Thursday, July 9, 2020

you still don’t get it, do you?

The Presidio begins a little oddly--like the filmmakers didn't know how to do a cold open. Some obligatory San Francisco skyline shots, the Golden Gate Bridge, a military march past a stage
(with Sean Connery up there because we need to be reminded he's in this movie like we didn't see the trailer and choose to see this in the theater... Or maybe we didn't watch this one until it was on home video; I can't remember. I know we saw Big Business in the theater and that was this same weekend. Given that we went to the second-run Academy Theater a lot in the late 80s, maybe we saw it there. But, my point is, until it's on cable much later, no one is turning this movie on and not knowing that Connery is in it. So, the film would be better served pulling a cold open with the dark foggy night, the MP coming upon a robbery and getting shot, the car chase, instead of wasting time on)
basically a bunch of pointless establishing shots instead of getting to some action first.


Speaking of the filmmakers, I am surprised at who is involved. Director Peter Hyams has made a few interesting things before this--Capricorn One, Outland, The Star Chamber, 2010, Running Scared. This makes sense. Screenwriter Larry Ferguson, on the other hand, made a volcano film I don't remember, called St. Helens, in '81, then a one-two punch of Highlander in '86 and Beverly Hills Cop II in '87. And, he's got some romantic comedy-level flirting between Jay (Mark Harmon) and Donna (Meg Ryan) in a scene sandwiched between SFPD/Army drama. It feels like a couple different scripts have been forced into one. Roger has a nice line about this: "The whole movie has the feeling of a clone, of a film assembled out of spare parts from other movies, out at the cinematic junkyard."

I don't recall what I thought of this movie all those years ago, when I first saw it, or we showed it to family friends time and time again, but watching it now, I think the film wants us to care far more about the personal relationships drama--the budding romance between Jay and Donna as well as the triangle between the two of them and her father, Lt. Col. Caldwell (Connery). The romance even gets its own car chase, ending with sex that begins on the trunk of her Corvette, proceeds awkwardly up a lot of stairs, and still has time for a couple shots in his house before cutting to the fireplace. When either of them had time to make a fire, I have no idea, but cutting to the fireplace is a classic movie trope that felt old already when Top Secret! made fun of it in '84. But, I guess that makes it one of the spare parts. Just like Jay's introductory scene with the perp getting his hands on another officer's gun and a standoff occurs that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film and tells us very little about Jay as a character. He is cool under pressure, I guess, but is really scared underneath. Seems a little like any cop in any movie just about ever to me.

Time is arbitrary in the film, though, so it is difficult to gauge just how long Jay and Donna are together, how long he and Caldwell are driving around San Francisco together. Donna tells Maclure (Jack Warden) that she and Jay have been going out a while, when it feels like the movie has covered less than a week and we've only seen the two of them go out once.

As with most San Francisco films, geography also feels arbitrary. So, absent time and space, we've got relationships building and an investigation progressing with no markers for either.

But, Jay just arbitrarily remembers the water in the plant when the investigation is stuck. So, while there were a few good investigation beats--tracking the gun from the firing range, for example--mostly things just sort of happen...

But then, aside from a few great investigation films, I'm sure that's actually the normal way of doing things, just like we're supposed to just believe that Jay and Donna not only get on immediately but have some very intense and/or deep relationship going on in between the scenes we see. Surprisingly, the film does not, as Roger puts it, "do anything obvious [regarding the romance], like putting the girl in danger from the killer, so that Harmon has to rescue her. No, simply use their romance as an unrelated side story, so the action can be interrupted from time to time." And, not only that, their romance leads to arbitrary violence when Jay hits a guy at a military dinner, and we cut to Donna arguing with her father like, again, this is some romantic comedy and Caldwell is just the strict father standing in the way of their relationship. He isn't. And, their romance isn't even the B plot; a B plot generally interacts better with the A plot.
 
 
 
 
 
But, when Caldwell raises his hand and Donna challenges him to hit her, and then he goes off to get drunk and visit his friend Maclure, and she goes over to Jay's place to lament, I'm wondering if I'm wrong about this movie... (And so is Roger.) Maybe it isn't a murder mystery with some relationship elements barely linking into the investigation A plot. Maybe it is a relationship movie with a murder mystery barely linking into the romance A plot. It is as if the disparate pieces of story are distracting the movie away from its own central story, and Ferguson didn't know what he was writing, Hyams didn't know what he was directing, and the studio marketing department didn't know what it was selling.

I will reconsider tomorrow.

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