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Overall Rating

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Worth A Look85.71%
Average: 14.29%
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1 review, 1 rating

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Short Time
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by Jack Sommersby

"Offers a Great 'Time'"
4 stars

Want some really cool action and some laughs and a wonderful star performance? This is definitely the movie for you.

The always-welcome Dabney Coleman delivers an outstanding performance as Bart Simpson, a Seattle policeman with a week left until retirement who mistakenly thinks he only has a couple of weeks to live and tries to get killed in the line of duty so his estranged wife Carolyn (Teri Garr) and young son will benefit from a generous departmental insurance policy. But Short Time is actually an action-comedy rather than a drama (the best of its type since Beverly Hills Cop and Midnight Run), though it does contain some dramatic aspects, and some affectively genuine ones, at that; and to its accomplishment, it doesn't suffer from jarring shifts in tone -- nothing is overly violent or overly emotional. Bart is the ultimate anal-retentive: the kind who believes in coupon-cutting as a religion and is obsessed with his ten-year-old getting into Harvard some day (he gives him stuff like a Harvard beer stein); and he's even more a fuddy-duddy with his partner Dills (Matt Frewer), constantly lecturing him about eating right and investing his savings into six-month CDs. So his control-freak self is understandably thrown for the ultimate loop when he's told he has a rare blood disorder -- yet he really doesn't: at a doctor's office giving a blood sample for more life-insurance coverage, his sample is switched by another man whose company sprung a last-minute drug test on him; he smoked a joint the day before and is sure the sample by Bart, who he briefly conversed with in the waiting room, is clean. The doctor advises him to get his affairs in order, and he refuses to tell Carolyn or Dills about his supposed ailment; but soon they both see quite a change in him -- his being more open-hearted and caring to her, and his being less stringent with his money like buying Dills meals in expensive restaurants and giving him the keys to the cherry-red Mustang convertible he's just purchased. And, of course, he becomes totally uninhibited in his work: leaving his protective vest in his locker and volunteering for double shifts in the city's most crime-ridden neighborhoods. The ultimate joke of the movie, and it's a good one, is that no matter how daring and reckless and risky he acts, he simply can't get himself killed. A domestic disturbance call results in a senile couple apologizing for raising their voices to one another, a bomb-wielding suicide case inside a convenience store with hostages is successfully talked down by Burt who enters the store in just his underwear, and at the end of an extended highway car chase involving Burt and some machine-gun-armed baddies, even with his car smashed and decimated to near-smithereens, he survives infuriated for having forgotten to take off his seatbelt.

While I can't rightly aver that the subplot involving a group of criminals who've hijacked a military truck chock-full of high-tech weapons is the most original thing on earth, it's fairly harmless and provides the groundwork for most of the action sequences, all of which are spectacularly staged and executed by debuting director Gregg Champion. Hardly an auteur, Champion has a steady hand and guides the story well enough; there's very little in the way of panache on his part but considering the material it's not particularly needed. He knows how to keep the story components properly proportioned, and, excepting one or two doldrums (Bart looking into coffins isn't nearly as acute as it could be), shapes the scenes more than well. (It's what's referred to as "invisible direction": like good wallpaper, it's neither bland nor does it draw undue grandiose attention to itself.) What's also welcome is that the screenwriters haven't relied on just the surface of the catchy story premise: it's maturely developed and charts Bart's behavioral transformation with admirable modulation -- you feel that you're witnessing a three-dimensional person progressively change right before your eyes, so later on down the line when he says, "You can't spend your whole life planning what'll make you happy tomorrow or you'll never be happy today. You've got to do it now," it has genuine resonance. Then there's the incredible action, which boasts rock-solid spatial logistics so you can clearly tell where the cops and villains are in relation to each other during the foot and car chases, with one on a rooftop, in particular, that's dandily done. While this kind of thing may seem like no great shakes, in a day and age of frenetic camera moves and jittery editing that blur the action and call attention to the movie as such, it's positively praiseworthy. And Coleman, in his first starring role after a string of noteworthy supporting turns as the chauvinist boss in Nine to Five and the crass soap-opera director in Tootsie, is nothing short of a revelation. One always felt there was another side of him begging to get out, and kudos to the producers for allowing him to headline a decent-budgeted project like this, because he delivers and does so in spades. There's hardly an emotion he isn't required to express, and rather than obvious italicizing he underplays with both vividness and conviction -- this ace actor is simply incapable of doing anything false on the silver screen. Oh, it would've been nice if he'd had a better comic foil than the gruesome, untalented Frewer, but his poignant moments with the fine Garr help alleviate this. Amid all the gunshots and explosions, it's Coleman's solidity that remains the movie's dominating force.

It's long overdue for this little treasure to be made available on a region-1 DVD for here in the States.

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originally posted: 11/13/10 05:13:30
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User Comments

1/18/11 Brian Entertaining enough, but you can see why it's been all but forgotten. 3 stars
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  04-May-1990 (PG-13)



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