Monday, July 12, 2010

Two Minute Warning (1976)

I couldn't figure out if Two Minute Warning was attempting to be an important film about the randomness of violence or if it was trying to be a fun, big budgeted 70s disaster type movie.  You know, like The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, or The Poseidon Adventure.  In the end, I sided with the latter perspective and just embraced the picture for it's non politically correct values as well as it's...well...random acts of violence.

What we got here is a picture about an all star cast converging at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Super Bowl where they are targeted (or not targeted with the violence being random and all) by some crazy guy with a sniper's rifle who has dug in at the top of a tower right above the scoreboard.  We know what this guy is capable of since as the picture opens we see his point of view (through a sniper's scope) as he blows away an innocent bike rider from his hotel window.  The guy quickly packs up his things, disassembling his rifle and putting its various parts in varying compartments in his jacket, and leaves, not forgetting to check out.  We never see his face.  In fact, we don't see the guy's face until the very end but we are constantly treated to his perspective.  This guy is like the giant wave, or the earthquake, or the meteor from all those other 70s movies I referenced earlier.  Or, like the swarm of killer bees.  It doesn't matter what his motive is.  He  probably doesn't have one.  He exists and he's gonna cause a massive panic and probably take some lives in the process.  The only difference being he's human (he might as well not be) so we infer he's stoppable.

Just like every other big disaster movie from the 70s this picture features an all star cast.  We got Charlton Heston and Martin Balsam as a couple of detectives.  We got John Cassavetes as the leader of the SWAT team.  We got a very young and, relatively thin, Beau Bridges as a father that beats his kid.  Jack Klugman (Quincy M.D.) plays a degenerate gambler.  David Jannsen (the fugitive) and Gena Rowlands play a bickering married couple.  Walter Pidgeon is a pickpocket.  Some guy plays a catholic priest, there's another young couple, a guy in charge of maintenance at the stadium, etc.  Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford, and Dick Enberg appear as themselves.  The president (I believe it was an actor, not the real thing) appears in his motorcade on the way to the game.  There's footage of a real football game but it was just a college game so it's not easy for us to buy them as genuine professionals.  Ah, who am I kidding?  I bought it.

We're introduced to the cast in separate stories as they make their way to the game.  Their stories, for the most part, don't intersect although the gambler and the priest end up sitting next to each other at the game.  A few of the stories are actually somewhat compelling if entirely generic.  The gamber, as played by Klugman, is a nastily funny man who is shown being dangled from his ankles outside of a high rise building due to his inability to make good on his excessive gambling debts.  He's got one chance to make it to tomorrow alive.  Hint:  that one chance involves the Super Bowl and more gambling.  The priest is shown checking his watch as he gives his sermon.  Beau Bridges is shown smacking his kid at the ticket booth.  There are other characters in here as well (see my list above) doing stuff before they get to the big game.

Then there's the sniper who puts on his rifle concealing jacket, buys a ticket (same day since the Super Bowl must not of been popular in those days), walks into the stadium, up some stairs, picks a lock, feeds a couple guard dogs some steak, and climbs up to the top of the tower so he can wait for the perfect moment to strike.  The early parts of the picture were treated not unlike a slasher movie where we see things from the killer's perspective never even catching a glimpse of his identity.  The closest we get is when we see him climbing the tower ladder from a distance.

I won't spoil what happens except to say that not much happens (outside of the game) for most of the picture.  It's a bit of a slow burn although I can't say it ever got boring.  It's very 70s in that it meanders a bit, plods along, takes its time, etc.  Hell, the sniper is spotted during halftime but the cops don't do anything about it for fear of causing a panic.  The maintenance guy attempts to take the law into his own hands and get's butted in the head with a rifle and pushed off the tower to his death for his troubles.  At one point, we see the sniper time his shot to match up with the shot from a referees pistol but we never see if he shot anyone or not.  Also, don't think referees use pistols anymore precisely for the reason that some insane sniper might be waiting to time his killshot to match the referee's shot.  Anyway, the last twenty to twenty five minutes of this thing are gloriously glorious mayhem.

Roger Ebert reviewed this picture back when it came out and gave it one star claiming:

"The movie tells us nothing at all about the gunman. But it takes great pains to establish other characters who are in the movie for a dreadfully simple reason: One by one, they will be shot. The clue is in the decision to keep the gunman anonymous. The movie's totally uninterested in the reasons behind his action; he's necessary only as an agent of violence, so we can be entertained by his victims. I found that disturbing."

I don't entirely disagree.  At the same time, lighten up young Ebert!  Had this been a low budget schlocker with a no-name cast I wonder what his reaction would have been?  Well, I'm sure it would have been the same because Roger Ebert seems like a man of principle.  He tends to stick to his guns and I respect that about him.  Hell, maybe it is reprehensible that they would make a fun movie about an anonymous sniper picking off people at the Super Bowl.  It's almost too prescient.  A bombed out blimp flying into the superdome is one thing but a sniper (think Charles Whitman or later, John Allan Muhammad) hits a little bit close to home.  Basically, what he got here is a slasher movie with a giant cast and a large budget.  Ultimately, when the slasher is gunned down, we get no real satisfaction since the guy was just a device.  He was the meteor, the earthquake, the raging inferno, the big wave.  He wasn't a person.  He doesn't necessarily need a motive, but he needs a face, a personality.   It's almost like remaking Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer as something fun.  The filmmakers attempt to tack on some deeper meaning to the preceedings when Balsam and Heston, standing over the dead killer try to make sense of it all saying something along the lines of "we have no idea who he is, but in the next few days we'll learn a whole hell of a lot" (commenting on the media or some shit).  Whatever.

Shit man, I lost my train of thought.  I didn't mean to make it sound like I didn't enjoy this thing because I did.  I enjoyed the hell out of it.  The shit involving whether or not to evacuate the coliseum or sending in the SWAT team was some good shit.  When the shooting starts, this shit gets visceral.  I'll close by saying that Two Minute Warning may or may not be morally reprehensible but in the end it's a gamer and lots of gamers have loose morals.   

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