“Glorious year 1990” reverts back to the year that was when I got seriously into movies. In this series, I go back to select releases from that specific year and give them the love they reserve.
(Released originally on Talkbacker on March 18, 2014)
“They call me Ford Fairlane, rock’n roll detective. I have the power to get into the hottest clubs, the hottest dressing rooms and the hottest chicks. I admit it all sound pretty nifty in theory. Then why am I here? Why do I wish the music industry and the rest of the globe would just suck my Dick Tracy? I’ll tell you why…”
So, you’re Renny Harlin. You’ve created a bit of name for yourself shooting commercials for Finnish TV, and some music videos. You decided to try and make a low-budget Cannon Pictures-type action flick called “Born American”. But the budget was so low, you couldn’t even get the designated Cannon star Chuck Norris to sign on it – instead you get his SON Mike Norris. But you squeeze every cent of that pocket change on the screen and you get the movie made, only to piss off the bowing-down-to-USSR government of your country and getting your film banned for being anti-Soviet.
So you pack your bags and go to USA, where you can make your movies without fearing government pulling shit on you. You end up making another low-budget horror film “Prison” (first starring role for a VERY young Viggo Mortensen) which gets a two-week release in theaters and vanishes. But it gets some attention at New Line Pictures, who are looking for a director for “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4″, and despite a studio head looking constantly over your shoulder, a writers strike and still a very low-budget production, you deliver. And the Box Office is VERY good for you.
What do you do next?
You get attached to “Alien III” – unquestionably an even larger, well-established franchise. But the pre-production is a complete Nightmare. After countless drafts of scripts, after all your ideas being shot down by the powers that be, you decide to put your hands up and get away from the project, potentially making a fatal mistake career-wise. The passion is just gone. Endless wars in the pre-production cabinets have taken the fun out of making movies. You need to have some FUN.
“The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” was a tailor-made project for Andrew Dice Clay. The main character may be called Ford Fairlane, but he really takes on all the characteristics of Dice’s stand-up persona – upped into eleven. Ford is a shamelessly misogynistic, chain-smoking, trash-talking, un-PC, über-cool private rock’n roll detective and damn it if you just don’t love EVERY second of watching him juggernaut through the shallow world of 1990’s excess that is called Los Angeles.
Harlin has said in an interview, that what attracted him to the project was the chance to satirize the L.A. entertainment and club scene at the time. And I believe that as an foreigner, an outsider to the whole thing, he was the perfect choice for it. From Ford’s first entrance to a club called “Greed”, EVERYTHING is played larger than life. The women all look like supermodels, the guys look like Miami Vice-extras, the lighting and production design is MTV-amped-up-into-the-max in EVERY frame. And Ford is just taking a piss on it all. And after he gets slapped in the face by a second twin (of course) girl in a row, we get this wonderful piece of dialogue:
Ford Fairlane: Hey, look. Write down my number: 555-6321 Got it?
Twin Club Girl: Yeah. Wait a minute. 555 is not a real number. They only use that in the movies.
Ford Fairlane: No shit, honey. What do you think this is? Real life?
That little exchange shows exactly what Harlin AND on set-screenwriter Daniel Waters have in store for us for the rest of the film. Real life does not exist here. EVERY character is a cartoon/archetype, and during the next 20 minutes, we get to meet most of them:
A psycho male-groupie of Josie and the Pussycats (obviously) Sam the Sleazebag (David Patrick Kelly), a Kid sidekick (Brandon Call), Ford’s secretary Jazz (Lauren Holly with obligatory glasses for the ugly duckling transformation later on), Howard Stern-esque shock jock and Ford’s childhood buddy Johnny Crunch (Gilbert Gottfried playing – well, Gilbert Gottfried), an Ice queen Rich Bitch Colleen Sutton (Priscilla Presley), the mustache-twirling record company-owner Julian Grendel (characters last name is a que already, Wayne Newton), psychopathic killer called Smiley (Robert Englund with a cockney accent and Rob Halford’s wardrobe), a dim-witted valley girl Zuzu Petals (Maddie Cornan), an incompetent police detective Lt. Amos (Ed O’Neill) who hates Ford with a vengeance and several other colorful characters who our hero crosses paths with while he stumbles through the case of…
Don Cleveland: Will someone tell me what the fuck is going on here, slowly?
Zuzu Petals: Well… it… all… started… with… this… condom… factory…
Well, the plot in this movie is really not significant. It has something to do with pirate records, blackmail, Art Mooney and double-crosses/murder, but that’s not really important. What IS important is Ford, and how he steers himself from situation to situation in his own “un-fuckin’-believable” style. That usually involves more of him using his mouth and telling people to fuck off than using his gun (a spring loaded revolver hidden in his sleeve, of course). You can imagine how, as a goody-two shoes 14-year old, I was completely flabbergasted that a lead character in a movie would act like THIS? So began my journey in life with Ford Fairlane.
From the beginning we have the usual Chandler-esque voiceover narration by Ford, but even THAT gets just confused by the plot and sometimes goes off into some explicitly bizarre “Dice” tangents. Actually in lots of similar ways than Leslie Nielsen’s in the “Naked Gun” movies, only more R-rated; the narration becomes a parody in itself. Like when Ford and Zuzu escape from the villains onto the roof of Capitol Records and the camera tracks back over the L.A. skyline and the characters are just little dots, the narration gets an increasing level of echoing. Narration echoing the events – literally. Elsewhere in the film, Ford narrates being “banned from the MTV” – as Dice was in real life. Voiceover becomes meta.
Ford Fairlane: “Conversation with Zuzu Petals was like masturbating with a cheese grater: slightly amusing, but mostly painful.”
Harlin had, for the first time, a big budget, a big studio backing him, Joel Silver at the height of his might as producer, so with Ford Fairlane, Harlin was for the first time able to do exactly what he envisioned. To finally MOVE the camera, experiment, do visual gags, editorial gags, you name it. The freedom to just HAVE SOME FUN radiates from the film. The movie just flows ahead with a visual panache, a confidence, and a rhythm of a music video. And a goddamn kick-ass score from the Swiss synth band Yello.
This film with is unique sense of humor and go-for-broke comedy is like nothing else in Renny Harlin’s filmography. The ONLY film that comes even close is “The Long Kiss Goodnight”.
After “Die Hard 2″ Harlin got basically typecast as an action-guy. And after “Cutthroat Island” -and finally the Stallone racing-flop “Driven”- he has really not been let near any big budget productions again. He has become a director-for-hire for small-budget-almost DTV fare and even TV (Burn Notice). The energy seems to be gone. He’s gotten a LOT of backlash in the last decade and to be honest, most of that is completely justified. You can’t make good films or get inspired with shitty scripts.
“The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” happened to have a damn good -and damn funny- script. And a director who’s at the peak of his craft and EVERYTHING to prove. Whenever I’m feeling a bit down, I can just put the DVD in and hang out with my buddy Ford. He’s may not be the nicest guy in the world, but he is funny. And UN-FUCKIN-BELIEVABLE. And did you honestly think they would’ve hung a fuckin’ Koala bear?
Critic Roger Ebert called ‘Fairlane’ “loud, ugly and mean-spirited”.
Why is that necessarily a bad thing?