Sudden Impact (1983)
Release Date: December 9th, 1983 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Clint Eastwood Actors: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Pat Hingle, Bradford Dillman, Paul Drake, Audrie J. Neenan, Jack Thibeau, Michael Currie, Albert Popwell, Bette Ford, Nancy Parsons
nce again, the music by Lalo Schifrin is fittingly jazzy, snazzy, and upbeat, promising a sizzling ’80s police procedural with action and suspense. For the first time in the “Dirty Harry” series, star Clint Eastwood takes over the director’s chair as well. And, though it’s been seven years since the previous entry (“The Enforcer”), the character hasn’t changed all that much, save for a few extra wrinkles and grayer hair.
Mirroring the Zodiac killer’s modus operandi from the very first picture, a couple are in a car in an isolated hilltop locale when violence breaks out. However, here it’s the woman who pulls out a .38 caliber gun and shoots her male companion. This transitions to a courtroom, where a judge is forced to dismiss yet another one of San Francisco Inspector Harry Callahan’s (Clint Eastwood) arrests due to an illegal search and seizure. As consolation, he gets to rough up the perp with a first line of dialogue that includes the words “punk” and “dog shit” and a fist firmly clenched around the man’s tie. Later, Callahan is in the familiar spot of a diner in the midst of a holdup by a gang of young black men, resulting in a show of iconic bravado and the phrase “Go ahead; make my day” as a goad to one of the gunmen to make a nervy move.
Next, Callahan interrupts the wedding of a gangster’s daughter for yet another display of machismo. This corresponds directly with the formula from the prior movies, which unnecessarily assigns two introductory scenes to establish Harry’s toughness before the main plot is examined with any real purpose. And that plot involves painter and Historical Society patron Jennifer Spencer (Sondra Locke), a woman who finds success with morbid artwork in her “Dark Visions” exhibit, who must contend with the vegetative state of her sister, Beth. Beth’s condition was brought about by a traumatic assault (a gang rape at a carnival, involving both of them, taking place some 10 years ago), which Jennifer attempts to avenge by going after the assailants in classic vigilante fashion. But eventually, her above-the-law antics will cross paths with Callahan (who is pressured into a vacation after all the negative publicity of his misadventures).
“You’re a walking, frigging combat zone!” Since he also operates very much above the law with his excessive use of force and reckless endangerment, it’s appropriate that Harry would finally get matched up with a romantic interest harboring the same passion for justice at any cost (Locke was also Eastwood’s off-screen lover during filming). But their flirtatious banter never rises above waterish and brief, and their regular run-ins appear impossibly coincidental (long before he realizes that his sexual conquest is also his murderess).
Meanwhile, amid the corruption, apathy, and red tape that plague his city and job, Harry is immersed in destructive assassination attempts (including a comically impractical drive-by-Molotov-cocktailing), tongue-lashing from numerous superiors, and continual chases. The focus on action over sleuthing is much greater than before, though few of the scenes generate the kind of adrenaline-pumping excitement from the 1971 epic that started it all. In fact, more memorable than the havoc or bloodshed is a pet bulldog that keeps changing from puppy to adult and from male to female (with obvious color and spot variations) as the film progresses. Despite a generally lackluster affair, generic psychopaths, forgettable action, and a drawn-out, overly complex climax (again involving a carnival setting, as if recreating the crime would ever have significance for the villains), the antagonists do manage to die rather hard at the end.
– Mike Massie