Friday, February 05, 2010

Underrated Movie #32: The Big Easy

The grand finale!

Title: The Big Easy
Year: 1987
Director: Jim McBride
Writer: Daniel Petrie, Jr.
Stars: Dennis Quaid, Ellen Barkin, Ned Beatty, John Goodman

The Story: He’s an easy-going detective on the take. She’s an uptight investigator for the district attorney. Her hair is in a bun. Guess what happens when it comes down?

How it Came to be Underrated: This was a modest hit, but it's faded from the public imagination. Quaid eventually had a long and satisfying career, but he really struggled throughout the ‘80s —he was supposed to be the next Harrison Ford before Kevin Costner snagged that title. He’s great here— dripping with charisma, but also showing some real vulnerability. Petrie had written Beverly Hills Cop and you can unfortunately feel the producers straining for a little of that flavor —Everybody, including Quaid, has a little too much “personality”, but there’s some real steak beneath the sizzle.

Why It’s Great:

  1. I did have my doubts as to how well this movie would age, and I re-watched it with trepidation. But I’m happy to report that I loved it. It works as a slick little thriller and a sizzling romance and an anti-corruption drama.
  2. Most movies about corruption don’t work. Coming into these stories from an outside perspective, the corrupt seem totally despicable, and taking a stand seems like an easy decision. Or you get movies that try so hard to justify the rule-benders that the investigators seem like snotty do-gooders. This movie has a good give and take. Petrie has a great ear for the language of casual graft. He eases us into a believable and unalarming culture of corruption, then snaps our sympathies back to the side of the angels when we realize who’s really being hurt.
  3. Many ‘80s thrillers are cursed with terrible synthesizer scores (see: Witness or To Live and Die in L.A.). How delightful to find a movie from the ‘80s with fantastic music throughout. The soundtrack features a lot of great cajun and zydeco bands, along with a haunting, spare piano score.
  4. I’m just gonna say it: this movie has one of the best (and most realistically awkward) sex scenes you’ll ever see. About halfway in, your ears turn red.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Another early Quaid thriller that I liked was the remake of D.O.A. Barkin smoldered just as much in Sea of Love.

How Available Is It?: There’s a barely-adequate dvd.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: I Hate Crime! Peel Me a Peach!


Dan McCoy said...

Man I love this movie. Filled with fun touches like the use of that high-powered magnet.

christinembird said...

Dennis Quaid's level of corruption is questionable. He is taking $ from a fund meant for the widows and orphans of policemen, but he is giving those $ to his mother and younger sibs -- who are the widow and orphans of a policeman.

Monica Edinger said...

I'm so glad to know this one holds up. I've an aged video of it, but have been afraid to ever watch it again.

MichaelB said...

Love the cameo by soul singer Solomon Burke. A gem of a flick.

Anonymous said...

Academy Award for Worst New Orleans accent ever. Ruined the movie for me.