Castor’s Underrated Gems – Loose Cannons (1990)

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The dreaded, infamous 0% on Rotten Tomatoes is a label to be both reviled for and applauded for. It’s as rare as white peacocks or purple carrots. However, the quantity of the viewers should also be titrated when evaluating whether a goose egg is earned or merely a biased sampling. Before writing my defense of Bob Clark’s offbeat action-comedy Loose Cannons, I found nary a positive review for this. This is a hill I must conquer and perish upon alone.

For starters, the opening is strikingly infernal with the red flares and Teutonic voice of the villain piercing through the docks like a phantasmagorical vision. It’s a Hieronymus Bosch painting and that must be purely the intention of Clark who was an acolyte of seedy horror cinema (especially when a disembodied head is dangling from a fishing hook to taunt the circus performers cowering in the shadows).

Secondly, Gene Hackman is a consummate profession who never lounges on autopilot. As Mac Stern, a veteran officer on the vice squad, his quips are acerbic such as when he cites obstreperous lovers under a nonexistent penal code. He also possesses a fastidious edge to his character with his polished, vintage car as a representation of “code in the universe”.

Moreover, Hackman’s reactions to Dan Aykroyd’s paroxysmal, Robin-Williams-stream-of-consciousness episodes are the vicarious sentiments of the audience members (“I’m a cop. I don’t know what the hell he is.”). The immiscible-partner chemistry between Aykroyd and Hackman is trenchantly funny.

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In fact, before Aykroyd’s relapse into multiple-personality disorder, Aykroyd’s Ellis Fielding is redolent of his Sergeant Friday from Dragnet as he painstakingly scrutinizes the crime scene down to the most minuscule details such as the knee surgery pin. He is also very affable in the role when he downplays and is trepidatious of the illness.

Akyroyd’s psychogalvanic pop-culture delirium is surprisingly uncanny (specifically his Cowardly Lion). The Dana Carvey-esque flights of mimicry are more infrequent than the abysmal reviews would extrapolate. The schizotypal behavior manifests during the car chases and the prerequisite nightclub brawl. The MacGuffin for the Nazi malefactors is very Promethean- a pornographic film which headlines Adolf Hitler with several males (including the prospective chancellor of Germany) and other historical information.

As long-suffering moviegoers, we should be thankful of several attributes. None of the humor is scatological and a majority of it is amusingly mellow. The twosome don’t needlessly bicker or altercate (e.g. When Mac’s vehicular residence is demolished, Ellis is hospitable to Mac to sojourn in his guest room despite the nocturnal disruptions by Ellis’ id). Maybe it’s a symptom of nostalgia but under today’s microscope, Loose Cannons is a unfairly flayed, reasonably funny, inventively tonic buddy picture.

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