52 Pick-Up (1986)

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John Frankenheimer adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, that doesn’t live up to either man’s abilities. This film confirms the career muddle that Frankenheimer was in at the time, and 52 Pick-Up is an uncomfortable piece of work. What ought to be a brusque, mean, solid little noir film is held back by mishandled ‘80s hype, betraying the familiar cheesy hand of arch schlock financers Golan-Globus in its sloppy production values, including rancid photography, plentiful soft-core nudity, a terrible music score, and the inexplicable presence of Vanity.
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Frankenheimer’s powerful formal mastery and invention, displayed so often in the ‘60s and ‘70s is barely evident, indicating his barely-interested take on the material. Yet he still offers a fair amount of grit and solidity in the storytelling, so the film becomes oddly involving. Another asset is Roy Scheider’s convincing portrayal of a Korean War veteran turned rich businessman, who finds himself dealing with a mob of slimy blackmailers, a feckless band of pornographers, strip-joint owners, and old-fashioned thugs, led by intelligent but perverted John Glover. They’ve got footage of him romping with a young stripper (a very young Kelly Preston), but the film’s most interesting take on the punishment-for-straying narrative is that Scheider’s a canny, tough guy himself, and he stares down these ratbags, only to find they will go well past blackmail into murder to achieve their ends.
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The film hovers alongside other disreputable but interesting thrillers of the mid ‘80s, like The Mean Season, Tightrope, and Shoot To Kill, for making little sense and yet being enticingly tough. Some also find it worthy of attention (but not for me, of course) for taking in a snapshot of the real LA porn community of the time – Ron Jeremy appears briefly in one scene. Ann-Margaret struggles in a wife role, but Glover’s villainy (Glover was at the height of a terrific run of beaming creeps – see also The Chocolate War and Gremlins 2) keeps things bouncing, and leads to a silly but amusing comeuppance.
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