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2

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99 and 44/100 Percent Dead
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by Jack Sommersby

"70 and 21/100 Percent Bad"
2 stars

I can certainly commend it for trying to be something different, but intent doesn't automatically equate itself with success.

For about fifteen minutes or so 99 and 44/100% Dead manages to be a reasonably amusing satire of New York gangster movies, but it soon runs out of ideas, starts playing things straight, and the whole thing self-destructs. A shame, really, because it's a kick for a while. As the movie opens, two tough-looking guys stop their Cadillac on an East Side pier, pull a body out of the trunk with cement blocks affixed to the feet, and he's dumped in the water; as he reaches bottom, we see he has some company -- other corpses who've been deep-sixed with the cement-block treatment, along with busted casino slots, roulette wheels and empty safes, and Henry Mancini's playful music score accentuates the dark humor of it all. It's the third day of a growing mob war between Uncle Frank (Edmond O'Brien) and Big Eddie (Bradford Dillman), and the former has placed a call to one Harry Crown (Richard Harris), the very best "fixer" in the business, to come to town. Of course, as soon as the legendary Harry arrives he's being shot at by Eddie's goons from the rooftops; having taken cover in an alley, a limousine pulls up beside him, the door opens, and while bullets by the bucket are raining down on it from above a smiling, unworried Frank invites Harry to get in with the casualness of offering someone a ride to the airport. A car chase ensues and concludes at a West Side pier, with the one containing Eddie's boys winding up in the river -- and, yes, as it reaches bottom we see there are plenty of dead bodies there to keep it company. Also thrown into the mix is Marvin "Claw" Zuckerman (Chuck Connors), Eddie's top right-hand man with a metal hook for a left hand: he loves unnerving women with his wide array of attachments ranging from a hunting knife to a corkscrew; Harry and himself will eventually have the adversarial confrontation later on down the line, though considering the built-in potential (it could've been something outlandish like something out of a James Bond movie) it's disappointingly lackluster. The rest of the story has Harry fitting in a romance with longtime love Buffy (Anne Turkel), more run-ins with guys with itchy trigger fingers, and more and more and more of those two things with little variance in the plotting. Because of the deftness of the first section and the dire development of the material thereafter, we could be watching not just a totally different movie but a movie of a totally different genre altogether.

Director John Frankenheimer did marvelous work in The Manchurian Candidate and Seconds, but his attempt at a black comedy is mostly square and heavy-handed. Yes, he should be given credit for getting things off to a fine start, but the later sequences haven't been shaped with any liveliness and are played out too seriously, especially a killjoy of a long one involving Harry dismantling a bomb at the feet of Buffy at her desk. (Interestingly, Harris played an expert bomb dismantler in the wonderful action picture Juggernaut later that same year; and, quite tellingly, its occasional black humor scored better than the humor that should be the prevailing element here.) There are numerous romance scenes with Harry and Buffy that are strictly dead weight; some potentially-workable bits like a waiting room full of tough guys filling out applications to be hoods that haven't been comically developed; bits with alligators in a sewer and a car driven backwards while everyday dialogue is being delivered that aren't pointed up as they should be; a chase involving a school bus down the wrong side of a one-way street that's flatly choreographed; and an overall visual schema that's too drab and dull to mesh with the sometimes-cartoonish tone. And adding insult to injury is the inconsistent screenplay by Robert Dillon who gave us the idiotic thriller Prime Cut (with Gene Hackman and Lee Marvin): it's a limp collage of half-realized bits rather than ripely-developed ones; and the dialogue stops a few zip codes short of the sly panache it strives for. 99 and 44/100% Dead lacks color and energy, and true entertainment value -- there's just not enough viable context here to fill out a feature-length running time, which is why the creative gaps are so easy to notice. Kudos to the always-welcome Harris, though, who's ever his quietly-commanding self. His is a fairly nondescript role, but he fills it with his vast thespian resources with as much as it can hold; he's that rare actor who's simply incapable of ever being boring. Also praiseworthy is Dillman in a delectably hammy, vivid performance as the lead villain. At times it'd be more appropriate in an avant-garde, off-off-Broadway production, but it's an enjoyably flamboyant piece of work you just can't take your eyes off of. In a major miscalculation, Dillman appears in only two scenes; with more screen time, his unbridled moxie could've made the movie a real doodle rather than a bastardized boner.

For those who care, it's finally available in 2.35:1 widescreen on a double-feature DVD with "The Nickle Ride."

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19095&reviewer=327
originally posted: 12/19/11 19:08:10
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USA
  29-Aug-1974 (PG)
  DVD: 13-Dec-2011

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  John Frankenheimer

Written by
  Robert Dillon

Cast
  Richard Harris
  Edmond O'Brien
  Bradford Dillman
  Ann Turkel



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