Meeting odd couple “Turner & Hooch” and falling asleep during “Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.”
July 28th, 1989
Turner & Hooch
Nutshell: Uptight, neat freak cop Scott Turner (Tom Hanks) is just days away from a job transfer when an old friend is murdered, with crusty dog Hooch the only witness to the crime. Taking in the canine, Turner’s life is turned upside down by the destructive mutt, leaving the duo to form an unlikely bond as they hunt for justice.
1989: “Turner & Hooch” was one of the random hits of the ’89 summer. Not quite a blockbuster, but enough of a moneymaker to dumbfound critics and please the public. I don’t recall an overriding desire to see the film, but I did dutifully hop on my bike to attend a matinee. 20 years ago, Tom Hanks was a mystery figure of supreme spaz enthusiasm to me; he was this likable, rubbery, aggressively vocal actor who thrilled a young me during his “Bosom Buddies” reign, and delighted a maturing me in pictures such as “The Man with One Red Shoe,” “Big,” and “Dragnet.” Yeah, I wasn’t a “Splash” kid. Hanks always displayed this strange personality that I could never put my finger on, but I was enamored with his timing and general cannon blasts of screen enthusiasm.
It was clear something was amiss about “Turner & Hooch” in the months leading up to release. Most of the movie mags published reports about a tense set and its troubled star, and the film’s semi-violent nature kicked up some parental complaint dust upon release. It seemed as though “Hooch” was destined to fail, but never, ever count out a dog movie.
Though the memories have faded some, I can still recall the rolling waves of laughter that greeted Hooch’s introduction to the film. Sprinting toward Hanks’s character in slo-mo, Hooch was turned into a comedic breeze of fur and spit, flesh sliding up and down his canine body in a manner that accented his wild eyes and droopy spirit. It’s an unforgettable entrance, and a screen moment masterfully played by director Roger Spottiswoode, who wins over the audience in a big way right out of the gate. “Turner & Hooch” could’ve segued into a plot about Holocaust denial after that intro, but it didn’t matter. The dog was established. The hard work was over.
In subsequent years, “Turner & Hooch” came to symbolize the career crisis Hanks endured in the 89/90 years, where all the accolades and benevolence the actor built on “Big” was wasted as he struggled to move toward adult-minded, challenging fare such as “The Bonfire of the Vanities” and “Joe Versus the Volcano.” “Hooch” would become Hanks’s own punch line for his fall from grace, thought the film did well at the box office, even prompting talk of a sequel for years afterward. However, the picture represented the nadir of his infantile stage, forcing Hanks into retreat mode for a few years while he sketched out a career resurrection game plan.
2009: In a recent interview, Spottiswoode chatted up his true role on the set of “Hooch,” where he swiftly replaced director Henry Winkler three weeks into filming. The director admits his job was basically to “take the lens cap off each day.” It’s info 20 years late, but the insight is welcome, since “Turner & Hooch” always felt like a movie that was carefully disintegrating during production, with a wild sense of light and dark tones, and sloppy characterization that never finds a comfortable tempo.
Balancing between a “Beverly Hills Cop” attitude of small town concern/big city crime with dog slobber shenanigans, “Hooch” plays more like an unfinished first draft, spinning off in a hundred directions without ever settling on a consistent mood. That’s not an enthusiastic criticism since the film does charm, mostly through Hooch’s squishy faced antics and Hanks’s combustible reactions. He does have one of the best comedic yelps around. I can understand how the film scrounged up some box office coin, but to really look at the feature beyond grumpy dogs and screamy slapstick reveals a fragmented sense of purpose that offers the viewer both strangely potent violence and cutesy pooch festivities. I laughed heartily with the film, but I almost went cross-eyed trying to consider what the hell this script actually contained before Disney, five screenwriters, and two directors tore it apart. The finished feature plays like a grocery list, checking off the beats as they’re established. The worst offense is the love story between Turner and local vet Emily (Mare Winningham), which is nicely teased in the early going, but paid off with a late-inning detour into postcoital kitchen interaction that stops the film cold. Something tells me a huge chunk of the script was condensed to this one scene.
It’s all fun and games with Hooch tearing up Turner’s house and procedural patience, watching the opposites slowly come around to each other. Hanks interprets the thawing ice beautifully, even through a hailstorm of dud improvisations. And Hooch is Hooch, grotesque and mangy, but a definite screen original. The growing chemistry between man and dog is what makes the film as merry as it manages to be, going a long way to erasing the storytelling gaps and the general “do we have to be here?” attitude of the production.
And then the filmmakers kill Hooch. Again: the filmmakers kill Hooch.
The death of Hooch is an act of heroism intended to satisfy several dangling plot points at once, while also taking an emotional rifle butt and socking the audience in the face with some brazen manipulation. Again, Hanks juggles the out-of-the-blue dramatic turn like the massive talent he is, but it remains a sour ending that feels unnecessary and shameless. “Turner & Hooch” attempts to end on an upbeat note of generational continuance, but how could any film honestly rebuild itself after the death of a beloved character, with only 4 minutes of screentime allotted to mourn? In the aforementioned interview with Spottiswoode, the filmmaker mentions they shot two endings -- Hooch lives and Hooch dies – and they both tested equally with recruited audiences. Hooch’s fate was put into his hands, and he voted death. So, I’ll blame him. I can understand the wish to add a little bittersweet to the brew to keep the audience awake, but the death is a ridiculous turn of fate. I’d rather have Turner die. I supposed I’m expecting too much from a filmmaker who turned in one of the worst James Bond movies.
