The Dead Pool (1988)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #551


Number of Views: Two
Release Date: April 14, 1989
Sub-Genre: Action/Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $31,000,000
Box Office: $37,903,295
Running Time: 91 minutes
Director: Buddy Van Horn
Producer: David Valdes
Screenplay: Steve Sharon
Story: Steve Sharon, Durk Pearson, Sandy Shaw
Based on characters created by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink
Cinematography: Jack N. Green
Score: Lalo Schifrin
Editing: Ron Spang
Studios: Warner Bros., Malpaso Productions
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Patricia Clarkson, Liam Neeson, Evan C. Kim, David Hunt, Michael Currie, Michael Goodwin, Jim Carrey, Anthony Charnota, Ronnie Claire Edwards, Louis Giambalvo, Diego Chairs, Charles Martinet, Patrick Van Horn, Shawn Elliott, Bill Wattenburg


Suggested Audio Jukebox

[1] Lalo Schifrin “End Credits”

[2] Lalo Schifrin “The Dead Pool”


There are few people I would want in my corner during a fracas more than Inspector Harry Callahan. Study the facts: this guy seldom misses with his .44 Magnum and the once mean streets remain clean on account of his exclusive brand of rough justice. Granted, his partners traditionally don’t fare well and the department are usually left to foot an almighty bill as a result of his no-nonsense approach to field work but, aside from a little collateral damage and constant staff rotation, the benefits to having this mad dog on the force far outweigh any costs. Bottom line is this: he gets the job done and in a manner as effective as it is single-minded. Thus, Dirty Harry is a most valuable commodity.


The problem is, every dog has its day and Callahan’s is in danger of passing. Scaling fences in pursuit of his perps is no longer quite as easy as it once was and, sooner or later, the inevitable hip replacement will likely put paid to his athleticism. That means a gold watch, pat on the back, and retirement village to look forward to as dementia begins to creep in and rob him of his precious memories. There’s no getting around that, in his late fifties, the writing is on the wall for Harry and his days of active duty are starting to appear somewhat numbered. Never one to buckle to increasing pressure, there is still sufficient time on the clock to bag a few more bad guys before handing over his silver enforcer and badge. Time for one final flurry methinks.


Clint Eastwood decided against reprising his famous role after The Dead Pool for fear of becoming a parody and, admittedly, it was already starting to look that way by the time Buddy Van Horn took to the director’s chair. No longer quite as agile, Harry has one tool at his disposal that can fend the wolves from his door, that being his trusty .44 Magnum. Still a crack shot after all these years and with not the faintest sign of impending cataracts, his elongated firearm does most of the legwork on his behalf and his accuracy remains unparalleled. Head shots are commonplace, reloads unnecessary, and opportunist punks still making life an absolute misery for good, honest, hard-working folk.


Of course, if you dedicate your life to fighting crime and possess a clean win-loss record, the reprobates are eventually going to fight back. While Harry has unwittingly become something of a celebrity for his subtraction of the sinful, any degenerates have been left cursing his very existence and are desperate to put a stop to his career long winning streak. Barely a minute in and poor Harry is under the cosh although what these street urchins fail to realize is that snuffing him out is not something that he will make easy for you. Said headhunters are left with shrapnel bonnets and Harry has another exorbitant incident to explain to his exasperated superiors, making him even dirtier than before. Will these criminals never learn?


Evidently that’s a negative as one such cretin is gearing up for a spree as we speak, much to the annoyance of slasher film director Peter Swan (Liam Neeson). Already public enemy number one for the gratuitous gorefests he churns out for fun, his new feature Hotel Satan appears to be cursed from the offset. On-set tensions are fast rising and, when drug-addled rock star Johnny Squares (Jim Carrey) shows up dead in his trailer, Swan has another fly dropped in his ointment. Moreover, while Johnny has a long list of folk harboring grievances against him, it’s starting to look like it could be an inside job. And who said making movies was plain sailing?


First on the scene is Harry although the department have seen fit to saddle him with fresh sidekick Al Quan (Evan C. Kim) to help curb his enthusiasm. In addition to cramping his style, they have also requested that he play ball with regards to the press. All this successful law enforcement has provided him with a public image that the department are keen to exploit to the hilt. This means no losing his rag at pesky journalists and smiling for the camera accordingly. Of course, we all know that a grimace is as close as he will come to flashing his pearls but at least it’s a step in the right direction.


One such irritant is hard-headed reporter Samantha Walker (Patricia Clarkson) and, while the pair get off to a decidedly rocky start, the fact that she possesses a vagina makes her something of a lesser evil in Harry’s one-track mind. He wines her, dines her and hints that the .44 Magnum isn’t all he’s packing in his pants but his top priority remains catching the killer before they can strike again. To make things more interesting, Swan and his colleagues have constructed a list called “the dead pool” which predicts celebrity deaths and Harry’s name is on said list. The worst thing you can do to Harry Callahan is to make things personal and, naturally, he takes great umbrage to his inclusion.


The Dead Pool does precisely what it sets out to do and not a solitary thing more. Fast paced, playful, self-referential, and never less than fun, it remains hokum purely designed to entertain and nothing else. Eastwood is his normal scenery chewing self and anything else would be criminal as, five films into his tenure as Callahan, he knows what to bring and precisely how to bring it. While he is unerringly the focus of our attention, Clarkson excels as his potential love interest and Kim makes for the ideal wingman. It takes some getting used to Neeson speaking in an English tongue but, considering his Irish heritage, it’s not that much of a stretch to accept and his presence is duly appreciated. Meanwhile, Carrey’s brief cameo as Squares provides him the perfect opportunity for rubber-faced shenanigans and, predictably, he hams it up brilliantly.


There is plenty of action en route to our finale, including a seat-of-the-pants pursuit involving a C4-rigged RC car looking to detonate beneath Harry’s driver side seat and the aforementioned shrapnel-soaked entrée. As a swan song, it supplies fitting closure to the much-loved series although Sudden Impact will always have my heart and the lovable and gassy Meathead is sorely missed. I make Eastwood right for choosing to bow out here as another outing in his sixties may well have been catastrophic and nobody wishes to see Harry Callahan negotiate a Zimmer frame. Having said that, I make his hit-miss ratio here around 9:1 so he could be in a wheelchair and, chances are, he’d still make our day.

Clint Eastwood_5

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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