Thursday, November 08, 2007

To Live and Die in LA (1985)

I added this to my queue so long ago that I don't even remember how it got there. It must have been a DVD review. Anyhow. When I received the disc, I noted that it was directed by William Freiedkin (of The French Connection, The Exorcist, and The Hunted), so I though, "Hey, it should be all right." It also starred Willem Defoe and William Peterson, with John Turturro in a supporting role, so that sounded good, too.

Well, it opened up with some really bad 80s music, and I wondered if that was a staple of any 80s movie set in a then-contemporary setting. Black Rain (1989, directed by Ridley Scott) had the same problem, so I thought maybe the producers back then just really insisted on gawdawful "cool" music to help sell their movies (in spite of the directors' wishes, I hope). As I continued watching To Live and Die in LA, though, the music never let up! There was hardly a quiet scene to be found. Every single scene opening had some really bad synthesizer blaring wretched generic "dih-dih-dih-dih" stuff. My theory about pushy producers fell apart. The director surely would have had his hand in this. Why, Billy? Why?

Aside from the awful music, there was also a series of really bad cliches that set up the movie. It was so full of bad predictable dialogue and situations that it could almost be played for straight-faced parody. The plot, as it opens, is this: two secret service agents (partners) take down a terrorist after the president. One is clearly older, and the other is the young maverick. After chucking the terrorist off the roof, the old guy even says, "I'm too old for this s---." He says that! That was a joke line not two years later in Lethal Weapon! Maybe in 1985 that wasn't a laughable phrase, I don't know. Can you guess what happened shortly thereafter? Yep, party with the rest of the force, and we find out the older agent is two days away from retirement. "Really?" I asked the TV screen. "Really? You're really using that?" And, not 30 seconds later, we find out that the older agent is investigating "one last thing," and -- wait for it -- he's going alone. "Wow, he's dead," I say to myself. Sure enough, during the investigation minutes later, Willem Defoe shoots him in the face. Smooth moves, old guy. Now "Maverick" is going to go on a vendetta and "the lines between good and bad will be blurred." That's your message? Ehhhh!

At this point I started skipping around the movie. Every scene I skipped to opened with a car pulling in to a new location as the terrible soundtrack continued. I was fortunate enough to find a truly great car chase scene which provided 10 minutes of entertainment. Good job, Friedkin, at least there was that.

The only original thing about the movie that I could find was the way it ended (at least as far as Peterson's maverick was concerned -- Willem Defoe's conclusion was really weird).

Gads, is there anyone out there who can provide a reasonable defense for this movie? I found two favorable reviews here and here, but I don't agree with anything other than their assessment of the car chase. One guy says the soundtrack is awesome right after deriding the 80s soundtrack of Manhunt, which is funny. I guess maybe I'd have to see Manhunt to see if it really is that much worse/different...? He also says that To Live and Die in LA plays on the cliches of the cop movie genre, but from what I saw, it merely employed them.

Oh, and you get to see William Peterson's junk. Thanks. Thanks for that.

I wish I could remember how it got into my queue.


Anonymous said...

of course, a good car chase scene is not often found. Note the midwestern pronounciation of the word, "off ten" The quintessential car chase is found in Bullit with Steve McQueen!

Ryan said...

Bullit's car chase scene is indeed quite awesome.