This is another “video shop classic”, one of those movies that always seemed to be on the shelves of little video shops, a guaranteed good time if you couldn’t find anything else to rent. From the mid 80s to the early 00s, we lucky people got to pick from the finest the world had to offer – which usually meant a couple of shelves of new releases and loads of cheap, ugly looking guff. One of the signs that you might be on to a winner is the presence of Rutger Hauer, and with the decent-sized budgets you could get for B-movies back then, all signs were positive.
What we have here is the very height of the global warming panic. While we’re still determined to kill our planet off, it would seem, no-one’s panicking about it any more, but back then we gave a damn and there were lots of movies and TV shows that dealt with the potential environmental devastation. Set in 2008, it must have seemed horribly believable, as 40 days of torrential rain have left huge areas of London under a few feet of water; plus, the smog has caused a permanent twilight (handy when you can only film at night but need to do stuff that’s happening in the daytime). Unfortunately, a serial killer who tears out hearts is operating in London, and only one man can stop the killings.
Hauer is Harley Stone, perhaps the most amazing amalgam of hard-bitten cop clichés ever assembled on film. He’s a recovering alcoholic, and exists, according to the captain, on “anxiety, coffee and chocolate”. He never cleans his apartment, to the extent it would be pretty difficult to have that filthy a home and never do anything about it, and has a lovely complicated backstory. He had an affair with his partner’s wife Michelle, then his partner was killed by that same serial killer who Stone was unable to catch, then he dumped Michelle soon after! He’s got a gigantic gun that’s not regulation, of course, and is the bane of his captain’s existence. There are so many ludicrous elements to his character that it has to be a joke, a parody of how these things normally go, and it’s handled marvellously by Hauer. My favourite bit is him storming down a corridor at the police station, and shouting “outta my way, you fucks!”…at his co-workers.
The rest of the cast are a combination of British character actors and a few American imports. Playing his new partner, the super-smart Dick Durkin, is Neil Duncan; the captain is Alun Armstrong and the duty sergeant and main Stone-hater is Pete Postlethwaite. Michelle shows up halfway through and even though I saw her name on the opening credits, it’s still a surprise to see Kim Cattrall in something like this. A couple of small roles for Ian Dury and Michael J Pollard, and you’ve got yourself (by relative standards) an extremely strong cast.
It’s a serial killer thriller set in the near future, basically, with – I guess – a small intimation that it’s some sort of modern incarnation of Jack The Ripper. When they get sent a heart in the mail and discover that the bite marks look like nothing more than a gigantic rat, though, things start to get very curious indeed. Stone, thanks to a series of scars inflicted by the creature while trying to save his partner, has some sort of psychic link, and there’s a whole thing about the creature stealing DNA from its victims and never leaving a job undone, which is why he’s slowly chasing down Stone. But a lot of the movie is just the fun of setting a fairly standard cops-chase-the-killer thriller in a strange environment.
Of course, no-one’s ever going to mistake this for a classic. But an awful lot of the reviews seem to think the over-the-top-ness of it all is an accident and should be mocked; and discount the surprisingly decent comedy between Stone, Durkin and Michelle (one scene between Hauer and Duncan had Duncan corpsing, but Hauer held it together so well they decided to keep it in the movie). The arc of Durkin, from super straight-laced partner to Stone mk 2, is both completely obvious and very well-done. Plus, Kim Cattrall is really good in this – it’s sort of easy to forget with her more famous roles that she has some decent range, and does really well here.
“Well, Satan is in deep shit”. If he’s got Rutger Hauer with a grenade powerful enough to destroy a city block to contend with, then you’d better believe it. A film packed with ridiculous one-liners, aware of how silly it is at every juncture and absolutely tons of fun. Always nice to see a science-fiction action movie set in London, too (and really filmed there, at least in part). A surprising amount of movie in this movie, too – at the point most B-movies would be wrapping things up, there’s still half an hour to go. Plus, if you can tell me why the movie’s called “Split Second”, I’ll give you a prize. Honestly.
It was directed by the same bloke who made the very early Miramax movie “The Burning”, this and very little else, Tony Maylam; however, writer Gary Scott Thompson is a more interesting fella. He was producer and writer on TV show “Las Vegas”, showrunner on the new “Knight Rider”, and wrote “The Fast And The Furious”, which means depending on the contract he signed, he’s a very rich man indeed.
Rating: thumbs up