Summertime, we are told, is a time for junk movies. With the cost of seeing a new thriller at the metroplex now requiring a second mortgage if you want popcorn and “small” soda, some people may be looking for somewhat neglected films in their OnDemand menus – with any luck, maybe even a free film. Finding one may take several minutes worth of judicious searching and lucky assumptions about the accuracy and implications of those tweet-like descriptions on the TV screen, but it can be done. Unjustly forgotten films are out there (or in terms of chronology, “back there”), right inside your own TV.
Finding an unjustly forgotten film, summer category, will require sorting through some true junk, the likes of “Last of the Finest” and “Robocop 2” (both 1990), the latter the worst of all bad sequels, but with that all-important luck, you will eventually stumble upon something like “Blue Steel” (1989), an early directorial effort by Kathryn Bigelow, who shares writing credit for the project with Eric Red.
Many older UFFs gathered and continue to take in mixed reviews, feature box offices somewhat south of cost, and name recognition nowhere near that of “Jaws.” I suspect that a “Blue Steel” scorekeeper would give three firm checkmarks there although the film’s cost seems to have been lost in the sands of time. Still, all UFFs have that “something” about them.
It’s not that the negative review points for this film are entirely wrong. The IMDb-posted user review, for example, finds the “plausibility” of the film “about the same as a Tex Avery cartoon,” but that’s an overstatement, surely. Yes, yes, rookie cop Megan Turner (Jamie Lee Curtis) has to shoot a grocery robber on her very first shift, and that unlikely event puts her on an unlikely crash course with a serial killer, but summer thrillers – and indeed, all films – are allowed opening, as opposed to late, coincidences.
Here’s the set-up: Turner has to kill the first criminal she encounters on the job, and oddly, the perp’s weapon disappears into the hands of a well-dressed man who hit the deck when told to do so by the robber. In short order, Turner is suspended from duty because of the missing gun; the well-dressed gentleman shoots another man in a heavy rainstorm for no apparent reason, and by false coincidence, Turner shares a cab (more driving rain) with the gun thief. He is Eugene Hunt (Ron Silver), a Wall Street trader, and Turner is attracted to him. However, Hunt hears voices – literally – and his killing spree continues. (For the record, Silver is the weak link of the film; it’s a stretch to see him as a raving madman; call him serviceable.)
So, roughly halfway through the film, Curtis is just your average, drop-dead gorgeous police officer with a psychopathic boyfriend, and in the hands of a lesser director (or different writers), the viewer would be subjected to a concluding hour of false tension based on creepy music as Curtis gropes toward the truth about Silver. But that isn’t what happens.
While faulting a somewhat late plot manipulation, Roger Ebert found, by “squinting,” that “Blue Steel” is a “sophisticated” update of Halloween, the film that introduced Curtis to a wide audience – a story of “a strong woman who finally has to defend herself, because nobody else can.” Ebert didn’t exactly explain “sophisticated,” but perhaps he fuzzily had in mind the fact that, while Eugene Hunt is wildly mad, Megan Turner is not exactly an individual exhibiting perfect mental health either. Pay attention to her early throwaway explanations for why she became a cop, and consider them in relation to her own family history. (That IMDb mini-review mentioned above is flat-out wrong in claiming that Turner’s family situation is “a totally irrelevant subplot.”)
Consider additionally Turner’s borderline out-of-control efforts while finally pursuing the serial killer (at one point she sucker-punches a fellow officer to resume that pursuit), and consider the film’s gloomy implicit conclusions about our legal system processing information about wealthy madmen.
Cloaked in the bloody red finery of a summer shoot-’em-up, this film suggests that if you want to stop a monster, you had better send a damaged individual to do the job.
In any event, which films do you consider “unjustly forgotten”?