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SUDDEN IMPACT

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, Bradford Dillman, Paul Drake
Director: Clint Eastwood
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 117 Minutes
Release Date: June 3, 2008

“Go ahead, make my day.”

Film **1/2

Personally, I’ve always found it ironic that the most famous quote from the Dirty Harry series, not to mention one of the famous lines in cinema history, came from the least inspired installment. Sudden Impact is the fourth chapter in the saga of San Francisco’s most lethal enforcing cop. But where as the first three movies were incredibly gripping action thrillers, this one feels more like an over-the-top cartoon by comparison.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its strong points. For one thing, this is the first Dirty Harry movie where Clint Eastwood did double duty as star and director, and Eastwood as always delivers a tight thriller behind the camera. And there are a good number of action set pieces, most notably a memorable finale at a carnival ground/pier. However, it’s the central storyline of Sudden Impact that I’ve always found pales in comparison to the rest of the films of the series.

The story centers around a woman named Jennifer (Sondra Locke), who years ago was the victim of a brutal gang rape. Her sister was also a victim, and was more traumatized by the incident. In the time since then, Jennifer has become a vigilante in her own right, tracking down and killing the culprits one by one.

Meanwhile, Harry Callahan (Eastwood) has managed to piss off pretty much the entire city of San Francisco. Within the first 20 minutes of the movie, Harry is not only in the middle of an assault case brought against him by a thug he arrested, but he causes a shootout at a diner and then visits an elderly mobster at his granddaughter’s birthday party. He threatens the old guy, which causes him to have a heart attack and die right there on the spot, proving that a .44 magnum isn’t the only deadly weapon Harry possesses.

So naturally, Harry enrages his superiors and is asked to take a vacation. But a sneaky murder develops, and as a result Harry is brought on with the police force in the community of San Paulo to investigate, thus making this the first Dirty Harry movie to take place away from San Francisco. Nice touch, if ask me.

By then, you can pretty much guess the elements that will come into play for the remainder of the movie. Harry’s investigating leads right to the female vigilante, Harry pisses off his new superior (a horrendously overacting Pat Hingle), and Harry will empty loads of ammo into a lot of people. The only difference between this and the rest of the movies in the series is that all of the character development that made the earlier films so special is pretty much replaced by a Dirty Harry that could’ve served as a precursor to RoboCop in the way that it seems to want to use Harry as a killing machine and nothing more.

It’s not that Sudden Impact is a bad movie by any means. In fact, I feel somewhat guilty in not giving it a full pass. But I can easily say that when I add up all the movies in the Dirty Harry franchise, this one always seems to rank as the lowest in my mind. Mind you, that’s only because the other four movies are truly stellar pieces of entertainment.

Video ****

I never caught the movie in its initial release on DVD, but I truly have to commend Warner Bros on a tremendous job well done in the quality of the restored picture quality of these new releases. The anamorphic presentation is quite astounding, especially for an early 80s flick. The image is thoroughly sharp and clear, with knockout colors in addition. There seem to be more night sequences in this movie than daytime sequences, but both areas are rendered magnificently.

Audio ***1/2

Likewise for the audio department, the 5.1 mix is so furious that you swear you watching a more recent action movie. The jazz-fused music score by Lalo Schifrin (the Mission: Impossible maestro himself) sounds more terrific than ever, and the countless bits of action carry a thunderous sound quality, right down to the simple firing of a gun.

Features ***

There are two basic features on this re-issue, the first of which is a commentary track by film critic and Eastwood Biographer Richard Schickel, which is a most intriguing and heavily informative listen. The other big extra is a near half hour documentary titled “The Evolution of Clint Eastwood”, which delves more into how Eastwood approached this project as a director. Lastly, we get trailers for this and the rest of the Dirty Harry flicks.

Summary:

Every popular movie series has at least one setback, and Sudden Impact is such the case with the Dirty Harry series. On the plus side, it’s nowhere close to being a horrible movie, but rather the one movie in the series that is simply the least memorable, despite having that signature line of dialogue we all know by heart.

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