Puppy Hooch? Pass!
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Nutshell: A high school class celebrates their graduation by taking a leisurely cruise to New York City, only to have Jason Voorhees board the ship, killing the imbecilic students one-by-one.
1989: My history with horror cinema began just a few years prior to 1989, since I was a profound fraidy cat for the first act of my life. As a child, I wanted nothing to do with scary movies. I even avoided the horror section at the local video store just to remain at arm’s length from the graphic, disturbing VHS covers. Watching a fright flick was a challenge I wanted no part of.
The tide turned through peer pressure. I was sick and tired of hearing my friends enjoy the exploits of Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface, making me determined to conquer my irrational fear. I held my breath and picked up a copy of “Nightmare on Elm Street” one bright, sunny afternoon, and I was instantly hooked. Not Norwegian-death-metal, sayonara-to-showers, absurd-domain-name hooked, but pleasantly surprised to find distinctive artistry within the genre, along with a healthy sense of humor and a welcome distance between myself and the chills onscreen.
1988 kicked off my theatrical horror journey, as I was lucky enough to be granted access to “Nightmare on Elm Street 4” and “Hellbound: Hellraiser II.” I was way too young to see either picture (I’m surprised I even made it to adulthood after seeing the vicious “Hellbound”), but it solidified my cinematic heroism, encouraged further in 1989, where a new Freddy, “Fly,” and a few underwater spookers were released. The return of Jason Voorhees was also in the mix, and it would be my baptism into the icy Crystal Lake waters.
In the months leading up to the release of “Jason Takes Manhattan,” Paramount launched a phenomenal teaser campaign for the picture. It was a bizarre promo hook that promised a motion picture where Jason, our hero, stormed the streets of New York City, terrorizing the locals with his trademarked stalk-n-slaughter method of mayhem. It was ki-ki-ki-killer. Considering this was the eighth installment of a film series that exhausted all of its ideas about 45 minutes into the first film, it was inspired of Paramount to take the series into an admittedly campy, but energizing tourist bloodbath direction. It was a perfect teaser launch.
While I cherish the memory of seeing ‘80’s R-rated horror at the tail end of its glory days, “Manhattan” was a huge bust and a lousy introduction to the “Friday the 13th” universe. Purposefully vague, eager to stall, and anemically directed, “Manhattan” was a total bore, even with flashes of nudity and gore to help bedazzle an Ambien screenplay. And the ultimate punch line? The New York City sequence eats up just a hair under 20 minutes of the film. I suppose “Jason Barely Visits Manhattan” was a less catchy title.
Even as a teenaged open book, I smelled the stench of marketing fraud with this movie.
2009: It’s actually quite amazing that a film titled “Jason Takes Manhattan” never really takes place in Manhattan. At least the Muppets kept their titular promise to bite the Big Apple.
Take a quick stroll through “Friday the 13th” backstage lore, and the filmmakers behind these pictures cough up every conceivable excuse on why their installment failed to radically redefine the concept. Be it budget constraints, MPAA neutering, or studio indifference, everyone has their sob story. However, watching the average “Friday” film exposes it’s really just unadventurous filmmaking squeezing the life from of these sequels, not outside forces. “Jason Takes Manhattan” sums up the inadequacy of this series perfectly: it’s a dreary, repetitious, derivative sequel that’s more content to reheat the goods instead of pushing the franchise into fresh, exhilarating directions.
Sure, originality is a lot to ask of a “Friday” picture, and when somebody did come along to drastically reimagine the horror, it resulted in the worst installment of the series (1993’s “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday”). Perhaps making one of these movies is truly a no-win situation, but surely a writer/director with an elastic sense of adventure could’ve taken Paramount’s five million dollar budget and shaped a more compelling film that actually spends serious time in NYC?
Filmmaker Rob Hedden keeps the action chained to the humdrum boat trip instead, allowing him the opportunity to shoot cheaply and quickly on sets. This leaves Jason’s rampage a monotonous carousel of obvious suspense stings and atrocious acting, dragging out the 90-minute running time to an eternity. The rumors are true: almost nothing of interest occurs in the film; it’s an extended greatest hits tape of murder-death-kill, with Hedden barely working up a sweat to find a reason to be. He’s bungles the package immediately, scripting shrill characters that hold no dramatic weight and staging tiresome suspense set pieces. Hedden also ditches the askew pleasure of Jason’s rampage -- the sheer kick of the slasher genre -- by driving the whole film with flat tires, glumly going through the motions to provide cinematic fast food for rabid fans that would line up for anything.
Lordy, “Jason Takes Manhattan” is an exhaustive bore, and while I wouldn’t consider any of the installments triumphant (passably goofy at best), this picture succeeds at being the least creative of the pack. It’s day-old bread, if day-old bread spat out abysmal dialogue, took forever to reach foregone conclusions, and never fulfilled any of its titular promises.
Coming next week…
Ron Howard aims to deconstruct familiar familial ways.
Sylvester Stallone snuggles up to a paycheck.
And this Yahoo Serious dude tries to conquer America.