Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct: Lightning


So your economic situation is such that you’re watching movies on Hulu for free? So you click on over and are inundated with a plethora of titles, some familiar, some ridiculous and some curious and you just don’t know where to turn or what to click? Worry no more, friend. Because I’m your guinea pig. I’m going to watch the unwatchable. I’m clicking the weird, the wonderful and the what the hell were they thinking when they coughed up a budget for this piece of raw moose dung. Not only am I sitting through the entire flick no matter how painful, no matter how soul numbing, no matter how much I have to go to the bathroom, but I’m writing it all up so you won’t have to make the same mistakes I did. So go forth and click that flick and don’t worry about being taken by surprise. They got me, but they won’t get you.

Tonight we take a look at “Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct: Lightning”
Dir: Bruce Paltrow
Randy Quaid as Detective Steve Carella
Ving Rhames as Detective Artie Brown
And a bunch of other people

Apparently, this was a Made For TV Movie that aired back in 1995.

The movie starts in the rain. It rains a lot in this movie. And I’ve got to tell you that I love watching Movie Bad Weather. You know the stuff: it’s a torrential downpour but no one gets wet. Hair stays dry, and make up doesn’t run because the actors are exempt from the Laws of Nature. But they’re not exempt from the Laws of Entertainment. For me, there’s only one real rule for movies: Thou Shalt Not Be Boring.

This adaptation of an Ed McBain book is Guilty as charged and the sentence is an hour and a half of tedium.

And that’s a real disappointment. You see, I’ve actually read a bunch of Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter aka Salvatore Lombino). The man is a writing dynamo who has written a whole hell of a lotta books including Blackboard Jungle, and enough tales of the 87th Precinct to fill the shelves of countless thrift stores. He’s been writing these Police Procedural Mysteries since the 1950’s and it’s fun to go back and read books from various decades to see how cultural styles and values have changed. But this isn’t a book review so I’m not going to elaborate or ramble on about how this is an author that real cops read because the police procedural details are so accurate and the characters are well written. Go to the library and find out for yourself.

I mentioned how great the books are because if you’re a fan, you might think that it would be fun to see a film version of one of those novels. And it would be fun. But this is not that adaptation. There’s no joy here. Just a lot of fake rain.

And a homicide. A woman is out for a jog and is followed by a man. When her body turns up the next day, with a noose around her neck, a small American Flag propped in her cold, dead hand, and a picture of a lightning bolt placed on her body, the detectives realize that they have a psycho killer on their hands.

Let’s backtrack for just a second. The murder weapon is a noose. It’s a big, ole rope noose. Is this a game of clue? Who the hell uses a noose when they’re not lynching someone? The woman’s neck has been broken because the killer used a rope noose and strangled her with it using his bare hands. Um, really? I might believe death by strangulation but not by a broken neck because it takes more pressure to snap the neck than to choke a person with a rope noose. That’s why hangings involve a dropping of the person’s weight because that force snaps the neck and death is pretty quick. But when there’s not enough force to snap the neck then the victim strangles to death and it takes longer and there’s more kicking and struggling. And doing this by hand just isn’t gonna snap a neck unless Superman has decided to take up homicide as a hobby.

And where, outside of a Dario Argento movie or The Muppet Show, are people strangled by someone carrying a rope noose? So far, we have a cast that is immune to the rain and now a murderer who kills with a noose.

But that’s not the real mystery here. The real mystery is how does a film from 1995 look like it was shot in the 1980’s? That’s what I want to know. Alex McArthur who plays Detective Bert Kling wears his hair like it’s 1985 and poofy feathering is still in style. The whole production just screams retro. I really thought that it was an 80’s film until I looked it up on imbd. Just weird.

And speaking of weird: who the hell thought it would be a good idea to cast Randy Quaid as Detective Carella. Quaid can be a great actor when he’s an Amish bowler in “Kingpin”, or even as Elijah C. Skuggs in “Freaked”. But playing a hard-boiled, straight shooting police detective? The performance looks phoned in at best. Quaid delivers a perfectly lifeless performance but then again, he isn’t given much to work with here. He delivers one of my favorite lines in the film when he’s struggling with a typewriter and correcting a mistake with some whiteout: “I can’t type worth beans.” Yeah, he’s a real hard-boiled cop. Tough too. You can tell because he has issues with paperwork.

Another gem of a line is when the detectives are reviewing the killer’s work. Thoroughly disgusted, Quaid gets another zinger of a line: “We got a real lunatic on our hands.”

Yeah, it’s that kind of keen insight that helps cops solve crimes.

The real heart of the movie is Quaid’s developing relationship with deaf witness, Teddy (played by Deanne Bray). The movie runs about 95 minutes so the relationship has to develop pretty quick. In one scene, Quaid is seen moving his fingers and speaking out loud as he studies his Sign Language ABC’s. That’s the equivalent of moving your lips while reading silently and thinking that you’re going to score with an English Professor. Well, don’t worry romance fans. Before the big finish, Quaid masters sign language and impresses the deaf witness enough to get her to go to dinner with him.

And here’s where Randy Quaid’s acting ability takes a vacation. He’s late for dinner because he has to work a case. Showing up at Teddy’s door with a bag of Chinese Food and an apology isn’t enough. Teddy doesn’t want to hear it from her suitor and she shows him the door.

Before he goes, Quaid delivers the following tough guy with a heart mini-monologue: “I’m sorry Teddy. I really wanted to be with you tonight. But sometimes other events take precedence over what I want. I’m a cop. It’s difficult for me. And it’s more difficult for other people to understand what my life is like. I guess the two of us have a lot in common.”

That’s right folks: he just compared being a cop to being deaf! Genius! And that’s all it takes to get into her bed. A little wooden dialogue delivered like a stillborn baby and blammo! Instant Made-for-TV sex.

As artificial as the dialogue is, it gets a run for its money in artificiality from the sets. The scenes in the Precinct House are hilarious. Doors slam and blow back a bit from the force because those doors are not made of wood. And you never see the ceiling either. You know why? Because sets don’t have ceilings. Now, I’ve seen some sets, and with a little effort and some decent lighting and camera work, you won’t really notice how fake the setting is. After all, the last thing you want is something like a cheap set to pull you out of the movie experience unless you’re watching an Ed Wood epic, of course.

Then again, considering how completely dull this adaptation is, maybe being pulled out of the experience early on is a good thing. After all, there are other flicks to click out here in Hulu-land. And that’s a good thing because it means that I’ve got plenty of reviewing to do.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering: Ving Rhames doesn’t do much of anything in this flick except run around with some white tape on the back of his head. Seriously.

To sum it all up, I’m going to take another of Randy Quaid’s great lines from this flick, “Sometimes life just stinks.” That’s right and for now it’s the movie stinking. Folks, please don’t confuse the movie stinking with life stinking. And don’t confuse deaf people for cops. It’s rude and it confuses them.

Until next time, keep on clicking!

“Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct: Lightning” can be watched at HULU.COM.
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