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Collision Course
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by Jack Sommersby

"Cop-Buddy Movie: Take 1109"
2 stars

Released after Pat Morita earned an Academy Award nomination and before Jay Leno became a famous late-night talk-show host.

The cop-buddy action comedy Collision Course marks director Lewis Teague’s second failure in a row after the disappointing Romancing the Stone sequel The Jewel of the Nile, though, because Teague is immensely talented, it isn’t without a few merits. Teague started out under the king of low-budget productions, Roger Corman, making his debut with the fine John Dillinger crime tale The Lady in Red, and he followed that up with the outstanding monster movie Alligator which still ranks as the very best of the Jaws knockoffs. Afterward, his Death Wish-like Fighting Back was no great shakes (Teague was hamstrung by a wildly uneven screenplay), but he rebounded with the superb Stephen King adaptation of Cujo, and the next year he did the colorfully entertaining King-scripted horror anthology Cat’s Eye. Here is a director with a remarkable film sense for what will and will not play on the silver screen, who has an acute sense of pacing and composition, and the ability to lend narrative propulsion to the scripts he genuinely responds to. But he stumbled with The Jewel of the Nile, his first big-budget job -- it was obvious producer/star Michael Douglas didn’t want anything particularly innovative from him so as to safeguard what he thought was a surefire box-office smash; the movie was well-made but unimaginative and empty, as if Teague had been given instructions beforehand not to try anything even remotely risky. Collision Course was actually made the year after, but due to the bankruptcy of elephantine Dino De Laurentiis’s DEG Studios, it wasn’t released until three years later, and, to put it gently, it wasn’t exactly worth the wait. The Karate Kid’s Oscar-nominee Pat Morita gets top billing, and he stars as Tokyo detective Fujitsuka Natsuo, of the Industrial Espionage Division, who’s sent by his superiors to Detroit to locate a spy who stole an automotive supercharger prototype to sell to the highest bidder in Motor City; but the top bidder, the dastardly Philip Madras (Chris Sarandon), chagrined at the spy’s high asking price, has the man killed off instead, only his hired goons do so before getting their hands on this much-sought-after item. The goons attempt to cover up the killing by placing the corpse in his rented car and dumping it in a compactor in a local junkyard, but the night watchman stumbles upon them, and he’s subsequently shot and killed. It turns out the watchman was the ex-partner of cop Tony Costas (Jay Leno), who dedicates himself to avenging the man’s death. After some initial confliction, Natsuo and Costas agree to team up, which, of course, results in a good many fish-out-of-water jokes, and the only reason we don’t roll our eyes at such a stale story device (which, granted, is no more ludicrous than the Ridley Scott-directed Black Rain where Michael Douglas’s New York cop found himself the outsider in Japan) is because Morita and Leno get something of an amusing rapport going and are quite funny together. The disposable crime plot gets plunked in in between the comic hijacks, and it’s a good thing we’re not asked to take it even remotely seriously, because the crux of the movie is the Morita/Leno relationship, and this almost makes the proceedings worthy of a recommendation.

Millions of moviegoers went agog over the simplistically formulaic The Karate Kid, and I wasn’t one of them, but I did enjoy Morita’s finely-tuned work that was both affecting and humorous -- he effortlessly blew the just-average star Ralph Macchio right off the screen but was gracious enough to allow himself to remain subservient to him for the good of the overall whole. Morita has a much-better co-star in the comedian Leno, who, while strictly a lightweight, has an easygoing charm that gets us on his side from the get-go. Clad in a sports jacket and blue jeans, Costas is the very definition of a quintessential laid-back type, and this perfectly contrasts the better-dressed Natsuo, who’s at first reticent and shell-shocked at the rampant crime and violence in Detroit being that Tokyo consistently has the lowest crime rate in the entire world; and Natsuo’s presence isn’t helped by the low-income residents who blame Japan for the loss of Detroit car-manufacturing jobs (when he enters a bowling alley, the customers make a bee-line for him with nothing but xenophobic contempt). While there aren’t exactly a cluster of funny lines (“I oughta stir-fry your face!”), one can’t help but give in and laugh when Natsuo enters Costas’s ramshackle of an apartment, customarily takes off his shoes with, “I show respect for your house” and quickly puts them back on with, “I show respect for my feet.” If only the movie had better material surrounding them! It’s to Collision Course’s bad luck to be coming just a year after the extraordinary Action Jackson, which was also set in Detroit and played out like absolute gangbusters -- there wasn’t a single wasted scene, and it had enough vrooom! for ten movies of its type (it was second only to Die Hard as the best of its type of 1988). There are a bountiful array of action sequences, but Teague’s heart doesn’t seem to be in them, for they lack the acute precision we know he’s capable of; shootouts and explosions and car chases aren’t in short supply, yet they’re so undistinguished they come off as if they’d been staged and executed by a second-unit director or were B-roll leftovers from another production. (Bob Clark, the director of the teen-classic Porky’s, was set to direct but was fired right before shooting commenced, and maybe it was Teague’s past dealings with De Laurentiis and promise of a fat paycheck that ensured his participation). There’s a chase involving our heroes dodging a rocket launcher and then hopping a freight train, and another with them on a motorcycle intruding upon a downtown car race, but Teague doesn’t quite nail down the spatial logistics and get any excitement going. And though Sarandon made a great vampire in Fright Night, and Randall Tex Cobb and Tom Noonan, also previously cast as heavies, play Madras’s goons, with neither managing to register or exude so much as an iota of menace like the great Craig T. Nelson did in Action Jackson. For the most part, Collision Course (a generic title if there ever was one) runs on fumes, and whatever limited mileage it does get is from the Morita/Leno camaraderie that’s deserving of a much better vehicle.

Still not available on DVD, though I doubt many are crying over this.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=28817&reviewer=327
originally posted: 04/02/15 22:16:27
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User Comments

4/03/15 Charles Tatum Terrible. Thank God Leno went to TV. 1 stars
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  27-Apr-1989 (PG)



Directed by
  Lewis Teague

Written by
  Frank Darius Namei
  Robert Resnikoff

  Pat Morita
  Jay Leno
  Chris Sarandon
  Tom Noonan
  Ernie Hudson

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