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VHS Files: French Connection II

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Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle is back and hooked on skag.

Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle is back and hooked on skag.

 

While cleaning out my father-in-laws apartment, we came upon over 2000 VHS store bought videotapes.  I grabbed a few tapes, and I’ll be watching them (on VHS) from time to time, letting you know what I thought.

 I’m pretty sure that this is NOT what audiences were expecting, or wanting, when they paid their ticket for French Connection II.  The first movie is considered a classic gritty New York cop movie with what is supposedly the best car chase committed to film (I question this, considering The Road Warrior is ALL car chase and done very well). 

 What I liked best about The French Connection (the first one) is the look of it- all saturated, washed out colors, grey skies, and grimy atmosphere.  This is not the New York of a Woody Allen movie; it felt real.  Lived in.  Atmospheric.

 And the people who lived in this shitty New York were not attractive.  I felt like I could smell Gene Hackman’s breath in the many, many scenes in which he yelled something at someone.   And it smelled like bad scotch and pepperoni pizza.

 Whatever, The French Connection somehow made it over the hump of being just another cop movie and won the Best Picture Oscar, and Hackman won the Best Actor Oscar.

 Wow, huh?  So when the sequel came around, what do you get?  Well, mainly you get one of the most lunatic, swing-for-the-fences, balls-out performances I can remember delivered by Mr. Hackman.

 So you would reasonably expect more gritty cop action from the second one, right?  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?  Well, how would you feel about a shirtless, heroin-addicted Gene Hackman going through withdrawal symptoms for a good chunk of the movie?  You know, writhing and spasming on the floor, begging for “skag,” while a French policeman delivers tough love?

 But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself.  The plot is ridiculously simple- the bad guy got away in the first one, so Doyle (Hackman) follows him to Marseilles to kill him.  The first 30 minutes or so are long “fish out of water” scenes.  Doyle doesn’t know French, so he has a hard time ordering whiskey!  He also doesn’t get along with the French cops, who don’t appreciate his rogue ways and don’t even want him there.

 So you can see this isn’t exactly reinventing the “cop movie” wheel.  Where it does gain a little originality is by making its lead character such a dick. Doyle is such an asshole that you side with the French- no mean feat. There is a scene where Doyle catches a runaway volleyball on a beach.  When the bikini-clad volleyballer approaches him for the ball, he taunts her with it in a way that comes off as creepy and dirty. 

 When the very bad guy he is chasing finally kidnaps him, they decide to shoot him up with heroin.  Why?  To get him addicted to the very thing that disgusts him.  Yes, they shoot him up with irony.

 This takes the movie in such a weird direction that I began to admire it.  I can’t think of seeing such a dramatic about-face between movies since Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal.  Actually, that was another case of an Oscar winning movie transporting its Oscar winning Best Actor into a sequel that gave a huge middle finger to people who loved the first one.

 Since I have no real love for #1, I was able to get on board for this.  It is like a Dali painting of the original movie, if you follow.  And believe me, you really do need to see Hackman in this.  I can’t think of another of his performances that reaches for greatness so dramatically.

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