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The evolution of the buddy cop film is an unusual thing. They began pretty straightforward…one’s a young guy, one’s an old guy. Perhaps it’s one’s a black guy, one’s a white guy. Before you knew it we had one is an alien and one is a human or one’s Whoopi Goldberg and one is a talking dinosaur. Somewhere before we hit that extreme came 1990’s Loose Cannons where one is a grizzled detective and the other has multiple personalities.
The film follows Washington D.C. police detective Mac Stern (Gene Hackman) as he investigates some grisly murders. He’s partnered with a brilliant investigator named Ellis Fielding (Dan Aykroyd). This is Ellis’s first case after an extended time away from the force, recovering at a monastery after a traumatic experience. The monks, and his police captain uncle, think he’s ready to return, however they don’t realize that when exposed to violence, Ellis ends up switching into a number of alternate personalities to deal with the stress.
Now, this situation doesn’t sit terribly well with Mac, but he also sees that Ellis is quite a skilled detective. Their investigation ends up leading them to a porn king known as Harry “The Hippo” Gutterman (Dom DeLuise). It seems that Harry has a deal in place to get a hold of an odd film that features Adolf Hitler in compromising situations…as well as a current German official (Robert Prosky), who denies having been a part of der fuhrer’s inner circle. This, of course, means a bunch of German goons are out to get their hands on the home movies first.
Putting Gene Hackman and Dan Aykroyd together is perhaps one of the oddest team-ups that the buddy cop genre ever gave us. Both actors are ones who I am always excited to see in a film. Aykroyd ranks among my favorite SNL veterans, and I’ve been fascinated with Hackman since I first saw him as Lex Luthor. It is weird, though, to have Hackman playing the grizzled but wise-cracking cop next Aykroyd doing weird voices. Critics and audiences didn’t respond well to it back in 1990. Yet, as ridiculous as the film is, I found myself enjoying the ride.
Make no mistake, though, one must look past some pretty messed up stuff to find those nuggets of enjoyment. I’m no expert on mental health, but I’m sure there’s nothing even slightly accurate about this film’s depiction of multiple personality disorder. Most of the personalities Ellis drifts in and out of are impersonations of various pop culture characters. He does Captain Kirk, the Cowardly Lion, Popeye, and the Road Runner, among others. Let’s face it, if folks had a problem with the way M. Night Shyamalan dealt with multiple personalities in Split, they’d short circuit over this flick. I guess some would say it’s insensitive, but..it’s Dan Aykroyd. If you’re going to have a character doing goofy voices, Aykroyd is the right sort of guy to hire.
I’ve also got to hand it to Gene Hackman. You gotta know that Hackman realized he was slumming it a bit on this flick. Hackman is pro, though. I don’t think I could ever accuse him of phoning it in, even with the likes of Superman IV. He and Akyroyd work well together and managed to keep me engaged even through the film’s dopier moments. Even Dom DeLuise ends up being somewhat enjoyable. He’s kind of brought in as a third wheel a la Joe Pesci in the Lethal Weapon flicks, but director Bob Clark seems to know how to keep DeLuise reigned in. We definitely don’t get Smokey and the Bandit II level cringe out of DeLuise here.
Now, I’m a sucker for dumb comedies. While I was able to appreciate the dumb comedy aspects of Loose Cannons, many others will not. This is in no small part due to some weird tonal shifts that happen throughout the film. After all, the MacGuffin here is a Hitler sex tape! Plus, the whole reason for Aykroyd’s multiple personalities is that he was captured and tortured during a previous investigation. A pretty grim justification for Bert Lahr impressions. The film also has its fair share of violence, including a severed head dangling from a fishing line to open the film and a pretty big shootout at the close. Though, the biggest amount of violence in the film is perpetrated against a classic Woodie during a chase sequence that will have car enthusiasts weeping.
In the end, Loose Cannons is a film that I enjoyed, but can I justify that? Not really. Maybe it’s because I like dumb comedies. Maybe I’m too easily won over by Dan Aykroyd doing silly voices. Maybe I miss seeing Gene Hackman…it’s been 16 years since he retired, after all. Honestly, I don’t quite understand why I enjoyed this film which is completely worthy of the hatred that most other reviewers heap on it.