52 Pick-Up, 1986.
Directed by John Frankenheimer.
Starring Roy Scheider, Ann-Margret, Vanity, Kelly Preston, John Glover, Robert Trebor, Clarence Williams III, Kelly Preston.
A cheating husband is blackmailed by a gang who threaten to publicly reveal his affair, thwarting his politically ambitious wife’s plans and forcing him to take matters into his own hands.
In 52 Pick-Up, Roy Scheider (Jaws/The French Connection) plays Harry ‘Mitch’ Mitchell, a successful businessman with a nice house, an immaculate Jaguar XK-E that he has lovingly restored and a politically ambitious wife about to make a big splash campaigning with the local governor candidate. Everything seems rosy for Mitch until one day when he is shown a video of himself and his mistress during private time by three masked men who blackmail him for the sum of $105,000. Fearing the repercussions, Mitch confesses the affair to his wife Barbara (Ann-Margret – Any Given Sunday) and then sets about turning each of the blackmailers against each other in the hope that their own greed will work in his favour.
Based on the 1974 novel by Elmore Leonard, 52 Pick-Up was produced by Cannon Films during their most commercially ‘successful’ (in productivity more than actual profit) phase in the mid-1980s and when one of the extra features on the Blu-ray disc is a rundown on the hardcore porn stars that feature as extras then you know that you’re not exactly in highbrow territory (keep your eyes peeled for porn legend Ron Jeremy as a background party goer). That said, for a Cannon production 52 Pick-Up is surprisingly well-executed, if not totally original, and considering who was producing the movie they managed to land a pretty top-notch cast.
Roy Scheider is pretty rock solid and totally believable as Mitch, and considering there wasn’t really a cry for action thrillers starring the police chief from Jaws in 1986 his casting may appear a little odd at first, but then again this is Cannon Films and they managed to get hold of and keep Charles Bronson on their books for most of the ’80s and who could forget them shelling out $14,000,000 for Sylvester Stallone, then languishing in his mid-‘80s career peak, to star in Over the Top, a film that only grossed $16,000,000? Yes, Cannon Films’ head honchos Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus weren’t exactly known for their shrewd monetary decisions but they knew how to put a film together and if nothing else, in 1986 Roy Scheider was a known quantity, although not really a box office draw. Also scoring high on the performance front is John Glover (Gremlins 2: The New Batch) as Alan Raimy, the kingpin blackmailer who is as charismatic and charming as he is lethal. Glover’s ability to make Raimy as endearing as he is loathsome is one of the films high points and as a character Raimy is certainly the most interesting, especially as he is really just a chancer trying his luck at extortion. His sidekicks Bobby (Clarene Williams III – Maniac Cop 2) and the very sweaty Leo (Robert Trebor – The Devil’s Rejects) also help to bolster his character, and when Mitch’s revenge plot finally kicks in the trio of bad guys make for an intriguing gang whose true nature only comes through when the seeds of doubt in their leader are sown.
But what 52 Pick-Up doesn’t do quite so well on is in consistency, because despite some great dialogue, enjoyable performances and a slight whiff of sleaze that doesn’t do it any harm whatsoever the film is a bit too flabby, getting to the blackmail plot pretty quickly but then plodding on to where Mitch realises he has to take care of things himself, which leads to a climax that wouldn’t have been out of place in a 1990s Bond movie but feels a bit incongruous for what was essentially a gritty, ‘80s Los Angeles crime thriller. It doesn’t help that a large chunk of the middle of the film is taken up by the appalling acting of Vanity, a former Prince backing singer-turned actress (to use the phrase lightly), who is very pleasant to look at but has the line delivery talent of a school nativity play. Her character Doreen does play a key role in Mitch getting the information that he wants and in the scene where he has paid for her to strip whilst trying to get the info out of her, what should have sizzled feels merely lukewarm and almost annoying to the point where you wish she’d put her clothes back on and just go away.
However, despite a few flaws along the way 52 Pick-Up is a perfectly serviceable thriller that has a whiff of Scorsese and film noir influence about it but never quite hits those heights. The print of the film is pretty good, the image clear if a little dark at times, and extras include an exclusive commentary by film critics Glenn Kenny and Doug Brod, who also happily provide you with the guide to which porn stars appear in the background. Overall, not the greatest or most original crime drama you’ll ever see but it is a fairly enjoyable one. Simple as that.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★