Thursday, July 06, 2006

Split Second (1992)

The scene, let me set it for a moment: the London of 2008 is in damp squalor due to the prophesied materialisation of global warming. With the stitching of the ozone layer coming apart at the seams, sea levels have risen to the extent that moist overflow from the Thames languishes over the thoroughfares of the English capital like a soaking duvet. Against this lo-fi-Blade Runner backdrop comes Harvey Stone, a badass, renegade cop played by Rutger Hauer.

It transpires that someone is scampering about the damp metropolis killing people, ripping out their hearts, and perhaps feasting on those very rhythmic machines. Hauer, in his immensely far-reaching experience, has encountered this foe in the past, but not only that, due to this prior confrontation he possesses a psychic link to that vicious manslaughterer.

Being a renegade cop has never proved itself easy-going in the world of the action flick, and it’s no different for Hauer who is afflicted with the straight partner malady in the guise of Dick Durkin, a lettered multiple-graduate who has sex every night. Their consortship spawns camaraderie reminiscent of Dolph Lundgren and Brian Benben in the classic I Come In Peace (aka Dark Angel); the sort of partnering that feasts on a gulf between personalities and the gracelessly of an attempted coalescence. But soon, as shared experience breeds something a little more cordial than total contempt, they are united as a human battlement to take on their mutual nemesis.

However, this ain’t your standard killer-quest cinematic vomit. Oh no, this sneaky iniquity-lauder is working off some sort of theorised pattern, selecting victims with a carefully cocked eye on the overall scheme, the blueprint of crime lanced to the back of his retina. Hauer and his educated drudge are welcomed into this cerebral maze by the discovery of a loving configuration of blood smears on the ceiling overlooking a recently disembowelled misfortunate. This artsy spattering intimates of the astrological Scorpio; the zodiac seems to be providing this guy with a nice, readymade formula for his acts. But what is the pattern? Despite his schooling, Hauer’s subordinate knows not of the celestial bodies and how they may or may not affect whether little Jimmy down the road buys an ice-cream or a buncha crack rocks this summery afternoon.

Luckily the scheme begins to unravel, and is deflowered by the intellectual prowess of Hauer, with the odd erudite interjection by our favourite little peon. This serial killing enigma, it must be noted, preceded Seven by three years; alas Fincher’s lads were wallowing in the aftermath of Hauer’s backwash all along.

The two heroes are joined on their pursuit by Kim Cattrall, still sporting that stupid undercut from Star Trek VI, who plays Hauer’s old lover. She steps enthusiastically into the shower marked ‘prey’, and is privy to a number of Psycho camera angles for her trouble. Also we get Pete Postlethwaite, circa Alien 3, as another cop who wears a long, flowing dress of discord with Hauer. Brit TV stalwart Alun Armstrong stars as the ball-busting chief, a man who relentlessly dishes out the shit to Hauer - but our favourite Dutch-American is simply too uncompromising to let such flippant sounds interrupt his duties. Finally we are endowed with a cameo by Michael J. Pollard, best remembered for his role in Tango & Cash, alongside some other 80s cinematic notables.

In the end we find out that this man - him stirring the pot of gentility and performing all these dastardly deeds - is no man at all. In fact, he is a gigantic, shadowy, taloned beast who resembles Venom from Spiderman. Perhaps Sam Raimi ought to take inspiration from this low-budget British movie and get a cigar-chomping Rutger Hauer in to assist the anthropo-arachnid in the up-and-coming third outing. Hell, just leave Tobey Maguire in his trailer and send in Hauer clasping the Big Fucking Guns and you got a box office winner guaranteed.

Talking about guns, Split Second sees our heroic duo running around brandishing some intense near-future hand-cannons. Just watch Hauer annihilate the cardboard faux-people on the firing range, giving much amazement to the face of Dick Durkin. Or Durkin, dripping with machismo later on, ripping into the counter surface of Hauer’s kitchenette, all to decimate a rat. This certainly doesn’t enamour the deco senses of Hauer, oh how his apartment is the epitome of post-modern living, complete with nesting pigeons. It’s the sort of habitat that would make The Punisher jealous with a skull-laden rage.

As the narrative becomes a more and more Predator-esque affair, the wisecracks never cease their freefall from Hauer’s pursed lips. Whether he’s calling a rottweiler a dickhead, or dispensing witty one-liners to his law-enforcing peers, he never fails to earn a chuckle or two. Let’s be honest, Rutger Hauer is the star here, the Sun to Durkin’s Venus, the Master of Puppets to Durkin’s Load, the Noam Chomsky to Durkin’s Al Franken, the Manhattan to Durkin’s Match Point. His presence beclouds most everything else in the film; from his palpitating anxiety condition – the classic dodgy ticker – to his maniacal erraticism, he never gives up his struggle against the odds to collapse this monster that may or may not be Beelzebub.

In the final confrontation only one black-clad devil can reign in the dashing colours of supreme, and he is the one denoted Rutger Hauer. Split Second is a masterstroke of cheese-ball action cinema, it takes its rightful place in the annals, seated next to its cousin The Punisher 89. Its mirth is a deserved emotion. As we bound closer to 2008, may Split Second enjoy much rewatching in our saturated modern times.


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