Harrison Ford slips on the Jack Ryan ‘tude in “Patriot Games” and Kid ‘n Play stop the house party to try on a “Class Act.”
Nutshell: While on vacation in London with his family (Anne Archer and Thora Birch), Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) accidentally marches into the middle of an attack on British royalty by Irish rebels, including Sean Miller (Sean Bean) and his younger brother. Watching Ryan kill his sibling and save the day, Sean swears revenge on the former C.I.A. analyst, trusting his colleagues (Patrick Bergin and Polly Walker) to break him out of prison and take him to America to wipe out the Ryan family. Facing threats and attacks on his life, Ryan reluctantly returns to the C.I.A., using its resources to locate and snuff out Sean and his I.R.A. connections before the brute ends up at his front door.
1992: Like most rational filmgoers with exquisite taste, I adored the 1990 adventure movie, “The Hunt for Red October.” It’s sleek construction and concentration on international war games was a real treat, the picture being the rare PG-rated blockbuster aimed toward adult audiences. At the time, it felt like access to an exclusive club of ticket buying maturity. I would later come to regard the feature as a suspense masterpiece of the 1990s.
Much of the “Red October” appeal obviously emerged from star Sean Connery’s effortlish charm and director John McTiernan’s widescreen confidence, blending unbearable techno-thriller tension with reliable star power. Yet, “Red October” wouldn’t be “Red October” without the participation of Alec Baldwin, who delivered a marvelous performance as Jack Ryan, elegantly bouncing back and forth between assured military intelligence and complete discomfort with snowballing events, playing a bookish man drowning in a sea of circling nuclear submarines. Baldwin’s a spectacular actor, but Jack Ryan was his sweet spot -- he was the perfect age for the part, while just gaining control of his Baldwinian sorcery, a mere two years away from perfecting his world-famous pout.
When Baldwin refused to return to the Jack Ryan role for “Patriot Games,” it created quite a stir in the media. He was a budding star in possession of his own flourishing franchise, and he just walked away without a second thought? It was such a strange decision, one that was initially blamed on poor scheduling with Baldwin’s Broadway commitments. The man wanted to exhaust himself on stage in front of tourists and grandmothers instead of deal with big screen conspiracies and vendettas. Actors. What can ya do?
Decades later, Baldwin would finally discuss the whole brouhaha with the “Patriot Games” situation, blaming sneaky producers and a-hole studio heads. Sounds legit, but that doesn’t change the fact that he never returned for a second round, leaving Jack Ryan open to recasting.
So who does Paramount get for the role? Indiana Jones.
Where “Red October” was sold as a cinematic thrill ride, “Patriot Games” was marketed as a Harrison Ford adventure, using his star power to entice audiences back into theaters. I’m sure it was a lot easier than trying to sell Baldwin for a second round of puzzle solving and bullet dodging. The excitment of Ford taking on another iconic role wasn’t lost on me at the time, and I eagerly awaited the release of “Patriot Games,” perhaps thinking somewhere along the line the producers decided to turn this revenge tale into a full-blooded Indy event. They didn’t.
Failing to match the nail-biting standards of “Red October,” I was still wildly pleased with “Patriot Games” in 1992. In the Brichives, I note a disappointment with the lack of action sequences, but remain upbeat about the whole experience, making sure to praise Ford and his ability to “propel the movie along.” It wasn’t the home run hoped for, but a satisfactory follow-up that I ended up seeing two more times, just to get my Ford fix. The same enthusiasm would not be extended to the next installment of the Jack Ryan franchise, “Clear and Present Danger.”
But that’s another story.
2012: Take a visit online, and you’ll find that “Patriot Games” incites a lot of passionate debate. Of course, being the internet, debate mostly translates to superiority and swearing. The term “butt hurt” is passed around quite a bit as well. A film concerning The Troubles and a sequel to a popular movie, “Patriot Games” isn’t something that encourages silent study.
