Thursday, March 10, 2016

Dog Eat Dog

One of my favorite things about having my own damn blog is that nobody else gets to dictate its content. Of course the better I self-govern and sharpen its focus the more likely I am to curate something worth your time and mine so I've an incentive to keep it between the lines.

Crime is the focus here and more specifically crime fiction and within fictions hardboiled and noir flavors are what I'm most interested in. I've taken detours into speculative fiction and horror, espionage and pulps, but there's a very specialized sub-genre of crime I've been saving myself for...

Cop Humiliation!

With the recent announcement of plans for Dolph Lundgren to pick up the premise of Arnie's original Hulking Hardboiled ESL Detective Undignified and Undercover as a school teacher flick, no doubt  Kindergarten Cop 2, will soon be thrilling us in the most anticipated new star, new writer, new director, new millenium "sequel" since Werner Herzog blew our minds with that spiritual companion piece to Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant.

Kindergarten Cop ain't the only game in smallville, but Ivan Reitman's film is clearly remembered beloved more than the Burt Reynolds vehicle Cop and a Half or the formula's inverse: Sylvester Stallone and Estelle Getty in Stop or My Mom Will Shoot. Likewise, Cops 'n Kids is not the only sub-sub-genre of Cop Humiliation, but it was one of the most popular amongst...

Cops 'n Psychics

Cops 'n Ghosts

Cops 'n Movie Stars

and the hugely popular and lucrative

Cops 'n Black People

occasionally re-mixed with mixed results

The relative success and failure of the formula's permutations are usually laid at the feet of the trajectory of the vehicle's star and one wonders what coulda, woulda been had some of these career making/breaking roles been switched. What if Lundgren had been cast in the original Kindergarten Cop and Arnold been Frank Castle in The Punisher? Would Dolph have gone on with Reitman to do the pregnant man flick Junior or even hijacked Arnold and James Cameron's relationship and become a mega-star in True Lies? Would Arnold's star have dimmed and he been reduced to second banana to Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier? One wonders.

I do anyhowe.

And so does Adam Howe.

If you've read this blog in the last couple years, chances are you've seen his name attached either to favorable comments from me about his novella collections Black Cat Mojo and Die Dog, Or Eat the Hatchet or perhaps you read his guest pieces on Joe Spinell or Joe Ball. If you've read his fiction or non, you know you're encountering a writer loitering at the crossroads of rare wit and disgusting obsessions.

One of those obsessions? Bad movies.

Today I'm pleased to present Mr. Howe's factual account of events that never happened with the stars of rival projects in another beloved Cop Humiliation genre... Cops 'n Dogs

DOG EAT DOG: How K-9 and Turner & Hooch Determined the Career Trajectories of Jim Belushi and Tom Hanks

By Adam Howe
    
Incredible as it seems, Tom Hanks and James ‘Jim’ Belushi, two of the finest American actors of their generation, have appeared together on-screen only once, in 1985’s espionage farce The Man With One Red Shoe, a forgettable remake of a French film I haven’t seen. 
    
According to Hollywood scuttlebutt, the tension between these two rising stars was palpable. Belushi, in particular, resented playing second banana to Hanks. During his short-lived stint on Saturday Night Live, Belushi had honed his comic skills to a razor-sharp edge; on the set of The Man With One Red Shoe, the actor delighted in adlibbing Hanks off his game. For the first, but certainly not the last time, cracks appeared in Hanks’s carefully cultivated everyman persona. After fluffing yet another take due to Belushi’s improvisational genius, witnesses were shocked to hear Hanks call Belushi a “jerk.” True to form, Hanks immediately apologized and retracted the insult, but the damage had been done. For the rest of the shoot, relations between the actors were best described as frosty.
    
Such was the hostility between Hanks and Belushi, one wonders if somehow they knew that within just a few short years, they would be competing at the box office in rival ‘buddy cop dog’ pictures, then a radical new movie sub-genre. What they couldn’t possibly know – what no one knew – was that their choice of buddy cop dog picture, and perhaps more crucially their canine co-star, Jerry ‘K-9’ Lee and ‘Turner &’ Hooch, would determine the course of their future careers.
    
But what if each actor had made the other’s buddy cop dog picture? Would their careers have been different? Let’s find out…

   The year is 2011.
    
A despondent Jim Belushi, his career on the rocks and recently diagnosed with gout, which he announces to the world to abject indifference, is ejected by security from the New York branch of Planet Hollywood, after drunkenly attacking an item of movie memorabilia. The memorabilia in question is the Zoltar make-a-wish machine from the 1988 Tom Hanks hit, Big. As Belushi is shown to the street, weeping, witnesses hear him shouting, “I wish I was Tom!  I wish I was Tom!

