The Presidio (1988) / Thriller-Action
MPAA Rated: R for violence, sexuality and language
Running time: 97 min
Cast: Mark Harmon, Sean Connery, Meg Ryan, Jack Warden, Mark Blum, Dana Gladstone,
Director: Peter Hyams
Screenplay: Larry Ferguson
The Presidio is a pedestrian thriller with an A-list co-star in Sean Connery (The Untouchables, Highlander), a hot up-and-coming actress in Meg Ryan (Innerspace, Top Gun), and one failed experiment in Mark Harmon (Local Boys, Freaky Friday), who proves that he's far better off sticking to the more forgiving territory of television dramas. As the action star and love interest, he might be attractive enough for some ladies to swoon, but he presents quite a black hole in charisma that the performances of Connery and Ryan can't make up for.
Director Peter Hyams (Timecop, The Star Chamber), who previously worked with Connery in the much more intriguing Outland, casts himself as cinematographer, and it seems he spent more time in trying to get the look of the film right instead of the feel. Brightly lit streets, haze-filled interiors and sharply edited chase scenes around the Bay Area streets are pretty much all one can recall shortly after it's said and done, and only one memorable fight scene with Sean Connery using nothing but one of his thumbs effects any sort of interest in the action.
Perhaps one shouldn't bother complaining about any single person falling short when the script by Larry Ferguson (Beverly Hills Cop II, The Hunt for Red October) is full of clichés, stereotypes, and plenty of forced arguments to cause drama for drama's sake. That it is all wrapped up around some sort of phony-baloney commentary on the military only makes things even more unfocused, causing a 97-minute film to feel like it's too padded to sustain much momentum.
Harmon plays SFPD detective Jay Austin, who is assigned to investigate a strange break in and murder case of an MP at the titular centuries-old San Francisco military compound. He's forced into an odd-couple partnership with Lt. Colonel Alan Caldwell (Connery), with whom Austin had been at loggerheads with while employed in the service of MP under provost Caldwell's command. Despite their strong differences of opinion, they are duty bound to crack the case, though that threatens to melt down from a lack of communication spurned on by Austin's attempts to court Donna (Ryan), widower Caldwell's feisty daughter.
The Presidio has the makings of a potentially entertaining buddy movie, which Hyams directed in his prior film, Running Scared. only someone forgot to provide much in the way of laughs or witty repartee. Caldwell and Austin spend a great deal of time bickering, and alternating in showing each other up whenever one has too much hubris to see the obviousness of the solutions. The love affair between Austin and Donna is without any form of interest, presumably only injected in order to increase the appeal of the film beyond older males. Ryan is fine in an underwritten role. but Harmon is just too wooden in his delivery to be anything more than a placeholder hunk, which in a film that derives much of its energy from heroics, makes it all come across as flat and pointless.
Tells are delivered early and often, from the suspiciousness of an abundance of water in the plants of the Presidio, to the secret backgrounds and histories of every other major supporting character. Audiences will probably connect the dots long before the detectives. Even if there is anyone who is surprised, the plot, once revealed, is largely forgettable, only of interest for the potential action that it results in. Automatic weapons and broken glass, staples of the 1980s action potboilers, are in abundance. Outside of the aforementioned thumb fight, and perhaps an interesting foot chase in the Chinatown streets (the location work is quite good, even if the scene's context is found lacking), it's very routine.
©2008 Vince Leo