Film Review: Leap of Faith (1992)

Release Date: December 15th, 1992 (Dallas premiere)
Directed by: Richard Pearce
Written by: Janus Cercone
Music by: Cliff Eidelman
Cast: Steve Martin, Debra Winger, Lolita Davidovich, Liam Neeson, Lukas Haas, Meat Loaf, Philip Seymour Hoffman, M. C. Gainey, Delores Hall, Troy Evans

Paramount Pictures, 108 Minutes, 95 Minutes (Ontario cut)

Review:

“Look, I run a show here. It’s a lot of smoke and noise and it’s strictly for the suckers. I’ve been pulling one kind of scam or another since I was your age, and if there’s one thing I know it’s how to spot the genuine article because that’s what you’ve got to watch out for. Not the cops, you can always get around the cops. But the one thing you can never, ever get around is the genuine article, and you, kid, are the genuine article.” – Jonas

I saw this movie once a really long time ago but I really liked it and had been meaning to revisit it at some point. It’s just one of those films that slipped down the memory hole. But when I reviewed My Blue Heaven, I discovered that I hadn’t yet reviewed any of Steve Martin’s work, which was surprising due to how much I love the guy. So when I went down the list of his films, this one immediately popped out as one I needed to revisit as soon as possible.

I’m really glad that I did, as it’s held up pretty well and I’m honestly not sure why this isn’t considered one of Steve Martin’s best from the general critical consensus.

This is a film that really shows Martin’s dramatic range while still allowing him to be comedic. But this is a more serious picture than his most popular ones. Just being a few years removed from Parenthood, however, Martin was able to kind of build off of that film’s more serious tone and deliver another well-balanced performance that is both campy and real.

In this, he plays a professional conman that is running around America as a faith healer. He tries to justify his massive con by pointing out that his work, despite its dishonesty, does in fact help people because he makes them believe it. But ultimately, the story and the people he encounters on this stop of his journey, make him see himself and his work differently.

Martin is surrounded by a solid, very capable cast made up of Debra Winger, Liam Neeson, M. C. Gainey, Meat Loaf, a very young Philip Seymour Hoffman and an even younger Lukas Haas. But everyone in this film brings it. Plus, seeing the relationship blossom between Neeson’s Sheriff character, who wants to expose Martin’s preacher as a fraud, and Debra Winger, Martin’s trusted assistant, is really well orchestrated and executed.

The film lets you know that Steve Martin’s Jonas Nightingale is a pretty scummy guy from the get go but it still allows him to win you over and lure you in regardless of how he capitalizes off of very poor people’s naivety. You still fall for the guy even knowing the con and once you actually get to know him, you understand that his life has been pretty shitty too. It doesn’t excuse his poor life decisions but it allows you to understand where they came from and hope that he somehow finds a better path because he does touch people and could actually do some good in the world.

In its simplest form, this is a movie about redemption and I love redemption stories. It’s far from the greatest redemption story ever told but it is still a very enjoyable one that features a complex and charismatic character that you kind of want to root for in spite of his selfish, predatory nature.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Steve Martin comedies with a high emphasis on drama.

Film Review: Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)

Release Date: May 11th, 1992 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Jeffrey Boam, Robert Mark Kamen
Based on: characters by Shane Black
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton, David Sanborn
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Kenneth Tigar, Stuart Wilson, Delores Hall, Miguel A. Nunez Jr.

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 118 Minutes, 121 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

This is where the Lethal Weapon franchise started to fall off a bit but it is still a pretty solid movie and it does keep the film series moving forward. This just isn’t as great as the first two but it is hard to be as good as those films were for a third time. In fact, it’s actually incredible that they captured lightning in a bottle twice.

That being said, this is still one of the greatest buddy cop movies of all-time because anytime Riggs and Murtaugh get together, you can almost guarantee that the end result will be a film with a lot of heart, that’s a lot of fun and full of great action sequences.

