The Dead Pool : Deluxe Edition [DVD]

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By Clint Morris

I have a confession to make : Though named after the Oscar Winning star of the series, the first “Dirty Harry” film I saw at a theatre was “The Dead Pool”. Yep, I started at the end and made my way back.

It was 1988. I was I my mid-teens. The local theatre had a double feature : “Hot to Trot” starring Bobcat Goldthwait (remember the one? The guy-with-the-funny-voice had a Horse that talked?) and Clint Eastwood’s return as ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan. Not knowing any better, I was pretty much only there to see the silly comedy with the wisecracking horse and the “Police Academy” guy.

This would be the day that I’d meet Lt. Harry Callahan – one of the coolest cats working in the cinematic crime field. And though I’d seen him in those crazy monkey-buddy comedies (“Every Which Way But Loose”?) and in bits-and-pieces of films like “Heartbreak Ridge” and “Pale Rider” on video, it might’ve just been my introduction to Eastwood too. At least the first time I’d ever sat through, from start-to-end, one of his films.

Though I remember enjoying the heck out of it (Guy had a big gun! What’s not to like!?), “The Dead Pool” got a real battering from the critics at the time. Having set such a high benchmark with the legendary “Dirty Harry”, anything less – especially something not quite as compelling, and just a little tacky – was always going to be looked upon less than favourably, but people everywhere took a bat to this one. It got savaged. Which is kinda strange… because it ain’t such a bad film.

Revisiting it all these years later – actually, I pop it in the machine every two or three years – I can see why fans (and the critics – all of whom but Roger Ebert, who claimed it to be the best one since the first, loathed it) of the series didn’t really go for this one. It’s definitely the cheesiest of the series.

In this one, Callahan is trying to find a killer – someone who’s involved in the ‘Hollywood’ game. After film director Peter Swan’s (Liam Neeson – he was starting to do a lot of movies back then, I believe he was also in “High Spirits” and that Justine Bateman thing “Satisfaction” the same year, but his name meant shit) producer is killed in a Chinatown restaurant robbery, Callahan discovers that he, together with Johnny Squares are part of a game in which participants try to predict the most celebrity deaths, presumably from natural causes or from those that work in dangerous professions, and in a turn of events, two more celebrities (one played by a then-unknown Jim Carrey) on the list are killed.

If there’s one thing we can all agree on it’s that Eastwood still remembered how to play Harry Callahan – despite the long break between movies. This is the same chap who emptied his chamber on the Scorpio Killer a decade before, no butts about it. He’s still as tough-as-nails, selfishly independent and markedly reckless.

And while the script itself is nowhere near as gritty, or as memorable, as “Dirty Harry” or “Sudden Impact”, it’s still fun – though it does get a little hokey in parts (the whole ‘Special appearance by Guns ‘N’ Roses – who provided some of their tunes to the soundtrack – thing is a bit wanky) – and there’s some great moments. A highlight would have to be the car chase – where a remote controlled car, equipped with explosives, chases down Callahan in his car (sounds ridiculous, but it’s actually well executed).

If the worst kind of sequel the 80s produced were the likes of “The Dead Pool”, “Jaws IV : The Revenge”, “Fright Night Part II” or “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 : Freddy’s Revenge” then sign me up for a Delorean joyride back to the Dukakis-era any day – sure beats living in a world occupied with uber-expensive over-hyped junk like “Pirates of the Caribbean : At World’s End”, “Shrek the Third”, “X-Men : The Last Stand” and “Batman & Robin”.

Even if you remember being severely disappointed by “The Dead Pool” first time around, give it another look – you’ll probably find it’s now no worse than the last “Spider-Man” flick.

Extras on this new ‘Deluxe Edition’ DVD include a featurette on some of the musicians, production designers, cinematographers etc that have worked on the series, as well as a reasonably – there’s a bit too much ‘dead air’ – Commentary by producer David Valdes and Cinematographer Jack N. Gree.