Back when Pulp Fiction came out, Quentin Tarantino began publishing lists of his favorite movies in various interviews. To a film buff, these were something of a small revelation. Tarantino had not been so much influenced by the usual Citizen Kane or Hitchcock as he was by a plethora of semi-forgotten, underappreciated trash movies. Suddenly movies like Brian De Palma's Blow Out (1981), Jack Hill's Coffy (1973) and Jim McBride's remake of Breathless (1983) gained in respectability; they had influenced a new American classic, and so there must be hidden greatness within their second-rate frames. Likewise, Tarantino helped breathe new life into already established classics like Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday (1940) and Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders (1964). He created a film-buff smorgasbord.
Flash forward 13 years to 2007. Tarantino has a new movie out, the bottom half of Grindhouse, in which he sings the praises of a cult road movie called Vanishing Point (1971) among other titles. And yet, for some reason, I had absolutely no urge to rent that movie when Grindhouse had finished up. Perhaps it's because Tarantino's passion had turned into something a little more dutiful. Rather, my cinematic slaverings had turned elsewhere, to a relative newcomer that had been recently initiated into the Tarantino camp with the inclusion of his Grindhouse trailer: Edgar Wright. His exciting, hilarious, and enthusiastic Hot Fuzz (164 screens) had got me thinking about the veiled merits of its buddy cop double bill: Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break (1991) and Michael Bay's Bad Boys II (2003).
I've been a fan of Bigelow's ever since a friend turned me on to the unexpected pleasures of Near Dark (1987), and as a critic I've found myself defending her later work. None of her films have been appreciated upon their original release, but many have attained cult status later on, especially Point Break. It's a superb example of the homoerotic buddy cop movie, but it contains some truly surprising and spectacular action scenes, as well as a kind of Zen surfing philosophy that doesn't seem to belong in an action movie but somehow fits. It also contains many indelible images, from the skydiving sequence to the presidential masks, rather than just explosions.
Bad Boys II is another story. It came out in the summer of 2003, just a few weeks after a movie called Hollywood Homicide, directed by Ron Shelton. Starring Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett as reluctant partners, the movie struck me as a sly parody of buddy action movies, one that used Hollywood itself as a motif while simultaneously signaling the genre's death rattle (as well as the death rattle of much of the entertainment industry). Apparently it was too subtle or too dark because most critics and viewers took it as a straight-ahead action movie and gave it the boot. And even those few who got the joke probably didn't notice that Shelton co-wrote Bad Boys II, which led me to believe, that it, too, was once a nasty, cynical spoof of action movies. Indeed, it's so vile, and so far over the top that it can only be a deterrent to anyone else who wants to attempt something similar. (Still, it's Michael Bay's most interesting feature to date.)
When I interviewed Edgar Wright, we instantly got onto the topic of movies, both good and bad, and hardly had a chance to talk about Hot Fuzz. It's rare that I meet people with whom I can talk obscure movies, but Wright spun circles around me. He explained the difference between Mother, Juggs & Speed (1978) and Freebie and the Bean (1974) -- which I had confused with one another, but both of which he watched to prepare for Hot Fuzz. He told me about another tantalizing cop double feature, this one programmed privately by Tarantino for Wright: Stuart Rosenberg's The Laughing Policeman (1973) with Walter Matthau, and an Italian film, Ruggero Deodato's Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976). I eagerly noted down these titles, hoping to catch a few of them in my spare time.
Meanwhile, a few current flicks are showing in cinemas around the country that could catch the eye of a future Tarantino or Wright and inspire more brilliant movies. Gregory Hoblit's Fracture (104 screens) was better than it ever had any right to be, with a cleverly twisty script and a handful of brilliant performances, notably by Ryan Gosling. You Kill Me (39 screens) is another in a series of excellent film noirs from director John Dahl; he's the only filmmaker alive who seems to understand the genre from the inside out, rather than merely paying tribute. Paul Verhoven's Black Book (35 screens) shows the lurid pulp director trudging upon serious ground, but bringing along his pulp sensibility and turning it back into a crackerjack entertainment.Corey Yuen's DOA: Dead or Alive (6 screens) is a ridiculously stupid, gloriously fun action movie on a small scale without a shred of pretentiousness, with five cute girls kicking butt. Bong Joon-ho's The Host (2 screens) is still one of the best films of the year so far, and one of the greatest mutant monster movies ever made. Johnny To's Triad Election (1 screen) reminded me of The Godfather with its deliberately ugly violence and complex criss-crossing plot. Finally, and best of all, there's a restored print of Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Doulos (1 screen) making the rounds. It's a 1962 French crime thriller that has needed restoring for years now (I've only seen it on a muddy VHS tape). Coincidentally, it's one of Tarantino's favorites and one of the inspirations for Pulp Fiction. How's that for action?