Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Presidio (1988)

"What's Vietnam?" asks one allegedly cute kid at one point in Peter Hyams' thriller The Presidio, to which I reply 'For fuck's sake, Julius. You're eight years old and it's 1988, what the fuck are they teaching you at school?!'

Julius subsequently asks whether America 'kicked ass' in Vietnam, to which I have to reply no, if we're being generous it was - as Kevin Kline's Otto points out in A Fish Called Wanda that same year - 'a tie'. 

The Presidio is a rather limp and uninspired thriller that sees civilian policing mix with military policing as both law enforcement agencies converge upon a murder which occurred on San Francisco's Presidio army base. Director Peter Hyams delivers a competent enough film with a few good set-pieces in the shape of its opening car chase, a frenetic foot chase through San Fran's Chinatown, and a daft but amusing barroom brawl which sees Sean Connery's gruff Colonel fight with only his right thumb (the left being too powerful for his opponent he claims) but there's no denying that the whole production is somewhat ill conceived and unsure of exactly what it wants to be, no doubt thanks to the several spluttering starts it actually had in getting off the ground. 

Originally The Presidio was to be helmed by Tony Scott, starring the tantalising pairing of Lee Marvin and Jeff Bridges as the Provost Marshall and his cocky former subordinate who is now a civilian and a cop with the SFPD. But when an ailing Marvin underwent intestinal surgery, the production started to fall apart. Gene Hackman was approached to replace Marvin but declined, leaving Bridges with no option but to walk away from the project. Don Johnson and Kevin Costner were then subsequently approached to replace Bridges, but the former was tied to Miami Vice whilst the latter ultimately backed out. Stepping into the fray was St Elsewhere's Mark Harmon, an actor who may have been awarded People Magazine's 'Sexiest Man Alive' in 1986 but who was nevertheless a TV actor whose appeal never quite transferred to the big screen in the way that his Elsewhere co-stars Denzel Washington and David Morse achieved. The shoes of Jeff Bridges are big ones to fill at the best of times but Harmon really struggles here, lacking the tough guy charm the role requires. Somewhere along the line Peter Hyams became attached to direct, and this safe pair of hands brought in his Outland star Connery for the Marvin role, re-writing his character to reflect his Scottish nationality so we don't complain about the stupidity of Connery playing every role he's given with his natural accent.

What we're ultimately left with is a bit of a glossy mess that struggles to find its place between serious, intelligent thriller and mismatched buddy buddy cop movie. Meg Ryan suffering the ignoble fate of carrying a romantic subplot as Connery's daughter who has the hots for her father's nemesis, Harmon, and portrays the very worst cliches of a woman the scriptwriters could conjure up (they're aiming for complicated, but their inherent misogyny seems to routinely land at prick-tease) and has to endure a cringeworthy '80s sex scene that sees Harmon bear down on her wearing the kind of unromantic look of intense concentration that is normally reserved for hooking a SCART lead into the back of your tele. 

There's also the hard-sell of  the eternally paunchy, seemingly always middle-aged  Jack Warden playing a man who supposedly carried an injured Sean Connery through a Vietnamese jungle, saving the Bond star's life. On the whole, The Presidio smacks of the kind of generic military thriller that could serve as a proto-Jack Reacher plotline, but suffers worse miscasting than even Tom Cruise's appearance as Lee Child's eponymous hero. It's the kind of film that should be so much better than it actually is, but when you consider the hurdles it had in getting made you can perhaps see why it's such a duffer.

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