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THE HARD WAY (1991) Dir. John Badham. Written by Lem Hobbs and Daniel Pyne. Starring: James Woods, Michael J. Fox, Anabella Sciorra, Stephen Lang, Luis Guzman, LL Cool J, Delroy Lindo, Christina Ricci, and Penny Marshall.

There's only one way these two are going to get along... the Hard Way.

John Badham is one of those directors who never really seemed to be anything more than a competent craftsman with his ability tied directly to the quality of the script he was working with. From Saturday Night Fever and the Frank Langella version of Dracula to Short Circuit and Stakeout, the man had range, perhaps too much, always seeming to this reviewer as the straight man's Joel Schumacher. By the time he made The Hard Way he was mid-career, filmwise at least, and combined with the talents of writer Lem Dobbs delivered one of his best and most overlooked films. Michael J. Fox fresh off the Back to the Future sequels is Nick Lang, Hollywood action star and real-life cream puff dead set on scoring a new role as a hard as nails NYC detective and with the help of his agent Penny Marshall in one of her last feature film roles manages to get a week-long ride along set-up with real-life hard as nails, Detective John Moss - Woods in rabid poodle mode with the sleaze-o-meter dialed in just under shitheel to appease the PG-13 rating. Problem is Moss is in the midst of running down serial shooter The Party Crasher (Stephen Lang) and can't stand Fox. Throw in a totally charming Annabella Sciorra and adorable Christina Ricci as Moss' budding starter family, L.L. Cool J in prime 'Momma Said Knock You Out' phase, early Luis Guzman and Delroy Lindo goodness, and street-gang called The Dead Romeos (seriously the best gang name ever) and you've got the epitome of fun 80's action-comedy. As entertaining as everyone in the film is, it's Stephen Lang's bizarre turn as the Party Crasher that elevates the film to something more than a simple light trifle. He is genuinely unsettling and menacing in the role keeping the stakes legitimately high until the ridiculously fun finale atop a giant three-dimensional billboard of Fox's face - a scene that alternately shows us the good and the bad of pre-CGI rear projection. The fact that no one recognized Lang's talent in this or his previous role in Last Exit to Brooklyn is just another Hollywood injustice that required 20 more years of thankless character work before he finally got some notice as Avatar's bad guy. Oh well, chalk it up to bad timing and no decent release of The Hard Way. Now if you'll excuse me it's time for some Frog Dogs.



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