The Films of Peter Hyams
Goodnight, My Love
The Star Chamber
The Presidio (July 13/16)
The Presidio casts Mark Harmon as Jay Austin, a San Francisco police detective who's forced to team up with a military commander (Sean Connery's Alan Caldwell) after a murder is committed on the title army base - with the film detailing the pair's efforts at solving the crime and also Jay's burgeoning romance with Alan's fetching daughter (Meg Ryan's Donna). Filmmaker Peter Hyams opens The Presidio with an impressively exciting car chase that, when combined with the rousing introduction to Harmon's character, seems to lay the groundwork for a fast-paced thriller, and yet the movie quickly segues into a less-than-engrossing midsection devoted primarily to the mismatched protagonists' rather routine investigation. (It's clear, too, that the erratic narrative suffers from an ongoing emphasis on Jay and Donna's somewhat tedious relationship.) There's little doubt, then, that the film benefits substantially from Connery's typically magnetic performance and the sporadic inclusion of unexpectedly engrossing sequences, with the best and most obvious example of the latter a thoroughly captivating foot chase through San Francisco's Chinatown. (And one can't help but get a kick, of course, out of the interlude in which Alan takes down a barroom bully with just his thumb.) The lack of a compelling villain doesn't help the movie's uneven atmosphere, to be sure, although it's certainly hard to deny the effectiveness of the gleefully over-the-top shootout that closes the proceedings - which ultimately does confirm The Presidio's place as a watchable, occasionally enthralling '80s thriller.
Sudden Death (January 3/17)
An especially blatant Die Hard knockoff, Sudden Death follows Jean-Claude Van Damme's Darren McCord, a former firefighter coping with a tragic loss, as he's forced to battle a group of terrorists (led by Powers Boothe's nefarious Joshua Foss) that are holding the Vice President (Raymond J. Barry) and an entire stadium full of people hostage - with the movie, for the most part, detailing McCord's surreptitious efforts at disarming the many bombs that have been planted around the aforementioned arena. Sudden Death, directed by Peter Hyams, admittedly boasts a promising opening half hour, as Hyams, working from a script by Gene Quintano, does an effective job of establishing the central character and the perilous situation in which he eventually finds himself - with Hyams' old-school treatment of the material seemingly setting the stage for a briskly-paced action adventure. The better-than-average vibe is perpetuated by a typically charismatic turn from Van Damme and by the inclusion of a few top-notch action sequences, with an early highlight a battle between Van Damme's McCord and a villain dressed in an oversized penguin costume. (Indeed, this interlude remains the centerpiece of the entire picture.) It's only as the film progresses into its meandering, sluggish midsection that one's interest begins to wane, as far too much of the narrative's second act is devoted to McCord's solo exploits as a fledgling bomb defuser - with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by an ongoing emphasis on underdeveloped supporting characters (eg Hyams spends an inordinate amount of time dwelling on McCord's young son sitting by himself). The relatively strong climactic stretch ensures that Sudden Death ends on a somewhat positive note, at least, and yet it's fairly clear that the movie is simply unable to live up to the potential afforded by its setup. (And a Van Damme flick with only one bona fide fighting sequence is nothing short of tragic, let's be honest.)
End of Days
The Musketeer (September 5/01)
Based on Alexandre Dumas' novel The Three Musketeers, The Musketeer follows D'Artagnan (Justin Chambers) as he he's unwittingly drawn into a complex story of intrigue and danger. Directed by Peter Hyams, The Musketeer certainly looks like no other adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' classic ever has; nothing is pretty in Hyams' world - bedrooms are dirty, tunnels are dank, and pubs are downright unsanitary. And to make all these places look even grungier, Hyams' has chosen to use natural lighting for most scenes (eg a sequence that finds the Musketeers skulking in a pitch-black tunnel has been lit only with the torches carried by the characters). When you get right down to it, though, this is just a talky drama; aside from a few brilliant action sequences, The Musketeer often resembles one of those low-budget historical chamber pieces you might find on PBS. The acting is uniformly good - Tim Roth, cast as an evil henchman, steals every single one his scenes - with the only real weak spot acting-wise being the lead. But those action sequences - the movie is almost worth seeing just for the final duel between Chambers and Roth - are stunning. Much has been made of the fact that the action choreographer also worked on The Matrix, but there's no obvious wire kung-fu here - just some kinetic, ballet-like action scenes. With its booming score by David Arnold and sweeping camera shots, it's obviously Hyams' attempt at an old-fashioned swashbuckling adventure. And while it mostly doesn't succeed, the few sword fights make this worth a trip to the theatre on a Tuesday.
A Sound of Thunder
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (May 18/11)
After a run of disappointing efforts like The Musketeer and A Sound of Thunder, Peter Hyams bounces back with an entertainingly absurd thriller that boasts several genuinely exciting interludes and an expectedly riveting performance from Michael Douglas. The film follows struggling reporter C.J. Nicholas (Jesse Metcalfe) as he becomes convinced that the local district attorney (Douglas' Michael Hunter) has been planting evidence to secure his convictions, which eventually leads C.J. to frame himself as a murder suspect to catch Hunter in the act. It's an almost jaw-droppingly ludicrous premise that is, for the most part, employed to better-than-expected effect by Hyams, there's little doubt that the movie does take a while to wholeheartedly get going - as Hyams offers up an underwhelming, thoroughly meandering opening half hour that's exacerbated by the film's palpably low-rent atmosphere (ie it's rather obvious that Hyams didn't have a tremendous amount of money to work with). The less-than-engrossing vibe persists right up until C.J. begins setting his plan into motion, after which point it becomes more and more difficult to resist the inherently compelling nature of the film's unabashedly outrageous narrative (ie the viewer is essentially forced to abandon all logic and embrace the ridiculousness of Hyams' screenplay). And although the movie does run out of steam towards the end as C.J.'s lawyer girlfriend (Amber Tamblyn's Ella Crystal) launches her own investigation, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt generally comes off as an above average thriller that seems to have been unfairly dismissed by most critics.