Hollywood Harry

Director: Robert Forster   
Robert Forster, Joe Spinell, Shannon Wilcox

So... as a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I think that pretty much all of us had more than one kind of job dream when we were little, and that includes me. When I was in elementary school, I remember there were several possible dream jobs that stuck in my head as the years went by in that institution. There was a brief time when, like I think just about all kids do at one time or another, I idolized firefighters and dreamed of becoming one. I even remember writing in class a short story of myself as a firefighter when we got an assignment of "What would you like to be as an adult?" Not only in the story did I put out a building fire, but I saved people in an airplane crash that happened at the same time. (And I was rewarded with $100!) But eventually, I learned how dangerous the job was, so I quickly put it out of my mind. One of the other jobs that I pictured myself in as an adult was a cartoonist. I churned out pages of homemade comics for a while until one day I realized that I couldn't draw a darn, and I certainly didn't have the patience to go to art school to learn to draw more carefully and better. (Not long ago, I came across some of my old comics, and judging from their crappy quality I did the right thing in quitting my dreams of becoming another Sam Viviano.) Another job that I thought I might like doing was becoming someone who paints those yellow and white lines than run in the middle of roads. Huh? Yeah, I have to admit that today I wonder just what the heck I was thinking. In my defense, I must point out that I was very young when I had that dream.

The job I have as an adult that gives me the money to clothe, feed, and shelter myself isn't a job that I pictured myself when I was a child, but as I said in a past review, I am very satisfied with this position. I am also thankful that I have some kind of job in these tough economic times. My job may not be one that I dreamed of, but I am living out one of my childhood job dreams with my hobby. When I was young, I had dreams of being involved with the movies. Usually my dreams of this would have my imagination casting me as some kind of a hotshot actor or director who would be unbelievably talented and would be involved with extremely popular movies or TV shows. That never happened in real life, of course, but I have made a Hollywood connection of sorts with this web site of mine. Reviewing movies on my website (and getting feedback from both readers and people who were involved with the movies I review) is fantastic. I am satisfied with my life. Despite this, I still dream a lot about having the absolutely, most wonderful, and perfect job for myself. Several years ago I had the opportunity to be paid to do some writing, and once I got a taste for that I have never been able to shake it. I would love to once again get paid to do writing, and the most ideal such opportunity would be to write screenplays. I have a lot of screenplay ideas going on in my mind. But there's little chance of that happening for me. In Canada, just about all screenwriters have to be directors as well in order to have their screenplays bought. And I have no Hollywood connections, so breaking in there would be near impossible.

Such realizations of reality really put me down in the dumps, so one of the ways I try to cheer myself up is to think about what life would be really like if I actually got one of the jobs I dreamed about having all those years ago. One of those jobs that I haven't mentioned was being a private detective. When I was younger, I was fascinated by the profession. In television shows about private detectives, they always seemed to have a colorful life. They would charge fees running up to several hundred dollars an hour - which seemed like a fortune to me as a youngster. TV private detectives also always seemed to keep meeting sexy women, and they always seemed to need to use their firearm on creeps who really deserved getting shot. But as I got older, I learned the hard truths about private detectives. For one thing, I remember when MAD Magazine revealed to me that private detectives in real life mainly worked on getting provocative pictures for their clients who were involved in messy divorces - not a very glamorous thing to be doing. When I recently spotted the private detective movie Hollywood Harry at my local used video store, my first thought was if it would show me a sanitized look at the private detective life or something closer to the real thing. By the way, some of you may be wondering why, after my recent review of Who Killed Mary What's 'er Name, just why I would be tackling another detective movie so soon after I stated in that review that I find a number of mystery movies to be somewhat confusing in some details. I'll get to that shortly.

The plot: Harry Petry is a down-and-out Hollywood private detective. He hasn't had a decent case in months, scraping by a living by trading sex for cash. He is estranged from his partner Max and their secretary Candy, more so when he rejects an underage female client sent to him by them. Then he gets the chance to make a few serious dollars when the concerned father of that young girl hires Harry to track her down, and retrieve the X-rated video she made with a sleazy guy. Harry reluctantly accepts the job, but it's not going to be easy, especially since around the same time his 14 year-old niece Danielle arrives from the east coast with the news that her parents are dead and now Harry is her guardian. And she insists on tagging along with her uncle Harry on this case. Okay, with the plot out of the way, I'll get to the question some of you are wondering, why did I decide to tackle another mystery story so soon? There are several reasons. The first that this movie was released by Cannon. Golan and Globus didn't actually make it (they picked it up after production), but being a fan of the Go-Go boys' schlocky stuff, I figured anything they would pick up would stand proudly beside the stuff they actually made. The second reason is that Harry is played by Robert Forster, an actor I have admired in a number of movies, including Lone Hero. Plus, he also directed this movie, and I was intrigued by how he would do behind the camera for the first time. The third reason was that the video box stated that this movie was a comedy. I figured that the multiple attempts to get laughs would simplify the mystery angle and make it easier to follow.

As you can see, I had high hopes for this movie. But in the end, I was kind of let down. To make that clearer, about half of the stuff in the movie doesn't work. I'll start with the good stuff of the movie. As a director, Forster shows some promise. When the scene is set in a seedy environment (such as Harry's apartment), Forster makes it look pretty convincing. The performances in the movie are pretty pleasing, with no surprise that Forster is the star performer. From the opening, he portrays Harry with a weariness and sloppy lifestyle that is spot on for this character. While he is in a comedy, Forster wisely plays it straight for the most part (only acting silly in one scene where he dances.) It will probably come as a surprise to some people that Harry's partner is played by Joe Spinell, who had a career playing sick and twisted people. But Spinell turns out to be able to play a pretty likeable character well, even though his role is somewhat limited. The offbeat casting doesn't stop there; Forster's then wife Shannon Wilcox plays Candy, and his daughter Kate Forster plays his character's niece. Making her acting debut, Kate proves to be up to the task. Her character is pretty wise for her age, but all of the "smart talk" she has to speak never feels annoying or artificial. She helps generate a great chemistry when she is paired with her father in a scene, and this leads to making several scenes with the two of them very amusing to watch, the highlight being when their conversation turns to the subject of sex as they eat Chinese take-out.

If the movie had more of these two characters together generating chemistry while working together, it probably would have been a lot better. But that's not all that's wrong with Hollywood Harry. To be fair with Forster, he was working on a pretty desperate level; researching the movie, I found out that he only had a budget of $160,000 up to the rough cut stage, and the money he got for post production wasn't that much more than that first figure. The low budget painfully shows throughout. The movie is very dark-looking, even in outdoor scenes (one night scene is near impossible to make out), a car accident happens off-screen, dubbed-in dialogue and sound effects are obvious, the poorly-recorded on-set dialogue is sometimes hard to make out, and the shadow of the boom mike makes at least one appearance. While Forster may be able to be forgiven for the low production values, he does have to shoulder some of the movie's failing by accepting the finished screenplay as it is. While the writer managed to come up with a mystery of sorts that even I found I could follow from the beginning to the end, it was poorly paced. About a third of the movie goes by before any real investigation starts, and when the mystery is eventually concluded, it happens at a point when there is still a significant amount of the movie to unroll. Forster mentioned in an interview how hard it was to get financing for this movie, and all these moments when the screenplay seems to be spinning its wheels probably explains why it was hard to attract the money men. If Forster decides to direct again, I suggest that he holds out for a great screenplay. With the acceptable financing it would probably get, who knows what he could accomplish.

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See also: Brigham City, Lone Hero, New York Cop