Friday, September 16, 2011

Hollow Point - B-Action at its Best

A recent conversation with a friend: what comedy do you love that you can't explain to anyone else? 1996's Hollow Point is sort of like that, only for an action/comedy B-movie. The stunts are good enough for any pic, the roles are very fun, and it uses humor as the lynchpin that holds it all together. Why do I praise the comedic touches here so strongly?

That's why.

The storylines center on three parts: Dianne is an FBI agent going through a rough spell. She spent years undercover, seducing the son of a Russian mob boss. After luring the old man out - by marrying his son! - the sting goes awry, the old man gets away, and the son is killed. Her last few partners have all died on duty, and the mob's just offed her best friend. And then there's that damn annoying guy who ruined her bust...

Max is a high-octane, hard-punching, hard-hitting DEA agent who's latched on to her investigation. He sneaks into the FBI sting at the start and steals the Russian mob boss - only to be cornered by men with AK-47s. Since he technically saved the old guy, they let him live, but his smart mouth spoils their mercy. "I'm gonna need an X-Ray," he moans. That's his catchphrase! This die-hard hero won't leave the case, or Dianne, alone - and he won't stop popping pills for his injuries.

Jack is an old assassin. He was hired to kill Dianne's friend by Livingston, the crook who handles money for three mob bosses (Italian, Japanese, Russian). Jack is an emotionally-complex killer; he offs the poor girl in public, unnoticed, but he's not happy about it. He's less thrilled after Livingston betrays him, but at least he's having a good time when Max and Dianne start chasing him.

These three characters interact in turns with each other and all the major criminals. Doesn't this sound like fun? Did I mention that Max is Thomas Ian Griffith, Dianne is Tia Carrere, and Jack is Donald Sutherland? Oh, and John Lithgow is the crook with a financial plan for the mobs' dough.

Maybe these actors took this on to earn a house down-payment - but, unlike a Kate Hudson rom-com, the winners here are the audience. Hollow Point is insanely quirky and fun. The villains are way over the top, but full of personality. The dialogue is far better, more evocative, and comical than films with bigger stars and larger budgets. This unpretentious movie does really well by itself, more so because it's just a DTV release.

Eureka! I've pretty neatly explained why HP put a smile on my face, while I Am Legend made me say "um... ok, whatever." You should always judge a pic by its own standards, and this movie provides enough action and great characters for a major release, much less B-movie fare. The sensibilities here are skewed enough that you can imagine Dianne working alongside her friend's murderer.

Even the largely-good fights take a back seat to a movie filled with funny, interesting personalities and snappy dialogue that the leads dive right into. It's hysterical because rarely outside of old film noir do you see a picture where every part gets funny, insightful, or revealing lines. One mob guard spots two people in a car where they shouldn't be; they pretend to be lovers, so he asks them to make out. When they start, he flatly says that he's disgusted and tells them to go get a room.

"How did you find us?" one character asks. Without skipping a beat, Dianne cheerily announces, "Lo-jack!" Max carries five+ guns at all times, but won't lend one out because his third wife gave it to him.

And Jack beat Heath Ledger's Joker to the punch by making a nitroglycerin vest to wear to a mob meeting. We see Jack designing the mock-up on a mannequin, muttering a made up song. Then he dances with it, all giddy.

By putting characters first, Hollow Point beats out films that it never got to compete with. I can't claim to know the writers well, but the picture is filmed by Sidney J. Furie, the director of a personal favorite, The Ipcress File. Furie brings his ever-fine eye (yet slightly uneven direction) to what could easily have been a very forgettable effort. It is still rough in spots, but HP is so pleasant and funny and absurd that I think you'll be kind to it...

I guess that's what is so outstanding about this picture. While many recent Schwarzeneggar/Stallone/whoever pictures are sort of boring/typical, this film rarely is. Even the weaker elements - the cartoonish ethnicity of each mob boss, the simplicity of some sets, or the occasionally awkward line or fight - all are either amusing to an engaged viewer, or are too insignificant to spoil your viewing pleasure.

And no one should underestimate the vivid awesomeness of giving Donald Sutherland a totally off-kilter character and just letting him "do his thing." He's the best actor here and he really makes the movie. Thomas Ian Griffith is a perfectly solid, and Tia Carrere is very steady, but Sutherland is the backbone. Lithgow provides additional support with his own fun and weird-ass performance; his character claims to commit murders for Budhhist purposes. Obviously, it's all good here.

I hope many people got the same joy from Hollow Point that I did. I hope many folks were pleasantly surprised by a picture that had no technical reason to be as good or as funny or as winning as it was. This irreverent, charming flick should win you over quickly. I sure hope it does, because I'm strongly recommending it, so I have to stand by that claim. Watch and enjoy, please.

You'll like HP more if you don't watch the trailer, but I'm a thorough man...

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