   Next morning – SHAZAM – Belushi finds himself back in 1989.
   These are the glory days for Jim.
   The Red Heat and The Principal days.
   Life is sweet.
   And it’s about to get sweeter.
    
Belushi is offered the human lead in two movies. One is K-9, the other Turner & Hooch. Both are buddy cop dog movies. A new sub-genre, his agent tells him. After much deliberation, despite the apparent similarities of the projects, Belushi chooses the nuanced, lighter Turner & Hooch over the grittier, hardboiled K-9.
   
And movie history is changed forever, some might say for the better. 
    
1989 is remembered in Hollywood as The Year of the Dog. 
    
For movie fans, the box office battle between Tom Hanks’s K-9 and Jim Belushi’s Turner & Hooch is our Beatles vs. Stones. 
    
Both films contain almost identical plots, such that one suspects the studios employed corporate spies to get the scoop on their rival’s script. A cop (K-9’s maverick wiseass Dooley vs. the buttoned-down OCD Turner) is partnered with a pooch (police German Shepherd vs. junkyard Bordeaux) to solve a murder. You have to hand it to Hollywood; this is classic ‘high-concept’ stuff.  

Highlights from the films include Jerry Lee biting a criminal’s genitals to extract a confession, and banging a poodle to James Brown’s I Feel Good, and Hooch just generally slobbering and destroying Turner’s property.  Not the car!”
    
But which dog is the better actor? 
    
Not to devalue Jerry Lee’s fine performance, but the Walter Matthau-mugged Hooch has personality in spades, and in my opinion – here goes my impartiality and journalistic integrity – displays the better, albeit slobberier acting chops. 
    
German Shepherd-lovers will take me to task for this, but face it, Hanks carries Jerry Lee with another uniformly endearing performance as maverick wiseacre Dooley. As Turner, Belushi wisely plays straight man to Hooch, with all those years living in the shadow of his legendary brother finally paying off. 
    
When the movies are released, only three months apart, the smart money is on Hanks’s K-9 to win the dogfight. (During the earlier Hollywood fad of ‘body swap’ romps, Hanks’s Big dwarfed Vice Versa, despite that movie’s combined star power of Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage, hot from Beverly Hills Cop and The Wonder Years respectively.) But moviegoers take both canine cop flicks to their hearts, with Hanks’s K-9 and Belushi’s Turner & Hooch each earning approximately $75m at the box office.  Hollywood is proved eerily accurate in predicting that late-eighties movie audiences simply cannot get enough of buddy cop dog pictures. In fact, looking at those numbers, it’s safe to presume the exact same audience sees both movies. By 1995, when Chuck Norris releases his own Top Dog, sadly for Chuck, the fad has passed. 
    
Flush from his K-9 success, Hanks plays it safe and continues carving a career as a comic leading man – with the occasional supporting role or cameo in prestige pictures like Who’s Harry Crumb? and Only the Lonely. He enjoys fair to middling success with Taking Care of Business, Mr. Destiny and Curly Sue. But critics wonder: Where is the risk-taker, the wannabe serious dramatic actor of Every Time We Say Goodbye and Punchline?
    
Belushi appears to be a one-hit wonder. He follows Turner & Hooch with the flop Joe Versus The Volcano. The Bonfire of the Vanities, in which director Brian De Palma casts Belushi as an unlikely Master of the Universe, is the epic turkey of its day. (Through no fault of Belushi’s, it must be said, and of all the egos involved in the Bonfire fiasco, as detailed in Julie Salamon’s scathing tell-all The Devil’s Candy, only Belushi emerges with something like his dignity intact.)

Hollywood begins to wonder if the success of Turner & Hooch was due largely to Hooch; not for the first time, Hollywood has seriously underestimated Jim Belushi.
   
After rediscovering his form in A League of Their Own, as the alcoholic coach of a women’s baseball team, Belushi reinvents himself as a romantic lead opposite Meg Ryan, with Sleepless in Seattle becoming the sleeper hit of the ’93 box office. 
    
Who would have predicted that Belushi’s brand of boorish, blue-collar Chicagoan, watching-the-game-with-a-brewski, Belushibility would translate so effectively to romantic comedy?
    
