Reviewing the sequels that followed in the wake of Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry is somewhat of a thankless task these days. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love the delirious smash-mouth violence and the whole 70’s ambiance of the thing while Callahan blows a rabid lowlife all over the back wall of the grocery store they were trying to rob; but I gotta admit, some of the politics haven’t aged anywhere near as well as the nuances of Siegel’s original – especially in todays climate. However, with 1983’s Sudden Impact, Clint Eastwood himself stepped behind the camera to direct Harry’s latest escapade with then-spouse Sondra Locke in tow, which beggared the question: would the man who gave us The Gauntlet and The Outlaw Josey Wales manage to bring a bit more balance to Harry’s distinctive (and destructive) brand of police work?
Once again Harry is in trouble with the top brass after yet another case is thrown out of court thanks to a heavy handed search and seizure, but after thwarting an armed robbery at his local diner fails to blow of the requisite steam, the Inspector decides to gate crash the wedding of a mobster’s daughter. However, after heckling the guy to his face about the murder of a hooker, the guy has a flat out heart attack in front of everybody that proves to be every bit as fatal as one of Harry’s gargantuan slugs which understandably puts him at odds with the men in the bosses employ. After indulging in some not-so-friendly fire with some of these dudes on the streets of San Francisco, Callahan is transferred to the supposedly quieter San Paulo in order to look into the gruesome murder of one George Wilburn.
Meanwhile, artist Jennifer Spencer has started dishing out “38. calibre vasectomys” to the men who gang raped her and her sister ten years ago starting with Wilburn and she has also returned to San Paulo’s seaside town to finish the job, but in a coincidence that could only happen in the movies, Harry finds himself romantically entangled with the aspiring avenging angel.
As the bullets continue to fly, some of the remaining members of the gang who inflicted that unspeakable act upon the Spencer sisters start to sweat, but female ring leader Ray and the sexually violent Mick seem to welcome the approaching carnage as they prepare for battle and as Callahan slowly gets ever closer to the truth, he starts to get wind of a suspected cover up.
Will Spencer succeed in erasing the people responsible for her hellish ordeal and what will Harry do once he finds out the truth – after all a vengeful murder is still murder after all…
With this latest entry into the Dirty Harry cannon (little joke there) it seems that not even the immense directorial talents of Clint Eastwood can stop the franchise sliding even further into parody. When taken as a typical, hard boiled cop movie that paints the streets of San Francisco as being as lawless as an average stretch of highway in a Mad Max film, there’s a fair amount of grim joy to be had from seeing Callahan tear anyone a new asshole who’s stupid enough to commit violent crimes in broad daylight. But once again it’s the film’s morals that throw things off somewhat, especially considering this is a high-profile movie whose plot is barely one step removed from the legendary trash epic, I Spit On Your Grave.
I’ve always personally found rape/revenge movies a tough sell, but Sudden Impact takes it that one step further by lodging it into an action movie that also contains a farting dog called Meathead and Harry chasing a criminal in a van from a retirement home while the pensioners in the back (who don’t look that much older than Eastwood, to be honest) cheer him on. It’s almost as if Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left collided in a head on collision with Sylvester Stallone’s Dirty Harry wannabe Cobra and Sudden Impact is the malformed thing that’s staggered from the wreckage, cursed to be too nasty to be fun and too silly to be taken seriously.
It’s a shame, because Locke’s Jennifer Spencer is probably one of the few characters in Dirty Harry’s history who actually has a very good point to make concerning the lack of rapes that are appropriately handled by the police (it’s still bad now so fuck knows what it was like back in ’83), but all her speeches and justified testicle shootings are instantly diluted the second the climax reduces her to a mere damsel in distress.
Positively drowning in cop cliches, Sudden Impact battles on blissfully unaware of its legion of tired tropes – despite being a quiet town, Harry thwarts a crime barely twenty minutes upon arriving in San Paulo; his black partner is murdered despite having nothing to do with the story whatsoever; and the film contrives an end for the sweat drenched main villain that’s so violently over the top that it becomes inadvertently hilarious – but Eastwood is to skilled a director to let everything go to waste.
Whether you like it or not, Callahan is still a ridiculously iconic character no matter what scenario you put him in and despite all that I’ve said, I dont think I’ll ever get bored of seeing him clear out a room of murderous criminals with a gun that could shoot your liver into orbit. Plus Harry’s always been a never ending source of killer one liners and the fact that this is the movie where Harry locks eyes with a punk and says “Go ahead, make my day” has got to count for something, right?
While I honestly and truly love the genre, the time period and the character, Sudden Impact is simply far too nasty to enjoy as a slice of throwaway entertainment on its own, but as a part of the Dirty Harry quintet, it has its virtues – just not enough to make my day.