Stanton’s Forgotten Films: The Hard Way
James Woods and Michael J. Fox find their Chemistry The Hard Way
In the Spring of 1991, Hollywood took a film with an interesting premise and star power (Woods, Fox, Penny Marshall, Luis Guzman, Christina Ricci, LL Cool J, and Stephen Lang –it even featured the film debuts of Fabio and Mos Def) and dumped it in the blasted doomscape of pre-Summer releases. The Hard Way opened at number three and spent little time accumulating terminal velocity on its descent into The Land that Pop Culture Forgot.
Guzman’s got the look!
Making a paltry 26 million in domestic gross, this action/comedy had all the markings of a blockbuster buddy flick. Fox was fresh out of his Marty McFly safety vest, LL Cool J’s momma was telling him to knock everyone out and Woods was making a splash by living out the plot to Fatal Attraction with real life psychopath, Sean Young.
The Hard Way is about a tough New York detective who, while on the trail of a serial killer currently terrorizing The Big Apple, gets sidelined to help a successful, egocentric actor research an upcoming role. Fox plays the actor, Nick Lang, and all he wants to do is get close to his new human subject. But, what’s in there is private and James Woods doesn’t let anyone in. Unfortunately, this does nothing for his love life. Maybe he needs this sensitive Hollywood asshole to come in and help him learn to open up a bit more.
Fox handles the role like an ancient comedy master. After years of watching Family Ties, Back to the Future and Teen Wolf, this movie kind of blew my mind as a kid. It was so strange hearing F-bombs being dropped by Alex P. Keaton. However, the childish positivity that Fox exudes as a person falls right into place with his role as Nick Lang. Even James Woods had a problem acting angry at Hollywood’s sweetheart and he does that for a living.
James Woods smiling.
Woods is at his absolute best when playing Det. John Moss. The character really lends itself to Woods’ already cranky persona. As much as he would like, America does not remember him for being a nice guy and Det. Moss is definitely not a “nice guy” either. In fact, he is lonely, but years of being a cop have kept him from being able to express his feelings. Ironically, he manages to open up most to the guy that he doesn’t even want around: Nick Lang. In one particularly funny scene, Lang tries to get Moss to open up by role playing. Moss gets to be himself, while Lang starts to portray Susan (Moss’s girlfriend). Moss doesn’t want to play along until Lang (aka Susan) offers some insight into the problems of their relationship. Woods lays the machismo on thick in this scene — not wanting to be apart of it, but strangely, unable to pull away.
Stephen Lang, the Party Crasher, looks like he enjoys digging down and pulling out his inner sadistic serial killer. He rides to short bus all the way to cliche station, but he embraces it. Sadly, the film did not use him enough. For The Hard Way, he was just a necessary element that had to be placed amid the moments of tension between Fox’s eyebrows and Woods’ scowl. His performance would have been more interesting if his character had a little more substance.
At least his skin looked good.
This movie is not great, but it is so much fun to watch. It works best when it falls back into satire. All of the clips from Lang’s films are hilarious in how they skewer big budget Hollywood action franchises. I always kind of wanted to see the Smoking Gun series and I like to assume it went on to further success in the 90s.
Real men smoke and turn into werewolves.
There are also many typical moments of low budget writing. It would be impossible to write this piece and not mention it. For instance, on the subway, Lang gets accosted by a bunch of thugs. However, he gets lucky because once the thug draws his gun, many people on the subway do too. Why didn’t they all draw on these guys when they were robbing an old lady? Sure, it made for a good joke, but didn’t make a lot of sense in the long run.
Either way, if you can forgive the flaws and plotholes, this film is worth taking a look back at — especially for anyone that loves 80s and 90s actioners like Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Under Siege, Passenger 57, and the like. If movies like this are not your cup o’ tea, then maybe you should grow a pair and watch it anyway. In fact, why don’t I put my loaded, police issue gun down now and you watch The Hard Way, the easy way. I would rather you not have to watch The Hard Way the hard way, because that involves farming equipment and your sphincter and it ain’t pretty.