Release Date(s)1991 (October 6, 2020)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
A reliable Hollywood genre, the buddy comedy has inspired belly laughs in films like Men in Black, Stir Crazy, Dumb and Dumber, and Wayne’s World. Put a couple of eccentric characters together, give them a high-concept plot and funny dialogue, and you have a potential winner.
The Hard Way follows this formula with the unlikely pairing of Hollywood superstar Nick Lang (Michael J. Fox) and tough New York cop John Moss (James Woods). Nick is best known for playing an Indiana Jones-type action hero and wants to be taken seriously. Up for the lead in an urban police thriller, he arranges to be partnered with Moss to learn how a real cop works. Moss is on the trail of a psychotic murderer known as the Party Killer (Stephen Lang) and wants nothing to do with a pampered movie star, but his superior orders him off the case to cooperate with Nick.
Nick grates on Moss. As he tries to get the feel of real police work, it becomes obvious that Nick is a fish out of water and ill-equipped to handle the gritty New York City crime element. His comedic missteps increasingly infuriate a frustrated Moss.
Amid car chases, comic repartee between Lang and Moss, slapstick, and a few violent confrontations, there’s a subplot about Moss trying awkwardly and without much success to develop a romantic relationship with Susan (Annabella Sciorra).
Fox and Woods play characters with completely opposite personalities, which makes the comedy sparkle. Nick regards partnering with Moss as an acting exercise. Bearing a gun and badge from the prop department and an adhesive mustache, Nick looks to Moss as his personal dramatic coach. Moss resents being taken off an important case to essentially babysit the actor. Sparks inevitably fly as the real dangers of police work emerge.
The Hard Way is fast paced and very funny. Woods’ tightly wound Moss and Fox’s California-light Nick are nicely developed. Director John Badham (Saturday Night Fever) provides the film with kinetic energy that blends the comedy with the serious narrative of a lunatic killer who randomly murders innocent people at crowded venues. The film has some edge-of-your-seat moments, particularly the climax, which is set high above Times Square on a giant advertising model of Nick’s movie character.
It seems odd that Nick is out in public (sans mustache) and no one recognizes him, though a few characters offhandedly observe that he looks like Nick Lang. It’s unlikely that a big movie star would be able to move around without being mobbed by autograph seekers (keep in mind that the film was made before the ubiquity of cellphones).
The Blu-ray release of The Hard Way from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, featuring 1080p resolution, is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1. There is a warmth to the interiors, which are bathed in soft lighting, and a coldness to the exteriors. The color palette tends towards browns, yellows, and muted reds. The street scenes have a blue tint and suggest an inhospitable environment. The picture quality is sharp and nicely shows details, such as reflections in rain-soaked streets, individual droplets of rain on a car windshield, bricks in an abandoned building, the pattern in Susan’s dress, the bright lights in Times Square, and the soft rosy complexion of Annabella Sciorra. A few car chases are excitingly staged, though typical heavy New York City traffic is absent. There is considerable stunt work involving falls, fights, Moss being dragged through the streets by a racing tow truck, and near-plunges from high places. A sight gag showing the diminutive Fox walking next to the much taller Woods illustrates that on-screen actors often appear larger than they actually are. An early scene involving a shooting at a crowded club features extras running for their lives, gunfire, and cops trying to nab the shooter. This sequence is elaborately staged and edited to maximize drama.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-High Definition Master Audio. Optional subtitles in English SDH are available. Because many scenes are shot while actors are walking, the pace of the dialogue is quick, with timing crucial to hitting the jokes properly. Fox, a veteran of the TV sitcom Family Ties, is perfect, but it’s surprising that Woods, usually cast in more serious roles, keeps up with him. His exasperation is evident not only in his raised voice and contemptuous tone, but also in his seething expressions. As with most movie car chases, there are screeching swerves, car-on-car impacts, crashes, and shouting. These sounds are mixed together well to create excitement.
Bonus materials include an audio commentary and a set of theatrical trailers.
Audio Commentary – Director John Badham, producer/second unit director Rob Cohen, and film historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer share this commentary. The opening in Times Square sets up the “craziness of New York City.” Cohen describes his second unit work and how it seamlessly blends with Badham’s work with the main actors. Kevin Kline was originally considered for the role of Nick Lang. When he decided not to do the film, Michael J. Fox was approached. Casting director Bonnie Timmerman “always had her finger on the cultural heartbeat.” Badham’s approach with Woods “allowed Jimmy to be Jimmy.” The original version of the script was more subdued than what eventually showed up on screen. Annabella Sciorra has “a smile that would light up the screen.” Delroy Lindo as the precinct captain gave an interpretation that was both distinctive and funny. Though their characters clash on screen, James Woods found Michael J. Fox likable. The shoot involved improvisation because comic scenes go dead after too many run-throughs. Badham, referring to a scene in which Moss and Nick stuff hot dogs topped with French fries into their mouths, speaks about the difficulty actors have delivering dialogue while eating. Because of a joke about Scientology, the studio was inundated with complaints from actors who asked that it be removed. Since prints were already struck, a compromise was made. The joke would remain in the theatrical version, but deleted for the DVD release (by the way, it’s present on this release). Fox did his own stunts in the subway fight scene, showing excellent instincts and coordination. An elaborate car stunt dictated how subsequent shots in the scene would be filmed. The climactic scene on the giant head of Nick Lang, which took two weeks to film, is discussed in detail. The final fight sequence involved careful matching of shots from the first and second units. This scene was originally intended to open the film but because of its cost and complexity, it was shifted to the finale.
Theatrical Trailers – The following trailers are included: The Hard Way, The Secret of My Success, Like with Mikey, Cop, Diggstown (Midnight Sting), Jungle Fever, and Another Stakeout.
– Dennis Seuling