By the third time Clint Eastwood dusted off his 44. Magnum, pulled on a pair of $29.50 slacks and did that swept back thing with his hair, it was fairly safe to say that the Dirty Harry franchise wasn’t what it once was.
Don Siegal’s muscular, mature original asked hard questions and tasked it’s audience to stare excessive force in the face as its squinting anti-hero struggled his way through red tape and governmental hypocrisy in order to put a toe tag on the truly reprehensible sniper known as Scorpio. While Harry’s brutal antics were ultimately justified, they were never hailed as triumphant and the original movie ended on a somber note as Scorpio’s body slowly sunk to the bottom of a lake to hopefully be shot on by passing fish – but only one film later, 1973’s Magnum Force to be exact, Inspector Callahan’s adventures had already started veering further into the realms of the bombastic action movie, which found themselves straining to justify Harry’s behavior whole also mawkishly addressing hot button social topics in an attempt to get some balance which in turn brought us to the increasingly cartoonish The Enforcer.
Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan is once again in hot water with an outraged public after foiling a store robbery by driving a car through the front of the shop and shooting a dude in his dick though his butt cheek and for his troubles is transferred to Personnel much to his displeasure (“Personnel? Personnel’s for assholes!”).
Meanwhile, a domestic terrorist cell that looks like Manson Family dropouts and who call themselves the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force has started the ball rolling on their half-baked plan to bring down the government by stealing a large chunk of ordnance from a guarded lock-up that includes a batch of L.A.W.S. rocket launchers. Killing a buddy of Harry’s as they go, these cold blooded psychos start a string of crimes in order to eventually make them rich by kidnapping the Mayor and holding him to ransom, but soon Callahan is on their trail with a newly minted partner that sticks in his craw. Fast tracked to Inspector thanks to the Mayor’s administration vowing to creating more jobs in the force for women, Kate Moore throws herself into the job despite not really having the experience – however, when you’re Dirty Harry’s partner, you get up to speed quick or you get dead, so she soon shows off her initiative and guile despite Callahan not exactly being the most supportive dude around.
As Harry slowly comes around to the idea of a female Inspector as she repeatedly proves herself in the field, the PRSF start to make their move on the Mayor and soon it’s down to the mis-matched Callahan and Moore to take the terrorists on head to head in their lair: Alcatraz Island.
As the bullets fly and the rockets whizz, will the two cops manage to walk away with a dollop of mutual respect to go along with their lives or will Moore join the ever growing list of Harry’s partners that are taking indefinite leave under a headstone somewhere..?
So first things first; this is arguably the most ludicrous of the Dirty Harry franchise yet (although ask me again by the time we get to The Dead Pool’s killer remote control cars) and while the violence quota is predictably through the roof, the movie’s accountability for said ultra-violence has diminished substantially. That isn’t to say that, taken on it’s own merits The Enforcer isn’t a huge amount of hard-boiled fun, but despite its attempts to acknowledge women in the police force it still ends up being a bullet blazing, right-wing wet dream that still insists that Harry is completely justified in blowing away criminals in a space lousy with civilians just because he’s fighting deranged bad guys (straight out of a comic book) and because he’s a really good shot.
Even though the first movie admittedly took Harry’s side in things (who else were you gonna route for, Scorpio?) it still took pains to show that Harry’s way of doing things also made it easier for his nemesis to wriggle out from his arrest thanks to a technicality and that his wild west attitude is no match for due process. The Enforcer, on the other hand, suggests that it’s perfectly ok to drive a car through the front window of a convenience store as long as only the right people get hurt and that Harry doesn’t deserve the shit he gets because his Captain (Bradford Dillman with a half-hearted porn-stache) is nothing more than a spineless weenie.
In the plus column? The violence may very well be unnecessarily brutal (I’ll say it again: a man gets shot in the dick through his butt cheek) but it’s also damned exhilarating and is ably shot by director James Fargo who went on to team up with Clint again for Any Which Way But Loose – which basically tells you everything you need to know. However, the best thing about The Enforcer proves to be a pre-Cagney & Lacey Tyne Daly who takes what could have been a horrible caricature of a woman in a man’s world and instead makes her fiercely grounded – not an easy thing when the script requires you to blow a female criminal away because her nail polish gave her nun disguise away. In fact, her verbal jousting with Clint’s breezy chemistry turns out to be the best parts of the film, especially when she impishly schools Harry about the phallic nature of his hand cannon and asks whether it gives him the penetration he hopes for.
The villains of the piece are literally good for nothing but getting shot and Harry’s coup de grace that notoriously involves using a rocket launcher in a fucking hostage situation just shows how far into make believe the series has gone in only three movies. In fact squint like Clint and you can almost see the entire enterprise teeter on the edge of self parody; but much like the previous movie, Magnum Force, if not taken too seriously and treated as more of a morally questionable blast-em-up, then Dirty Harry’s third outing ends up being silly, mindless fun that collapses like cheap, flat pack furniture the very second it comes under the slightest scrutiny.
If you can tolerate its hugely dated outlook – using a homophobic slur as Harry’s final kiss-off line is beyond unfortunate – then have at it and have fun, I did – but those of you understandably unwilling to set The Enforcer’s dated politics aside and see it simply as bone-headed escapism won’t feel particularly lucky and it probably won’t make your day either…