Tag Archives: James Belushi

Number One with a Bullet (1987, Jack Smight)

With a larger budget–and a different director–Number One with a Bullet might succeed. It’s a wry spoof of cop movies and TV shows, pairing crazy man Robert Carradine and urbane Billy Dee Williams. One has to assume Carradine’s casting against Revenge of the Nerds-type is part of the joke, but Williams seems to be there because he can do the humor straight faced. He’s essential to Bullet‘s limited success.

Most of the problems are technical. For whatever reason, even though cinematographer Álex Phillips Jr. does a wholly competent job lighting, he can’t do any of Smight’s (simple) Steadicam shots. They’re disastrous. He and Smight do come up with a very low key Los Angeles, which is rather nice.

As for Smight… one has to wonder if the lame close-ups are budgetary restrictions. He knows to hold Williams’s reaction shots though, since the length adds depth to the scene.

Carradine’s amusing and endearing, Williams is great. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is weak. Except Mykelti Williamson. He’s awesome. Even Jon Gries is tepid in his small role. Valerie Bertinelli isn’t any good as Carradine’s reluctant love interest and Doris Roberts is inexplicable as Carradine’s nagging mother. Bullet often veers into sitcom territory, only with Smight giving it a slightly more cinematic frame.

Alf Clausen’s jazz score is another of the jokes, but it’s too slow for the action sequences.

Bullet is likable and has good qualities; they don’t add up to a good movie though.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Smight; screenplay by Gail Morgan Hickman, Andrew Kurtzman, Rob Riley and James Belushi, based on a story by Hickman; director of photography, Álex Phillips Jr.; edited by Michael J. Duthie; music by Alf Clausen; production designer, Norm Baron; produced by Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan; released by Cannon Films.

Starring Robert Carradine (Det. Barzak), Billy Dee Williams (Det. Hazeltine), Valerie Bertinelli (Teresa Barzak), Peter Graves (Capt. Ferris), Doris Roberts (Mrs. Barzak), Bobby Di Cicco (Malcolm), Ray Girardin (Lt. Kaminski), Barry Sattels (DeCosta), Mykelti Williamson (Casey) and Jon Gries (Bobby Sweet).


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The Best Legs in Eighth Grade (1984, Tom Patchett)

The Best Legs in Eighth Grade aired on HBO. Apparently, their original programming has gotten a lot better since the eighties.

It’s difficult to describe Legs. Bruce Feirstein’s script seems to be meant for stage–the biggest surprise isn’t just he’s had a career since, it’s discovering he was an in-demand writer at the time–director Patchett might be suited for a sitcom (but nothing as emotive as a soap) and there are only two (cheap) sets.

Annette O’Toole is responsible for every good moment in Legs, except for one Jim Belushi contributes.

O’Toole has some problems with Patchett’s direction, but she overcomes it. She’s outstanding. Sadly, she’s opposite Tim Matheson, whose performance is indescribably bad. Some of it’s the script, but a lot of it’s Matheson. Kathryn Harrold is tepid as the object of Matheson’s lust. Vincent Bufano, in a tiny part, is strong.

Besides O’Toole, Legs stinks.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Tom Patchett; written by Bruce Feirstein; edited by Ken Denisoff; music by Lee Holdridge; produced by Kenneth Kaufman; released by Home Box Office.

Starring Tim Matheson (Mark Fisher), Annette O’Toole (Rachel Blackstone), Kathryn Harrold (Leslie Gibson), Vincent Bufano (T.C.) and James Belushi (St. Valentine).


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Thief (1981, Michael Mann)

With Thief, Mann leaves plain an American standard–the gangster movie. Halfway through the film, I wondered how it fit, as the energy the film opens with is gone. The film moves these awkwardly handled scenes without much flare. These scenes are presented as the standard dramatic scenes, but with something not quite right about the storytelling in these very familiar scenes. Then it becomes clear.

During the big jewel heist–which Mann could play as an audio and visual feast, but doesn’t–instead he sucks the romance out of the cinematic glitz. In the dystopian bleakness of Thief, nothing matters (not a philosophy Mann could hold on to for long), not friends, not family.