Given the success of Sleepless, Belushi can be forgiven for playing it safe, like Hanks, and churning out endless light romantic comedies. Instead he wows the critics with a straight role as a gay lawyer with AIDS in Philadelphia, for which he is awarded his first Best Actor Oscar. During his acceptance speech, Belushi unwittingly outs his closeted high school drama teacher as a homosexual. People laugh off Belushi’s tactlessness; that’s Jim! At the after-show party, secure in his own identity as Not-John Belushi, Belushi and Dan Akroyd appear as The Blues Brothers, performing Bruce Springsteen’s song, Streets of Philadelphia.
    
Forrest Gump sweeps the board at the next year’s Oscars, with Belushi reigning in the retard to secure his second successive Best Actor award, a feat not achieved since Spencer Tracy in 1938/39.

   After that, The Belush is loose.
   Apollo13.

   You’ve Got Mail.

   Saving Private Ryan.

   The Green Mile.

   Castaway.

   Catch Me If You Can.  (Does the title refer to Hanks, one wonders?)

An unprecedented run of smash-hit movies that catapults Belushi to the very top of the A-list, and makes him one of the most bankable stars of all time. 
    
Envying Belushi’s success, fearing he has been typecast as ‘the new Jimmy Stewart,’ and determined to prove his own dramatic chops, Hanks fires back with 1992’s erotic thriller, Traces of Red. (After the success of Basic Instinct, erotic thrillers are, like buddy cop dog pictures once were, the latest Hollywood fad; I’m unaware if Chuck Norris made his own erotic thriller during this period.)  Audiences are repulsed by the very idea of a naked Hanks rutting with co-star Lorraine Bracco, let alone will they pay good money to sit in a movie theater and watch images of it. An actor of two-time Oscar-winner Belushi’s ability might have transcended the role – made it the Last Tango in Paris of its day – but not ‘Mr. Nice’ himself, Tom Hanks. The movie stiffs, irreparably damaging Hanks’s status as a viable leading man. 
    
Hanks finds himself sinking in a quicksand of Direct to Video movies, failed TV pilots, cartoon voiceover work (a pitiful riposte to Belushi’s success with the Toy Story franchise) and the occasional cameo in Arnold Schwarzenegger movies.
    
In 1999 many believe Hanks’s career has finally rock-bottomed when he stars in K-911, the eagerly unanticipated sequel to his biggest hit; but no, the final indignity comes in 2002, with the threequel, K-9: P.I. Alas, as Chuck Norris has already discovered, the buddy cop dog picture gravy train has stopped rolling. 
    
Both K-9 sequels are released DTV and quickly vanish without trace.
    
Hanks finally accepts defeat, gives up his dreams of movie stardom, and takes the lead as ‘Tom,’ an overbearingly nice variation of himself in the painfully middle-of-the-road television sitcom, According to Tom. Belushi, in what insiders consider to be one last fuck-you to his vanquished foe, refuses to allow Hanks to enjoy his TV success, such as it is, and produces Band of Brothers for HBO with close friend Steven Spielberg, with whom he has previously saved Private Ryan. Belushi is also credited with coining the title of infamous gay porn parody Shaving Ryan’s Privates, proving he has lost none of his sparkling wit and is totally secure in his heterosexuality. 
    
Then, in 2011, a despondent Hanks, his career on the rocks and recently diagnosed with type-two diabetes, is ejected by security from the New York branch of Planet Hollywood, after drunkenly attacking an item of movie memorabilia. The memorabilia in question is the Zoltar make-a-wish machine from his 1988 hit, Big. For Tom, ’88 feels like a lifetime ago. As Hanks is shown to the street, weeping, witnesses hear him shouting, “I wish I was Jim!  I wish I was Jim!

   Next morning – SHAZAM – Hanks finds himself back in 1989.
   These are the glory days for Tom.
   The Bachelor Party and Splash days.
   Life is sweet.
   And it’s about to get sweeter.
    
Hanks is offered the lead in two movies. One is K-9, the other Turner & Hooch. Both are buddy cop dog movies. A new sub-genre, his agent tells him. Hanks chooses Turner & Hooch.
    
And the status quo of movie history is restored, some might say for the worse.
_____

Thanks to Sarah Lu and James Merrills for the pix…
    
Adam Howe writes the twisted fiction your mother warned you about. A British writer of fiction and screenplays, he lives in Greater London with his partner and their hellhound, Gino. Writing as Garrett Addams, his story Jumper was chosen by Stephen King as the winner of the On Writing contest, and published in the paperback/Kindle editions of SK’s book. His fiction has appeared in places like Nightmare Magazine, Thuglit, and The Horror Library. He is the author of two novella collections, Black Cat Mojo, and Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, both published by Comet Press and available NOW

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