THE DEAD POOL: You Ain’t Gonna Be On “News at Eleven”

The Dead Pool (1988) – Directed by Buddy Van Horn – Starring Clint Eastwood, Patricia Clarkson, Liam Neeson, Evan C. Kim, David Hunt, and Jim Carrey.

There is nothing wrong with THE DEAD POOL, but there isn’t a lot here to get excited about, either.

THE DEAD POOL does have a special place in my cinematic heart, however, as it’s the first Dirty Harry movie I ever watched. When I was a kid and came across the movie on HBO or TNT or wherever, it was my first experience with Callahan and I dug this film about an older, grumpy cop who hated the press and hated the suspects, and could both blow someone away with his gun and outhink the mobster who put a hit out on him.

Watching it now and seeing it in the context of the other Dirty Harry films, THE DEAD POOL comes across as a perfectly harmless film that I can watch or not watch. It’s not the kind of movie that excites any kind of real reaction in me, except for a few points.

First, I love the idea that Callahan has started to gain a bit of fame in San Francisco. It’s only natural that a guy involved in this many cases has caught the attention of the local media, so it makes narrative sense that after yet another famous case (Callahan’s testimony has helped to put away a mob boss) the media wants to talk to him and the now PR-savvy San Francisco Police Department wants him to be more press friendly. It’s a far more interesting way to make Callahan feel isolated than to introduce more senior officers to yell at him.

Second, Eastwood was 58 when THE DEAD POOL was made and he’s obviously a bit slower than he used to be, but he does a pretty good job making Callahan look tired of the job and not because of age. There are multiple times in this movie when I can see and hear Danny Glover shaking his head and grumbling, “I’m getting too old for this sh*t.” Callahan won’t say it, but he will threaten to retire when his superiors push the PR angle at him too hard.

Third, there’s the remote control car chase. It’s one of those sequences that most people will either love or hate. When I was a kid, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Now, it feels a bit out of place in a Dirty Harry movie, but then, Callahan being out of place in an ever-changing world has long been part of the franchise, so even though I don’t really like it, I see the logic behind it, which in turn makes me like it, again.

Sometimes, I over-think things.

THE DEAD POOL has gained some traction over the years for the inclusion of two of its actors: Liam Neeson and Jim (credited as James) Carrey. Carrey’s role is to be the first murder victim. He lip-syncs (poorly) to Guns N Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” argues with Neeson, and then ODs on drugs when our murder jams it down his throat. It’s not really fair to Carrey to praise or lambaste his performance since it’s so small. As for Neeson, he plays the horror director Peter Swan, the prime suspect of the murders thanks to his involvement in the Dead Pool contest.

What is the Dead Pool? It’s one of those games that’s both horrible and awesome to play – if you’re 15. It’s like fantasy baseball, except instead of figuring out who’s going to hit the most doubles, you select a team of celebrities who are going to die. When someone on your list dies, you get a point.

There’s a muted relationship angle here with Callahan and Samantha Walker (Patricia Clarkson), a news reporter who he clashes heads with, but also takes to dinner. It’s not a very strong part of the film, but it’s not horrible, either. It’s just sort of there, much like the murder investigation is just sort of there. THE DEAD POOL really just exists so we can see Callahan one more time. For that, I’m thankful, but while I’ll watch it, I’m not going out of my way to do so.