As protagonist James Caan moves through this mobster’s house, even though it’s a crime figure’s home, it’s lived in, versus Caan’s, which looks like a photograph. Seeing Caan in that setting, it’s clear how his presence in that house, in everyone else’s lives too, reveals it all to be a complete illusion. Anything not as bleak and empty as Caan is false.

Caan is great. Tuesday Weld is great. James Belushi’s really good, which is odd, as is Robert Prosky. Willie Nelson is good in his two scenes.

In the second of Nelson’s scenes, it’s clear Caan’s not a reliable narrator and Mann forces a barrier between the audience and the film. The film exists on its own. The characters aren’t beholden to the viewing experience of the audience. Thief‘s contemptuous of such a relationship.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Mann; screenplay and story by Mann, based on a book by John Seybold; director of photography, Donald E. Thorin; edited by Dov Hoenig; music by Tangerine Dream; production designer, Mel Bourne; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Ronnie Caan; released by United Artists.

Starring James Caan (Frank), Tuesday Weld (Jessie), Willie Nelson (Okla), James Belushi (Barry), Robert Prosky (Leo), Tom Signorelli (Attaglia), Dennis Farina (Carl), Nick Nickeas (Nick), W.R. Brown (Mitch), Norm Tobin (Guido) and John Santucci (Urizzi).


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Taking Care of Business (1990, Arthur Hiller)

Hard as it is to believe, I’d sort of forgotten about Jim Belushi having a film career. For a while during Taking Care of Business, I kept thinking I’d seen him in something recently (which I haven’t), then I realized… his performance in the movie is a rip on Bill Murray. Expressions, tone of voice, mannerisms. They all play like Bill Murray.

Of course, I doubt Bill Murray could have done anything with the role either.

Taking Care of Business is one of those movies I watched a lot when I was twelve. The last time I wanted to watch it, almost ten years ago, someone stopped me. I never realized the favor he did me.

The problem is the script. Charles Grodin has absolutely nothing to do except be a jerk to Anne De Salvo, who’s very funny. Grodin’s playing his caricature here and Arthur Hiller can’t direct his redemption scene. Well, he doesn’t have one. Jill Mazursky and J.J. Abrams’s script is really terrible, just awful. It’d be weak as a sitcom.

Strangely, there is some excellent acting in the film from the supporting cast. Mako, in particular, is hilarious as the Japanese businessman who thinks Belushi is funny (it’s good someone does, I suppose–and there are a few funny Belushi moments, but most are obscene and obvious). Loryn Locklin’s character is probably the worst written, but she’s funny and appealing. It’s surprising she didn’t go on to anything. Hector Elizondo’s good too. Of course, there are some terrible performances too. Veronica Hamel and Gates McFadden are both the pits.

The script’s biggest problems have to do with plotting, but it’s also just dumb. Belushi’s a convict who escapes for the World Series and all the other prisoners band together to help him do it. It’s like a Disney prison movie–oh, wait a minute… it is a Disney (Hollywood Pictures) prison movie.

The signs of trouble start from the opening credits, which are poorly done animated ones.

Given how bad the movie is, I won’t even point out not having concluding scenes between the respective romantic couples was–narratively speaking–a pea-brained move. I just realized I didn’t get around to talking about the thirty-five minute first act either. Too bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Hiller; written by Jill Mazursky and J.J. Abrams; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by William Reynolds; music by Stewart Copeland; produced by Geoffrey Taylor; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring James Belushi (Jimmy Dworski), Charles Grodin (Spencer Barnes), Anne De Salvo (Debbie Lipton), Loryn Locklin (Jewel Bentley), Stephen Elliott (Walter Bentley), Hector Elizondo (Warden Toolman), Veronica Hamel (Elizabeth Barnes), Mako (Mr. Sakamoto), Gates McFadden (Diane Connors), John de Lancie (Ted Bradford Jr.), Thom Sharp (Mike Steward), Ken Foree (J.B.) and John Marshall Jones (LeBradford Brown).


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