The Hard Way Review
Michael J. Fox plays Nick Lang, a Hollywood actor who wants to prove he has the ability to play the more serious roles, so after seeing John Moss (James Woods), an intense, hard-hitting cop on the national news, he decides he has to shadow the police officer to learn what it’s like to be a ‘real’ cop for his next movie role. Of course, Moss isn’t interested (‘not if you tied my tongue to your tailpipe, and drove me eighty-miles an hour across a field of broken glass’), but his commanding officer just so happens to be a big Nick Lang fan, so Moss has to deal with it. Between the two character’s squabbles, there’s a murder investigation and serial killer to be dealt with, but whether they’ll get round to it is another matter entirely.
John Badham has proven in the past that he has a knack with buddy-buddy comedy movies: Stakeout is a great example with Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez spying on beautiful women and playing pranks on their dayshift counterparts. Short Circuit defied The Terminator - machine is man’s best friend, and Bird On A Wire showed us he could make it work between the sexes with Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn skipping away from the bad guys. The Hard Way is infinitely memorable for the on-screen spark Badham gets out of his two leads Woods and Fox. Moss’ jibes in Lang’s direction are nothing short of hilarious and his cold, callous mumbling’s are met with befuddled amazement, and a complete lack of understanding by Lang, whose Hollywood tainted life cannot accept he isn’t loved. Their partnership makes for some great comedy moments like when Moss reams off a raw, long-winded ‘what’s it really like to be a cop on the harsh streets’ speech, finishing to see Lang take out a Dictaphone and say, ‘Wow, that was great, can you say it again!’ Woods is simply fantastic in this film, gracing every scene he’s in, but Fox does give it his best not to be outshone – a scene where he tries to help Moss with girlfriend troubles turns into a hilarious one-on-one where Lang pretends to be a woman and milks the moment for all its worth.
It’s a real pity the rest of the film doesn’t live up to dynamic the two leads exude. Badham doesn’t have a problem letting the actors fly with their roles, but when it comes to a heavy hand, he swings with 50lb weights on his wrists. The opening with Woods shouting expletives at other road users when he can’t get to the crime scene quick enough, is great stuff, but when the shit goes down in the consequent disco shoot-out, Badham switches from light-hearted comic-book to moody, slow-mo suspense – it doesn’t work and stands out like Lisa Riley in a health food store. He also struggles to maintain the admittedly loose plot that plays second fiddle to Moss and Lang’s ‘budding’ relationship, and while this isn’t a problem at first, when things need to be tied up at the end, the film drags and we really don’t care what happens. Equally, the sub-plot involving Moss and his would-be girlfriend is only entertaining when a joke is being made of it.
The Hard Way is great if you shutout the fact there’s a murder investigation to be solved – James Woods is superb, only slightly over shadowing Michael J. Fox, and Luiz Guzman is always highly watchable, appearing here in a supporting role. The film is littered with some classic comic moments – Moss telling some drug dealers about Lang as an excuse to buy a gun so that he can shoot him, or Lang expressing his annoyance at Mel Gibson getting the better parts in movies because he’s got a better behind. There are some interesting jokes at Hollywood’s expense, and Badham styling his film to fit the 40’s crime-caper mold is nostalgically done.
The image is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and anamorphic enhanced. Badham’s photography has a lot of rich colours in it and they’re reproduced nicely on the DVD. The image is sharp and detailed though it suffers a little from digital artifacts. The print is in immaculate condition with no grain or wear and tear visible, and blacks in the darkly lit scenes are solid and well defined.
The sound is plain old Dolby Digital 2.0 though it is certainly nicely used across the front speakers. Dialogue is clear and the directional sound from left to right is excellent. Listening in Dolby Pro-Logic 2, the rear sounds are actually surprisingly effective and the track envelopes you just as well as many 5.1 encoded tracks.
Theatrical Trailer - A enticingly, funny trailer that certainly does its job.
A budget, no-nonsense release, which provides the movie with perfectly adequate sound and vision - it should satisfy fans. This is one of my favourite films, dare I say it, though it’s only due to Woods and Fox’s classically funny bickering, it’s a pity the film around them couldn’t have had a little more quality. If you like lighthearted, funny buddy movies, then I’d recommend this.