I just don't know what happened to this guy. Here is a guy who directed the 2nd Die Hard to critical acclaim as it represented a true Die Hard sequal better than the 2 after it ever did. Back in the late 80's to mid 90's Renny Harlin was knocking them out of the park one after the other. And at the time, it seemed he couldn't do no wrong. The Adventures of Ford Fairlane is marginal, it all depends on what mood your in when you watch it. We can forgive him for Cutthroat Island because he immediately followed that up with the awesome The Long Kiss Goodnight, one of his best films.
But I don't know what happened to this guy. He used to be one of my favorite action directors. He seemed to have a natural talent with filming a big budget action film. Just watch Cliffhanger if your not convinced. They actually shot that out on mountain tops in the freezing cold. No "blue screen"(they were blue, not green back then) or special effects. Just good ol' fashion camera work and stuntwork and they make it look beautiful. But lately I can't even watch what he's been dishing out.
He started out in horror, making a very little seen low-budget prison horror film called Prison, which I remember liking a lot. I even remember what the VHS cover art looks like. It came out in '88 and starred a very young Viggo Mortensen and had a pretty nice quality supporting cast like Lane Smith, Chelsea Field and even Jason himself, Kane Hodder. With Prison, you definately saw a talent there. The same year he immediately directed A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. This one was unfortunately the start of the decline of the Nightmare films. It looks good with lots of style, but the story was just "eh" and moved really slow. And I couldn't stand the actress they chose to replace the original Kristen from The Dream Warriors. Patricia Arquette played Kristen in The Dream Warriors, but Tuesday Knight played her in this one and she was horrible. This particular Nightmare sequal ended up being the highest grossing film of the series though, save Freddy vs. Jason. In any case, it's still heaps better than part 5.
He then moves into the action genre with Die Hard 2: Die Harder. A lot of people felt it was just a retread of the original from a few years before, not really offering anything new. It's christmas, there are terrorists and he still can't get to his wife. Yea, so what? The formula worked before so it'll work again. And that's part of the joke. He even says it out loud in one scene. "How can the same thing/shit happen to the same guy twice?!" (shit was edited for the trailers to thing, but in the film it's shit). But you can't say that it's not entertaining. Bruce Willis is still likable in this one, before he turns into a total prick in part 3, and the action and effects are top notch. It had the look and feel of a honorary Die Hard flick, and I knew after this that he was gonna hit the big time. Which he did, sorta. The next month, literally, he released The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. It's one of those "acquired taste" movies. It's kind of funny, if you can stomach the obnoxious Andrew Dice Clay. It's got some action. The story is kind of all over the place with lots of weird characters coming in and out for no apparent reason that helps the story. It was supposed to be a Rock n' Roll detective movie and it accomplishes that to a degree. Mainly it's just kind of weird and goofy and if you don't already like Andrew Dice Clay, then you'll hate this movie. But, the film looked good. There's one shot that always pops to mind whenever I think of this film. It's a scene at a bar where Fairlane is walking across the bar as he releases his automatic sliding gun from his forearm. I always thought that sequence was so cool.
Next he does Cliffhanger with Sylvester Stallone. Another beautifully shot action flick and another box office success for Harlin, making it 3 in a row after A Nightmare on Elm Sreet 4 and Die Hard 2. He was even going to direct Alien3. But everyone knows what eventually happened there.
So this guy is on a career high! throwing out one hit after another and seemingly indestructible until he releases Cutthroat Island with his then girlfriend Geena Davis in 1995, one of the biggest financial disasters in modern cinema. It's listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as the biggest box office bomb of all time, leading to the collapse of Carolco Pictures. In financial terms, it lost over $100 million dollars. I think most of it was that pirate pictures just weren't very popular then. Somehow, everything seemed to come together perfectly for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies as it is one of the most successful franchises in history. But you know what? We can forgive him. Because 1 year later he comes out with the awesome The Long Kiss Goodnight, again with Geena Davis in 1996. This movie is probably my favorite from his filmography. I think it has his most creative action sequences, beautifully shot, and with a script by one of my favorite action film writers Shane (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boyscout) Black. This guy can write an action film and I always get excited when I hear he's working on something new. This movie just kicks all kinds of ass and it's movies like this that make me miss the old Renny Harlin. Because you see, The Long Kiss Goodnight was the last of the good stuff. After that it was one disappointment after another. Deep Blue Sea, about killer sharks, was his last big budget hollywood flick and I didn't really care much for it. It was alright, but looked like it should have gone Direct-to-DVD. Which is why it surprises me that it made way more money and was a much bigger hit than The Long Kiss Goodnight. You never know.
Driven, Mindhunters, Exorcist: The Beginning, The Covenant, Cleaner and 12 Rounds followed.
I had completely given up on him after Mindhunters but continued to watch his films in the hope that in one of these, there was that spark again, from his early days. Unfortunately there wasn't. But then I see he went back into the action genre with 12 Rounds. It seemed interesting and hey, I'll give John Cena a shot. He had just done The Marine, which I never saw, and I thought hey, maybe this is his big break, his chance to be the next Stallone or Schwarzenegger? Cena pulls it off pretty good, he has the charisma and the confidence, not to mention the physique.
But its Renny Harlin who lets me down.......again, big time! This should have been a big ass action picture. It had all the ingredients, who cares if the actor playing the villain didn't have any presence as a villain. If it had a lot of action and moved along really well then we could have overlooked a lot of those things. This should have been his triumphant return to form. But in all honesty, I couldn't even finish it. I think I maybe saw half of it, but i'm not sure. Which is crazy because with an action film, I'll watch pretty much anything. Whether its ridiculous or mindless, if it's got good action, I'll watch it. I love a good action film. But this was such a mess. I don't even think Harlin had a plan going into this. At least, that's what it looks like. It's all over the place. There is not one bit of style or creative camera work to be had anywhere in here. He shoots the entire movie in "hand-held" style, which drives me nuts. It drives me fuckin' nuts! Not one single shot is mounted. I hate "hand-held" with a passion. It's such a cop out. To me, it's basically saying that we're not even going to try, "let's just shoot freestyle and make it look like a documentary". Because in all honesty, "anyone" can make a movie that way. They could get some schmo off the street to do it if that's what the studio was looking for. What's the point of hiring someone like Renny Harlin, the same guy who gave us Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight when they're going to just sleepwalk through it? It just shows people like me that maybe there's just no talent left, which I hope that's not the case. If you're going to shoot an action film, shoot it with some style. Make it look good. Make the 100's of extras and technicians who worked on the film look good. Make the company look good. This film looks plain terrible and after 30 minutes I couldn't bare to watch anymore. Which is a shame as I really respected this guy a while ago. I hope one day soon he gives us something worth remembering, like in the good ol' days. It's hard to believe that he's known as the most successful Finnish director of all time. So hard to believe. I know he can do it and prove me wrong. He just needs the right opportunity to make me a believer.