a very funny performance as Moss, trying so hard to balance his feelings of disdain for Lang, at the same time attempting to show affection to his new girlfriend (Annabella Sciorra).
Fox, of course, brings such well-timed comedy to his performance as the spoiled star Lang that you can't help but wonder why his films didn't do better. Even in below par films such as Greedy, Fox always brings the material up ten notches because of his performance. With humorous ticks, raised eyebrows and perfect timing on one-liners, Fox shows why he has excelled at what he does best; making people laugh.
Okay, if you haven't been able to tell, I'm a huge Michael J. Fox fan. Everything he touches is gold! Okay, we, not everything. Did you see Light Of Day? I still get misty when I think about him and Joan Jett sharing a scene…Joan Jett! For the love of all that's holy, it was Joan Jett! What the hell was he thinking? That's like Meryl Streep co-starring in a film with Tom Green!
Joan Jett…grumble grumble…
Okay, he's made one or two mistakes…but over all his batting average is pretty good.
Alright, I've dried my tear ducts, back to the review. The plot is pretty standard; cop trying to find bad guy, lots of action, big finish…the works. However, the spoiled Hollywood brat twist is something we hadn't seen in a film like this yet, and it's a refreshing twist on an old formula.
Now, onto the DVD. The Hard Way is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with the picture looking very clear and clean. No grain or artifact from what I can see, so trust your old Judge Patrick…he knows a good transfer when he sees one. Sound is Dolby Digital 5.1 with a good sound mix throughout. When things blew up, I was very pleased with what I heard. I also think it's funny when my Uncle Donny breaks wind, so you might want to get a second opinion on that.
Extras for The Hard Way include standard Universal bonus material like Production Notes, Film Highlights and Web Links. We also get a widescreen theatrical trailer as well, and a couple of Easter eggs! Woo-hoo! For those of you that don't know what Easter eggs are, let me explain. Oft times you'll get a DVD that has a bunch of extras features on it. For some reason, a studio will sometimes neglect to list on the package features that are actually on the DVD (unlike, say, Halloween H20 which lists features on their package that aren't on the DVD.) A good example is The 'Burbs which included an alternate ending that wasn't listed when I bought it. Bonus!
The Hard Way includes two Easter eggs. One is a music video by LL Cool J for the song "Mama Said Knock You Out" which is presented in widescreen. I'm not a big LL fan, but for those of you that are I'm sure this is exciting stuff. The second Easter egg is a small featurette about the making of The Hard Way. It looks to be around 10-15 minutes long and is an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the film with Woods and Fox explaining their characters. My guess is it was used as promotional material, as it includes a lot of scenes from the movie as well.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I don't have many negative thoughts on this DVD. If you're a fan of The Hard Way, you can't go wrong with a nice transfer and a few decent extras. I am waiting for the day when we see a commentary track with Michael J. Fox on it. This would have been a nice candidate for that, but alas, no ketchup on our burger this time.
Universal puts together a nice disc, including a good transfer and some fine extras. Nothing to shout home about, but if you were one of the five people that have seen The Hard Way you'll be as happy as a clam with this disc. That and the fact you get to hear James Woods use the words "rump wrangler" to describe Fox's character. A hoot and a half.
Fox and Woods are acquitted for making an old formula seem new and fresh. Universal is free on bail for a good disc with decent extras, but we could use a few more (how's 'bout a commentary track, hmmmm?)
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