review for The Hard Way on AllMovie

The Hard Way (1991)
by Karl Williams review

Director John Badham finished off a trilogy of comic misfires with this ill-conceived blend of crime drama action and Hollywood lampoon. James Woods satirizes his own over-the-top intensity in films such as Cop (1987) while Michael J. Fox brings a welcome, nervous energy to his amusing if less than hilarious role of a spoiled movie star. The leads have some chemistry that serves the final product well, but an overblown production (the Times Square finale strains credulity to the breaking point) and a patchwork script job by nearly half a dozen scribes is evident in every frame. The screenplay's weakness, so common in films that have been excessively rewritten, is that it literally has no sense of itself, bouncing like a pinball back and forth between tones, moods, and genres from one scene and sequence to the next. In general, Badham is a fine director with a keen sense of visual style and a knack for working with a wide range of actors. He even had a hit with a previous film that mixed the buddy cop, action, and comedy genres -- Stakeout (1987) -- the difference being that the former film featured an excellent, tightly structured, character-driven screenplay and a seething, truly frightening antagonist (a role that made a star of Aidan Quinn). The Hard Way, on the other hand, is built upon a mess of a script with a villain that remains an absurd cipher (it's impossible to believe "The Party Crasher" is eluding capture by anyone, much less the NYPD). On the heels of Disorganized Crime (1989) and Bird on a Wire (1990), it can be said of John Badham that he may know how to direct, but not what to direct.