It’s funny to me when the parody becomes much more well known, more important even, than the original. Funny meaning the fact is of interest to me, not funny as in a really big, fat, tall Chinese guy with red hair. [Ed Note: Stolen directly from George Carlin.] Airplane is several orders of magnitude more popular than the 70s Disaster flicks it was based on, chiefly Airport and Airport 1975, though Zucker, Zucker and Abrahams borrowed from several other films. It is rare a week goes by where at some point I don’t hear somebody mutter, “You ever been inside a Turkish prison?” or “You ever seen a grown man naked?” or even better, “black, like my men.” Airplane is definitely a part of our popular culture; our lexicon; our consciousness. Whereas Airport, well, lets just say that one out of five people you run into know about it; fewer still have seen it or know that it is the inspiration for the parody.

While nowhere near as popular, Michael Cimino’s tortuous, convoluted little thriller, Desperate Hours, is the blueprint for Dennis Leary’s better, funnier and more well known spoof, The Ref.The initial plots are nearly identical. Criminal on the lamb commits a little home invasion only to find a dysfunctional couple and their rotten children, hi jinks ensue, the couple begins to appreciate each other, the marriage is saved, etc. Of course, the Ref is a good film, actually funny, whereas Desperate Hours, a movie that I actually have a hard time remembering the title of, is simply a mess. Ostensibly a remake of the 1955 thriller, The Desperate Hours, starring none other than Humphrey Bogart in Rourke’s roll, this more modern version is a stinker. I should have known at the video store, for Mark Rosenthal, writer of Superman Iv: The Quest for Peace, in addition to 2001’s Planet of the Apes remake and Mona Lisa Smile, was one of the script doctors.

I could tell it was a more than just your normal bad early on when Kelly Lynch (who plays a lawyer… and manages to show her boobs three times in a movie that takes place over 36 hours–no love scenes, either.) is defending Bosworth (Rourke). Her brilliant line of reasoning to get Bosworth paroled for attempted murder? “My client has an IQ over 130.” This is the opening scene, mind you. Instantly I’m thinking that this film was written by a moron. “But Judge Ito, OJ couldn’t have killed them both. He’s over six feet tall.” It never got much better after that. Even if Desperate Hours would, on the strength of the cast alone, manage to achieve five minutes of decency, Lindsay Crouse would appear on screen as the head of the FBI manhunt team, and any credibility the film had melted away into a sad, star-studded B movie. Honestly, Crouse’s performance might be the worst ever. Novel in its awfulness. I am nearly at a loss to describe it. Picture your eighth grade English teacher pretending to be a cop. No, that’s not harsh enough… How about Kurt Russell as Max Bialystock? Vin Disel? Martin Lawrence? Needless to say, you might consider renting Desperate Hours just to watch Crouse’s train wreck of an acting job.

Unlike Crouse, the principle actors all deliver like they should. Rourke is his typical awesome self, totally engrossed in and by the character. Never for a moment in Desperate Hours did I think that Rourke’s Bosworth was anything less than a homicidal lunatic with delusions of grandeur and control issues. I would say it was a great performance, except for the fact that the film itself was so damn bad and confused. Like Rourke, Anthony Hopkins was solid as the estranged and emasculated husband who tossed everything away for a twenty-four year old only to realize the folly of his ways and then play foil to Rourke’s near-constant violent bravado. Hopkins’ character does his best so as to protect his newly important family. What I am saying is, Hopkins was at the peak of his acting prowess, about a year away from his watershed role as Dr. Lector, and all the script has him do get into Mexican-standoff after Mexican-standoff with Rourke’s bully of a character. Long story short; a waste.

One of the more interesting aspects of the film (and I say “interesting” only because unintentional disasters are always interesting) is the fact that even though Hopkins and his wife (Mimi Rogers) bend over backwards to try and outsmart the bad guys, the FBI decides to just flat out open fire at them and their home, with machine guns, while the children are inside!! They just start shooting randomly! Let me explain; Rourke is dragging Hopkins outside the house into the getaway car, and even though the FBI knows Sir Anthony is a hostage, and they know that Rourke’s girlfriend (Lynch) has gone Benedict Arnold and is now working against Rourke, for the FBI, they still just blatantly and unthinkingly open fire. I totally stopped caring at that point, just like the screenwriter and the director did. I think everyone dies at the end. If they don’t, they should.

The only good thing about the film are the automobiles. Lynch starts the movie racing through the backcountry of Utah in a Jaguar XJ12 convertible. A very sexy car. Better still is he car Anthony Hopkins drives, that being a BMW 750il. At the time, the V12 found within the 750il was the most sophisticated engine in the world. More astute readers will remember the otherwise throw away line from American Psycho (the book, not the movie) right after Bateman starts drinking his own urine. He grabs a hold of random man in the street and screams, “The BMW 750il has the best engine!” Good work here, for if you are going to portray a shallow yet sophisticated captain of industry-type character, portray him in the best there is. However, the big, bad BMW is not the best of the bunch in Desperate Hours. The best is Lynch’s other car, an Aston Martin V8 Volante. If I could have any car in the world, I would have the hardtop version of that V8. Sweet, sweet car.

Aston Martin V8 Volante

Other than that, Desperate Hours is a pile. Miles removed from Cimino’s other work, specifically The Deer Hunter, this film hits on maybe four out of eight cylinders. Rourke, Hopkins, Rogers and a surprisingly good David Morse make it tolerable in a “I know it has to end” sort of way. Too bad that such a nice cast was so badly wasted.

“[Crouse’s] lines are so odd she seems to be speaking a language all her own.”
See what Roger Ebert says about Crouse’s effort.

About Jonny Lieberman

Jonny was the site’s co-founder and helped carry the place in the early years. There was a falling out with Erich and he left the site for good, but a lot of his reviews live on. He has moved on to a successful career writing about cars. Look him up.