Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Taking Of Beverly Hills (1991)

I can’t really speak for the farmer’s markets in other areas, but I know that I used to love the local Hometown Farmer’s Market (aka The Hometown Auction) as a kid.  It was open Wednesdays and Sundays only, and for my family at least, going there was almost like going to an amusement park (in rarity, if not in experience).  Even though it’s a farmer’s market (and still runs to this day, though only on Wednesdays now), you could get almost anything there.  I suppose aside from the fresh produce and farm products, it could be more readily labeled a flea market.  There were people selling tee shirts (including a kickass, Terminator knockoff that looked like absolutely nothing from the movie, and which I still pine for now), comic books, vinyl albums and cassettes, and best of all, throwing stars.  They came in all shapes and sizes: chrome darts, six-sided-triton-tipped jobs, four-point pinwheels, and on and on.  Buying one and showing it off to your friends was like finding an old skin mag out in the woods.  It was exciting and vaguely dangerous in a bizarre way.  Funny enough, I never bought a butterfly knife from the Market, mostly because I could never get down that little wrist action thing people do with them.  I haven’t been to Hometown on anything other than business since I was probably about sixteen, but one of these days, I’m going to get down there, and I’m going to buy every throwing star I can get my grubby mitts on. 

Boomer Hayes (Ken Wahl), quarterback for some unnamed Californian football team, makes a guest appearance at this year’s Beverly Hills Homeless Fund dinner for team owner Robert Masterson (Robert Davi).  After all the exposition this film will ever possibly need gets dumped, Boomer takes Laura (Harley Jane Kozak), Masterson’s unrequited love and daughter of Masterson’s insurer Mitchell Sage (William Prince), back to his pad for some hanky panky.  Later that night, a tanker carrying fluorine crashes, causing the entire Beverly Hills area to be evacuated.  But who is actually behind the wreck and the subsequent action that follows?  If I gave you the cast list of this film, do you think you could guess?

Sidney J. Furie’s The Taking Of Beverly Hills could most easily be compared to the original Die Hard, though Boomer’s occupation alone would likely put most folks in mind of The Last Boy Scout.  However,  I believe this was released before Tony Scott’s film, so if anyone could be said to have stolen the idea of a football player and a cop against a bunch of bad guys, I would suggest it would be the latter (though both came out the same year, so not accounting for that bizarre Hollywood phenomenon of kismet, of course, and no, I’m not actually making such an accusation here).  That said, if I had to choose between the two films, I would choose Scott’s as being more entertaining, though it is so for the same sorts of idiocy and excesses as Furie’s.  It simply does them better and has a better script (not Oscar-worthy, but better).  According to IMDB, part of the reason why this film wasn’t as successful as Boy Scout had to do with Orion Pictures’ fall into bankruptcy prior to the film’s release.  When Columbia released it later, it wasn’t given very many screens, so it wound up raking in less than one-nineteenth of its estimated budget. 

I guess that leaves us (okay, me) with making the determination whether this deserves to be seen by more people or if it was unfairly relegated to underseen status.  One thing at a time, then.  Yes, I think this movie was unfairly treated, but these were circumstances no one could really control.  I’m almost positive that most businesses would prefer not to declare bankruptcy.  Should Columbia have given this a bigger push against the Warner Bros. pic?  I don’t think so.  Similar films have been released close to each other (Dante’s Peak and Volcano, Deep Impact and Armageddon, etcetera) for some time, and one always feels like a B Picture compared to the other (regardless of quality), and  that’s what we have here.  Let’s face facts; Ken Wahl has never been the box office draw that Bruce Willis is (though the similarities to Willis’s earlier film with this one make for a semi-neato double bill).  

So, finally then, do I think more people should make the effort to see this film?  Well, seeing it certainly won’t enrich their lives.  The dialogue (especially that given to sidekick/comic relief cop Kelvin [Matt Frewer]) is beyond horrible.  The characters behave as if they all alternately snorted a mountain of cocaine or popped a handful of Oxycodone (either of which I would believe).  The villain’s ultimate scheme wouldn’t work in a thousand years, no matter how smart it sounded in the writers’ heads.  Much of the action in the film consists of our protagonists running away from the baddies.  Nonetheless, there are some truly cool sequences, such as when Benitez (Branscombe Richmond) pursues Kelvin and Boomer while setting everything in his way on fire with a huge flamethrower.  Therefore, The Taking Of Beverly Hills is, to bastardize Douglas Adams, mostly harmless.  As a time-waster or something to watch over a few drinks, it does a decent enough job.  It’s not essential viewing, unless you’ve dedicated your life to charting the evolution of Wahl’s mullet, in all honesty.  Or you’re intent on seeing every film that utilizes EMF’s Unbelievable.

Thematically, the film is all about class warfare.  Kelvin’s opening monologue tells us how he’s a cop in Beverly Hills but can’t afford to live there.  Of course, neither can the Chief of Police (Lyman Ward), who lives in Pasadena.  The rich people at the opening fundraiser all but break their arms patting themselves on the back and opining about how there is more heart and caring about the little guy in Beverly Hills than anywhere else in America.  Yet, Boomer is supposed to be a man of both worlds.  He is a rich athlete, and he lives in Beverly Hills.  But by that same token, his heart lies with the common person.  He speaks to Kelvin like they’re old friends, and even speaks up for the goofy cop.  At the fundraiser, he delights in lifting a glass with a homeless man.  Later, he makes the distinction for the audience’s benefit between being a rich team owner and a rich team player when he observes that, “Playing football is very American.  Owning is just being rich.”  Plus, he hasn’t got too many years of playing left in him, so soon he will possibly be one of the huddled masses rather than the wealthy elite.  Furie juxtaposes Boomer’s romancing of Laura alongside the hourly wage earners charged with dismantling the fundraiser tent and so forth.  So, they make this distinction using the film’s protagonist, but they also want us to like him as an everyman.  It doesn’t quite work completely, but it works just enough.  The whole plan of the bad guys is, at its heart, a quasi-depiction of the statement, “when the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich.”  But still, even this is only half-heartedly clung to, once the entirety of the plan is unveiled.  It’s as if the filmmakers wanted to make a cynical proclamation about the state of things, but they either couldn’t pull it off, were blocked by some producer/studio executive, or were too indecisive to stick to their guns.  So in that respect, it feels like the rest of the film.

MVT:  I think the best thing the filmmakers did was actually what they didn’t do.  They didn’t try to turn Boomer into some ex-black-ops, superhuman killing machine.  He’s a guy who’s good at throwing a ball around, and they really play that up.  Some may argue they do it a bit too much, but had they gone to the extremes they could have gone to, this would have simply been an exercise in ridiculousness.  Not to say I wouldn’t want to see that film, but I’m not sure I would appreciate it quite as much as this.

Make Or Break:  I’ll just sum this up in five sweet words: throwing stars in a purse.

Score:  6.5/10

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