Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Split Second (1992)


I have held my fair share of jobs over the years, but to the best of my recollection, there was only one boss I ever had that I just didn’t get along with.  Maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement, but even when I was toiling away in the grill area of a local McDonald’s (a job from which I was expunged for reasons I won’t get into today, but no, it has nothing to do with contaminating food or equipment with my body parts or bodily fluids, so relax), I got along fairly well with my superiors.  Anyway, the guy I didn’t get along with was a manager at a supermarket where I worked as a bagger during high school and part of college.  I couldn’t stand being a bagger (and if you ever were one, I think you understand where I’m coming from), and I wanted to be a stocker.  Man, those guys sure had the life (from my perspective then).  So, every time that I asked this guy if I could get to be in said lofty department, I was told in no uncertain terms that I didn’t have “the eye of the tiger.”  Let’s never mind that it was a job stocking fucking supermarket shelves, not competing in a decathlon.  This is like being picked last for dodgeball (a game I was actually pretty good at) or football (a game I was abysmal at), and it consistently elicits a response from me of, “are you fucking kidding?”  If memory serves, I may have even said that when told about my substandard stock boy potential (most likely minus the expletive).  Consequently, I never jibed with this Type A jerkoff of a supervisor (am I being unfair?  You bet).  It doesn’t bother me so much today, but it is something that stuck with me.  Whether that’s because of his conflation of stock boy status with being chosen for NASA’s space program or my bewilderment at his asinine statement, I couldn’t say (and if I’m being totally honest with myself, I think he actually denied me due to my part time status at the store).  But whenever I think of the cliché police captain chewing the ass out of his subordinates in films, like Alun Armstrong’s Thrasher does to Rutger Hauer’s Stone in Tony Maylam’s Split Second, I think of this relationship most adversarial, and one young man’s crushed ambitions to arrange cans of cut green beans on a grocery store’s shelves.  I could’ve been a contender.

Torrential rains have all but submerged the futuristic London of…2008.  Maverick copper Harley Stone (who loves his first name so much he has scads of Harley Davidson logos and even a motorcycle in his apartment) is possessed by the ghost of a past failure and the unseen killer who orchestrated it.  Out of the blue, the murderer, who rips his victims’ hearts out and eats them, reappears, and Stone knows that his nightmare won’t end until this madman (or mad thing) is brought down.

One of the strongest elements of this film is the concept that Stone and the monster share a psychic connection.  Stone can feel when the creature is around, and he can even tell if someone else has seen it (a child, a dog, et cetera).  Nevertheless, it brings him no closer to capturing it.  All it does is places him in proximity to where the thing is.  If there is more to their symbiosis, we are never made privy to this information visually, which is disappointing since Stone tells his partner Dick (Alastair Duncan) that he “sees things” (and this is, after all, a visual medium).  It’s a great set-up, but I don’t feel that it was utilized quite as well as it could have been.  I also liked that said link was forged through traumatic contact.  Not only is Stone scarred mentally by his past with the killer, he is also scarred physically.  This relationship is represented by an almost constant heartbeat on the soundtrack, speeding up and slowing down, and anyone injured by the beast can hear it (though this is only addressed in an offhand comment).  In some way, this also gives the viewer some motivation for Stone’s obsession with coffee and sugar.  His vehicle is littered with cardboard coffee cups and empty candy wrappers.  Nonetheless, we are never told this is because he feels the need to be alert every moment of the day now, or if it’s simply some form of addiction he fell into after the tragic events that befell him, or if it’s a replacement for the alcoholism he fell into after his partner’s demise.  At several points, we are shown the toll these dietary habits have taken on Stone’s body, and we are lead to expect this will be paid off by the end.  It isn’t.  Sorry.

Hence, this was the big bone I had to pick with the film.  It has some very strong concepts going on.  It has a great, biblical/religious angle.  It has a cop who is unhinged and truly eccentric.  It has a compelling game of cat and mouse between the hero and the villain.  It has the idea of the bonding of villain and victim/hero.  It has a love interest (and Kim Cattrall no less, who at least does the audience the courtesy of getting naked a few times) where sparks should absolutely be flying, considering their history.  It has great production design and a lot of production value onscreen.  But it’s all treated insouciantly.  It’s all pissed away almost as soon as it’s introduced.  Further, the film’s climax simply falls apart, with characters suddenly behaving like completely different characters, rules being made up and discarded within seconds (the inspiration for the film’s title, perhaps?), and a showdown resolved with a facility that threatens to make utterly inconsequential the time spent with the rest of the story.  Worse, the finale of the film, which should tie everything up and pay off on all this (including finally giving us a decent glimpse of the killer; a design which is pretty solid, considering the production stills I’ve seen), doesn’t.  Almost everything in the film remains unexplained (I’m still unsure if this is a positive or a negative for me), though several intriguing theories are floated here and there like smoke rings.  Most perplexing of all is that the antagonist we are left to deal with at the finish simply doesn’t match the antagonist that has been teased and built up for over an hour.  One is an intelligent, devious, cruel psychopath.  The other is (again, from what we’re shown) nothing more than a blunt instrument (with really sharp claws).  So, yes, Split Second is most definitely a mess of a film.  However, I have to say that I did like it, and I would even recommend it despite my grievances with it.  True, it never fully surmounts the humongous problems that it has.  But it has an off-kilter charm that I couldn’t resist, so even if I was ultimately letdown, I really enjoyed the ride, so it all panned out.  After all, it’s not the fall the kills you.  It’s the sudden stop at the end.

MVT:  Hauer does his damnedest playing (by turns) crazed, haunted, and hardassed.  And he mostly pulls it off.  If nothing else, I was always interested to see what he would do next.

Make or Break:  The scene with the first kill Makes the film.  It’s graphic enough for gorehounds and intriguing enough to compel any audience through the rest of the runtime.  Plus, Rutger Hauer questioning a Rottweiler is priceless.

Score:  6.75/10           

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