Geopolitics and butt-hurtisms aside, “Patriot Games” is a solid thriller that, much like “Red October,” seeks to merge C.I.A. technical minutiae with matinee thrills and spills, giving the audience what they’ve paid for, but with an adult spin that deceptively feels like a wonderfully complex moviegoing experience. Of course, the effort isn’t very dense, burning through a revenge plot where gunfire and punches are exchanged and Harrison Ford saves the day on a speedboat. Director Phillip Noyce maintains a steady rhythm, reworking the Ryan event to suit his lead actor’s gifts, making the picture more of a starring role for Ford than an ensemble piece he can get lost within, despite a hefty supporting cast ready to back him up.
You know, distinguished talent like James Earl Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Richard Harris, Patrick Bergin, James Fox…Ted Raimi.
I believe “Patriot Games” actually rivals “Red October” in the opening half, establishing Ryan’s heroism, commitment to family, and gradual paranoid unraveling, peaking with a mid-movie chase sequence where Sean and the boys attempt to pick off the Ryan Family as they go about their daily business after the workday is done. Noyce handles the suspense superbly throughout, but the raw feel of the opening acts create a very human need within Ryan to stomp on Sean’s throat. Ford plays the vulnerability in a traditional Fordian manner, but it works wonderfully, blending the character’s reluctant participation in government matters with his growing rage, generating a natural momentum to the story. Despite the production’s obligation to melt the chilling tale into concession stand butter for the masses, Ford makes for a comfortably conflicted Jack Ryan, able to throw a punch and deliberate in a corner with equal grace.
The second half of “Patriot Games” dips into C.I.A. routine, with the professionals poring over photos, debating motivations, and identifying rogues. The film decelerates to wade into murky Clancy waters, including a famous scene where Ryan studies a satellite feed of terrorists being slaughtered in North Africa, reducing the firm hand of revenge to splattery blips on a screen. At the time of release, the sequence created quite a stir, displaying the war machine at its most detached and precise. The moment still plays with an unsettling snap of murderous ease, but it’s interesting to note that this type of brutal footage is now commonplace, served up for breakfast with juice and toast. Much has changed over the last 20 years.
Except for the Ford Finger. That fleshy exclamation point is timeless.
The picture eventually spins off into blockbuster theatrics, with climax that offers a home invasion in the dark and the aforementioned speedboat chase, reportedly added to “Patriot Games” after test audiences wanted Ryan to send Sean off to the afterlife in charred bits and pieces. It’s a bloated resolution, adding lead to an otherwise snappy feature, downgrading the technical asides and escalating threat into a tedious blast of payback. Thankfully, the ending is salvaged somewhat by the final scene, where the Ryans debate if they want to learn the sex of their unborn child -- the end credits rolling before the answer is revealed. It’s a clever little test of audience involvement that I recall triggered a few yelps and groans from the crowds in 1992.
Despite critical recasting and a lean toward the exaggerated, “Patriot Games” is a sturdily constructed sequel to “Red October.” Although it simplifies global conflict to make a swift impression, the intrigue maintains a pop and the inner fires still burn bright. Baldwin is missed, yet Ford finds his place in the franchise quickly and efficiently.
Nutshell: Finding their identities switched by accident, super-genius Duncan (Christopher “Kid” Reid) and juvenile delinquent Blade (Christopher “Play” Martin) have been dealt new directions in high school. Fearing expulsion will taint his parole, Blade threatens Duncan into submission, forcing him to pass his classes while the ruffian aces gym for the nerd. With drug-dealing bully Wedge (Lamont Johnson) giving the boys trouble, Blade uses his street smarts to transform Duncan into a super-hip, ultra-intimidating high school king. When Wedge’s family escalates the situation with violence, Duncan and Blade attempt to protect themselves, work out a phat rhyme for the school dance, and compete in a televised school quiz competition, while also keeping their “bitches” clueless long enough to achieve sexual gratification.
1992: There’s not much to write about “Class Act,” a largely forgettable comedy that was largely forgotten back in 1992. What it represented was a shot at mainstream success for Kid ‘n Play, the rap duo who found cult stardom with 1990’s “House Party” and its 1991 sequel.
