Picks and Pans Review: The Dead Pool

updated 07/25/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/25/1988 01:00AM

At 58, Clint Eastwood is at a career peak. After years of spaghetti Westerns, he has developed into a formidable, risk-taking actor (Tightrope, Bronco Billy), director (Play Misty for Me, The Outlaw Josey Wales) and politician. In April, Hizzoner ended a two-year term as mayor of Carmel, Calif. In May he saw his 13th film as a director—Bird, a biography of jazz musician Charlie Parker—win ovations at the Cannes Film Festival. So why is Eastwood enduring a fifth go-round as Dirty Harry Callahan, the San Francisco homicide detective who makes his day sending scuzzballs to hell with a handgun? You could say the money: The first Dirty Harry in 1971 took in $36 million, 1973's Magnum Force $40 million, 1976's The Enforcer $46 million and 1983's Sudden Impact $68 million. What's more likely is that Clint is as wild about Harry as his fans are. Harry may be brutal, bigoted and bullheaded (just mention Miranda), but he's the main hero left for law-and-order addicts since the Duke died. There's no head-scratching over good and evil in a Harry picture. While Harry blows away the creeps, his audience blows off steam. That's the formula. It still applies. This time the gore-engorged plot involves a deadbeat director of slasher movies, played by Liam (Suspect) Neeson. To kill time on the set, Neeson picks people—a rock star, a talk show host, a film critic (hmmmm)—and muses about who doesn't deserve to live. Suddenly his choices start getting bumped off for real. Harry's name is also on the dead-pool list. Five minutes after the movie is over, you won't remember whodunit. But you won't forget Harry. Director Buddy (Any Which Way You Can) Van Horn, who has worked for Eastwood as a stunt coordinator for 20 years, knows how to keep the story out of the star's way. So what if fresh ideas for Harry keep receding with Clint's hairline? In a world of James Bond gadgetry and pumped-up masters of the universe (Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Norris), this aging cop has remained recognizably life-size. Too old? Nah. Eastwood still comes out blazing. Watch him turn a group of armed thugs who dare to interrupt his meal in a Chinese restaurant into moo goo gai pan. That's our boy. Nothing goes better with good old-fashioned bang bang than Dirty Harry. (R)

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