And it’s the action sequences that make this one great. They’re all pretty solid here, especially the multiple vehicle chases and the big showdown in the housing development that isn’t yet constructed. While burning wood frames in the shape of houses was probably a good way to keep the budget down, it was a great idea, executed well and it made for a good looking and unique finale.

While this one brings Joe Pesci back into the fold, it adds one more permanent member to the family in Rene Russo’s Lorna Cole, an internal affairs cop that starts a romance with Martin Riggs, who has had terrible luck with the previous women in his life.

I think the one thing that makes this film weaker is the villain and the criminal plot. He’s an ex-cop turned property developer that funds his empire by stealing guns from police evidence lockups in order to sell them to street gangs. It’s not very original and it’s pretty topical for the time when this was made. Sure, street gang violence still exists today but it’s not an issue of the magnitude of any of the criminal plots from the three other Lethal Weapon movies. I mean, these guys just took down a South African diplomat.

Anyway, I think this film also loses some steam because it wasn’t written by Shane Black, who penned the first two films. While he may have been busy and Richard Donner may have wanted to give someone else a shot at writing, this film is missing that special touch that Black had in the second half of the ’80s.

Overall, this is still a good outing, it’s just my least favorite of the four.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s/’90s buddy action movies.

Film Review: Scrooged (1988)

Also known as: Scrooge: A Christmas Carol (original script title)
Release Date: November 17th, 1988 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Mitch Glazer, Michael O’Donoghue
Based on: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Bobcat Goldthwait, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Pollard, Alfre Woodard, John Glover, David Johansen, Mary Ellen Trainor, Mabel King, John Murray, Wendie Malick, Brain Doyle-Murray, Lee Majors (cameo), Miles Davis (cameo), Robert Goulet (cameo), Paul Shaffer (cameo), Buddy Hackett, Mary Lou Retton, Jamie Farr, Anne Ramsey, Logan Ramsey, Delores Hall, Joel Murray

Paramount Pictures, Mirage Productions, 101 Minutes

Review:

“That’s the one good thing about regret: it’s never too late. You can always change tomorrow if you want to.” – Claire Phillips

Scrooged is my favorite Christmas movie that doesn’t fit in the action or horror genres, even though it has a wee bit of those two things. It’s a comedy starring the legendary Bill Murray and it was directed by Richard Donner, coming off of Lethal Weapon, Ladyhawke and The Goonies.

The film also has an all-star cast comprised of a few legends, a few solid character actors and the always lovely Karen Allen and Alfre Woodard.

It’s a modernized adaptation of Charles Dickens’ most famous story, A Christmas Carol. Bill Murray essentially plays Ebeneezer Scrooge but in this story, he’s named Frank Cross and he is the president of a major television network, stressed out over the live televised adaptation of A Christmas Carol that he is producing.

As can be expected with adaptations of this story, Cross is visited by three ghosts: The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present and The Ghost of Christmas Future. He is taken on a journey through his life and is shown his fate if he doesn’t wise up and change his ways.

There aren’t any shocking twists or deviations from the traditional story structure of A Christmas Carol, other than setting it in contemporary times and modifying some of the smaller details to fit what was ’80s pop culture society.

The film has a good bit of crude humor but it’s nothing that’s off putting or that takes away from the spirit of Dickens’ classic story. In fact, I love the update and frankly, for the time that this came out in and the inclusion of Murray, this was probably the most palatable version of the story that had been adapted. It’s not strict to the source material but it benefits because of that while keeping the original plot structure intact.

Scrooged may feel dated to some and like a product of its time but it is a classic Christmas film for many, myself included, and it doesn’t get old. I think a lot of that has to do with the charisma supernova that is Bill Murray while the kind nature of Karen Allen, as well as the fantastic cast around Murray, make this something unique, special and entertaining.

Plus, there is just something perfect about Danny Elfman’s score in this film. It sets the tone for the picture immediately and it just accents and enhances the movie like a great musical score should.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other great non-traditional Christmas movies of the ’80s like Trading Places, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Die Hard, Gremlins and Lethal Weapon.