Dirty Harry is back and this time out he has to contend with a group of vigilante rookie cops who go riding around on motorcycles cleaning up the scum of the universe that manage to slip through the cracks in the justice system.
The fact that Harry’s nemeses in this movie dish out a slightly skewed brand of justice that Harry himself is used to dealing out is an interesting jumping off point for this sequel. Unfortunately nothing is ever really done with this concept other than Harry tries to stop them. It would’ve been a lot more interesting if Harry had joined up with the killer cops temporarily and explored some sort of grey area in Harry’s criminal bashing philosophy. The filmmakers don’t really go that route though, but the fact that the villains in this one are similar to Harry himself is still pretty cool.
On the glass-is-half-empty side though, having the villains be vigilantes kinda neuters Harry’s rule-breaking tendencies. If anything it seems more like the studio’s attempt to somehow dilute Harry’s more fascist leanings and make him more “accessible”. The problem with that is that it was Harry’s willingness to sidestep the law to get the bad guy that made him who he was. Since Harry is no longer willing to toss the Constitution aside to nab his man, it makes him more of a cookie cutter good guy and less like an anti-hero, which was pretty much the whole point of the first movie. He WILL however car bomb the shit out of you if you double cross him though.
The film also suffers from some superfluous nonsense involving Harry’s dalliance with an Oriental woman who lives in his building. This fling adds nothing to the story or to his character and only succeeds in slowing things down. Also, Harry’s motto in this one, “A man’s got to know his limitations” is pretty weak. It’ll have to do I guess.
Although Magnum Force is nowhere near as dynamic a film as its predecessor, it does have some memorable scenes. The opening sequence when one of the cops pulls over a Mafioso and murders him in cold blood has a kick to it and the throwaway scene where Harry poses as a pilot to stop some hijackers is a lot of fun. There’s also a disturbing scene where a vicious pimp forces a no-good hooker to gulp down a can of Drano. The film’s centerpiece though is the shooting alley sequence where Harry and one of the recruits try to outshoot one another. While Ted Post’s direction tends to be a little flat and his pacing is fairly pedestrian, I have to give him his due on this scene. Not many directors can make shooting at cardboard cutouts seem suspenseful.
Clint does a good job here although (like the movie itself) he seems to be playing a watered down version of the Callahan of the first film. The supporting cast really helps to anchor the flick and compliment Eastwood nicely. As Harry’s boss and ringleader of the rookie vigilantes, the usual nice guy Hal Holbrook makes for an excellent villain. We also get some solid performances by the trio of young soon-to-be famous stars (David Soul, Tim Matheson and Robert Urich), all of whom provide a good foil to Squinty Eye Clint. The flick also carries on Harry’s tradition of having an ill-fated minority partner in Felton Perry, who does an admirable job with his limited screen time.
Magnum Force doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the original Dirty Harry but hey, very few sequels ever manage to top their predecessors, so who can really complain? There’s a lot more action than the first movie and the film features a fairly high body count to boot, making it a good piece of slam bang entertainment.
Whatever shortcomings the film has, it’s still a fucking Dirty Harry movie and there’s no such thing as a bad Dirty Harry movie. Just like there are no bad James Bond movies. Sure one movie may be a little bit better than the others, or one of them doesn’t quite live up to that one, but at the end of the day, as long as it features Dirty Harry with his .44 Magnum cleaning up the streets of San Francisco, it’s damned good times.
Future directors Michael (The Deer Hunter) Cimino and John (Conan the Barbarian) Milius (who did uncredited rewrites on the original) wrote the screenplay. Harry returned three years later with The Enforcer.