On occasion throughout the history of movies, competing studios seemed to have the same subject before the cameras. The year 1998 found the end of the world via a meteor strike headlining two separate big budget flicks, Armageddon and Deep Impact. Way back in 1965 there were two movies released bringing the story of Jean Harlow to the screen. One starred Carol Lynley, the other Carroll Baker. Incredibly they were both actually titled Harlow and in theaters just one month apart.
While Freaky Friday came along in the 70’s as a Disney feature, the switching of personalities was a highlight in 1987-88 with three features covering the same ground. Vice Versa with Judge Reinhold, Like Father, Like Son featuring Dudley Moore and the legendary George Burns in 18 Again. All three features saw the three older actors or in the case of Burns, ancient ones transferring themselves into the bodies of much younger adolescents.
The story of Columbus offers up another great example. 1492: Conquest of Paradise featured Gerard Depardieu in the role of the famed explorer while Marlon Brando took top billing but not the lead role in Christopher Columbus : The Discovery. Both found their way into theaters during the calendar year of 1992. Which brings us to a litter of Cops and Dogs.
Turner and Hooch (1989)
Leading man on the rise, Tom Hanks takes the role of Turner, a small town investigative detective. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, this family friendly detective story wisely sets up Hanks as a clean freak both in hygiene and his living quarters. Gearing up to leave his small town coastal job for a big city career, he finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation when a kindly old sea dog played by legendary character actor John McIntire in his final role is killed. The only witness happens to his large and far from house trained breed of canine, Dogue de Bordeaux named Hooch.
While there may be a murder investigation going on, that’s going to take a back seat to the comedy and bonding between Hanks and his new roommate, Hooch. Hooch basically destroys most any possession in Hanks home and attempts to eat the interior of his car. Slobber runs freely from the dogs lips to Hanks shoes for great gross out effect as does the attempt at bathing a dog that comes close to outweighing Hanks.
Back to the case and thankfully this dog/witness has a great memory and points Tom in the direction of the killer and the reasons why which can be found down at a local fish factory. Seeing Craig T. Nelson here is pretty much an admission of guilt. He may have been a great Coach on TV but when it comes to movies, it’s like watching Hal Holbrook appear in anything from the 70’s. A hard man to trust.
Romance even awaits the lonely police detective and thanks to his newfound pal, he’ll make progress with the pretty and single veterinarian played by Mare Winningham. Also turning up as comedy relief opposite Tom is his partner on the job and graduate of Die Hard, Reginald Veljohnson.
I’m a sucker for this film and that’s mainly because I’m a lover of big dogs. Four straight St. Bernards can do that to you so plenty of the humor here, though exaggerated really hits home. More than a couple of the gags within I’ve experienced first hand and loved every minute of it though perhaps not at the time. Tying a 200 pound dog to a work desk or anything lighter than he, just doesn’t work. I know and on many a night I found this same scenario as Tom did when looking for a good sleep.
Silly but hard to resist and a warning to all dog lovers, keep those tissues handy.
This second feature of 1989 proved to be a tad more on the cruder side with Jim Belushi teaming with German Shepherd, Jerry Lee aka Killer. Love that reference to the wild man of rock’n roll.
Renegade cop and lone wolf, Belushi is trying to take down drug lord Kevin Tighe. To do so he’ll need a dog with a good sniffer. Convincing dog handler Ed O’Neill to give him a prized canine, O’Neill unloads Jerry Lee upon him. A dog who is far from tame and lets loose with the fangs any chance he gets. Exerting his authority, Belushi let’s the dog know that he never cried at the end of Old Yeller.
As compared to T & H, this feature spends far less time on the destruction and upheaval that the dog brings to his new partner’s life as it does the case Belushi is working on. Jim and his new pal proceed to push the limits of the law forcing his drug dealing enemy to take extreme precautions. He kidnaps Belushi’s girlfriend Mel Harris in order to keep the two cops from crashing his latest drug shipment. It works in reverse and only ups the collateral damage that Belushi and pal Jerry Lee are to unleash upon him.
Watchable but doesn’t have the heart that Hanks and Hooch delivered with more of their film focusing on the odd couple notion that they brought to the screen living together as opposed to Belushi and his pal spending a good majority of the film on stakeout or rampaging in a Dirty Harry fashion.
Along with Ed O’Neill, you’ll notice a young William Sadler turn up here as a conniving car salesman fronting for Tighe.
With the video age upon us, Belushi would return to this character a decade later and do two follow up films for the home video market. K-911 and K-9 : P.I.
Top Dog (1995)
While this might not have been released in the same year as the other two titles, it’s hard not to think while watching this latter/lighter entry in the career of Chuck Norris that the filmmakers had to know they were treading the same subject material that had played a few years previously but maintained a long shelf life thanks to the video age and the emergence of Tom Hanks the leading man with a couple of Oscars for his efforts.
“What makes you think I’m gonna work with a mutt?”
By default, Norris winds up with a partner on the police force. Anyone who has watched Chuck’s other cop titles should know that’s something he isn’t fond of. He’s even less fond of the idea when he discovers that it’s the forces Top Dog named Reno. Reno’s former partner has been killed leaving him a witness to a killing. Assigned to Chuck, the pair will be taking on white supremacists who intend to smuggle in arms and attack a meeting between various religious groups.
Trying to keep the caper light, Chuck gives us a few cute one liners and even has a Mother who continues to put him to work in the garden and around the house. The film strains for laughs by having Chuck do all the fighting and ass kicking only to have his partner, Reno step in to take all the credit at the most opportune times. There is plenty of bloodless action here from director and brother to the star, Aaron Norris concluding the intended audience was probably youngsters. Round house kicks run rampant and though there is plenty of machine gun fire at the finale, there isn’t a hint of blood which confirms the final showdown wasn’t influenced by Peckinpah.
Starring here as Chuck’s police chief is a face you’ve surely seen before, Clyde Kusatsu. He’s had a long career of steady work in film and television. I bring this up as he’s graduated from the dog food vendor in Turner and Hooch to much larger role this time out. Perhaps if he appears in another cops and dog movie, he’ll be playing the cop with the canine partner.
I guess it’s safe to say this one was a bust in the career of Chuck Norris’ theatrical flicks which may have prompted him to find stability on his Walker Texas Ranger show which ran for a number of years on the small screen.
All told, there is plenty of great jumps and stunts in all three films including a well filmed explosion at the start of Top Dog. A tip of the hat where deserved. All three films would have us believing that the four legged animals are far smarter than they really are but dog lover that I am, I just eat it up and long for the days when my Saint, Samson would lick my hand and curl up beside me on the couch.