“House Party” is a movie that means the world to me, perhaps one of the best comedies of the 1990s -- a feature that never fails to put a smile on my face. My god, it’s such a gem. It made sense for the stars to reach for a bigger slice of the box office pie (they were already Saturday morning cartoon heroes at this point), yet the transition was handled poorly. From script to direction, “Class Act” was a fumbled affair, missing the Hudlin Brothers’ pixie dust that lifted “House Party” off the ground. Here, Kid ‘n Play were offered shtick, playing roles instead of anxious jokesters, trying to stretch with material that contained little elasticity.
“Class Act” was a feature I caught in a jigsaw puzzle fashion, piecing together sections of the film viewed on break or before shifts, never absorbing the picture in one full gulp. Perhaps that’s unfair to the filmmakers, but I recall such an overwhelming disappointment with the effort, trying to labor through a misguided cartoon, even portioned out in tiny fragments of monkey business. “Class Act” just didn’t reach those delirious “House Party” highs at the time, suggesting Kid ‘n Play’s best years were behind them -- a theory proven correct with the 1994 release of “House Party 3.” What a sad, weird little movie that was.
2012: “Class Act” is a film that strains to be entertaining until it's red in the face, but doesn’t contain a single laugh. The direction by Randall Miller is forced, aiming for a colorful spin on a hokey identity switcheroo concept, loading the picture with editorial and cinematographic speed. Traditionally, this is a welcome development (it worked for Phil Joanou and “Three O’Clock High”), but the velocity of “Class Act” is trying to cover for the lack of jokes, hoping a rapid presentation and a few musical interludes will disguise the fact that there’s very little thought put into the writing. Miller appears interested in reviving the loving absurdity of “House Party,” yet he doesn’t have the chops to keep the material afloat. Camera tricks and broad sound effects only reinforce the movie’s lack of proper seasoning.
It’s difficult to nail Kid ‘n Play to the wall for this misfire, as their performances are dutifully energized, with Reid doing a charmingly broad impression of an aspiring intellectual. And Martin offers well-honed bluntness as Blade, puckering the pleasant chemistry the stars share. These guys are into this effort, keeping up with Miller’s visual flow, but there’s little for Kid ‘n Play to do besides rub their clichés raw and prepare for a mid-movie anti-drug celebration where Duncan (now stripped of his intelligence in the name of popularity) and Blade hit the stage to rap up a storm. The producers try to liven up the proceedings by separating the duo for their academic adventures (also losing Reid’s signature high-top hair), but “Class Act” would need a lot more than slight deviations in screen personality to shake off the dreary teen cinema formula that smothers the whole production. Kid ‘n Play are engaged, but there’s nothing for them to do besides keep bubbly and hit their marks.
Also bothersome is the needlessly laborious plot, which is more interested in the Wedge’s plans of revenge than keeping near Blade and Duncan as they struggle through school. For a movie titled “Class Act,” there are few school shenanigans to be found, with the hallway struggle all but abandoned in the second half, where Miller replaces classroom antics with a bizarre chase sequence set inside a wax museum. While still dreadfully unfunny, there’s simply more to mine in the educational setting, dinking around with Blade and Duncan’s reversed struggles. The script doesn’t trust simplicity, grinding the feature down further with a useless climax and a few nightlife excursions for the boys, where Reid can really parade around his character’s squareness.
While not a Christmas release, “Class Act” did offer the gift of a second Pauly Shore appearance during the summer of 1992. Here in a cameo, the we-HE-sal pops up to remind the leads to grind on some fresh nugs. Or whatever. I’m not sure why Shore’s in this picture for only a few scenes, but something tells me the producers were desperate to have something that would appeal to the suburban crowd. Shore isn’t even credited here, buuudy.
“Class Act” would be the last real effort from Kid ‘n Play to reach a larger audience, only to watch the film sink at the box office, losing crowds to the swelling phenomenon of “Sister Act.” They were a talented pair with beaming personalities, but near the end, they certainly had lousy taste in scripts.
Coming next week…
Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn make a home invasion feel like prison sentence.