I was pleased to note this afternoon that Fox Movie Channel is, as I type this, airing a letterboxed print of the 1990 film SHORT TIME, which means I can finally throw away my VHS prerecord. Hopefully, this means that a DVD release is imminent, but if not, I will at least be able to burn a decent-looking DVD-R of the FMC version.
SHORT TIME came out during a period of time in which I went to the movies two or three times a week and saw virtually every genre picture available. Action, horror, chopsocky, thriller, sci-fi, whatever...I was probably there. You can be forgiven for not having seen it, as Fox opened it in only 550 theaters, and it never placed higher than tenth place at the box office. It premiered May 4, 1990 and was likely gone by June.
It's a terrific little comedy/action thriller, however, built around the irascible charm of star Dabney Coleman, playing a nice guy for a change. Coleman's comic timing and the frequently amazing action scenes and stuntwork supervised by first-time director Gregg Champion distract you from the fact that the film's story is more than a bit implausible.
Thanks to some mixed-up X-rays at the lab, conservative police detective Burt Simpson (Coleman) believes he has only two weeks to live. Since he's due to retire before that and his ex-wife (Teri Garr) and son can collect his life insurance only if he's killed in the line of duty, Burt turns into Dirty Harry, taking enormous chances and catching a lot of bad guys in his quest to get himself whacked, much to the bemusement of his partner Ernie (MAX HEADROOM's Matt Frewer).
Champion stages some nifty action scenes in his directorial debut, including a corker of a car chase, but it's Coleman, in a rare sympathetic role, who really makes it work by investing a strong sense of reality in writers John Blumenthal and Michael Berry's absurd premise. To learn how important good acting can be in selling the absurd, watch Coleman operate in SHORT TIME's more dramatic moments, such as when he realizes he'll never get to see his son grow up. It's a very fine performance in a role that has to balance heartbreaking drama, over-the-top comedy and action perhaps more suited to a younger man. Coleman, best known for his blistering portrayals of assholes you love to hate in TOOTSIE, 9 TO 5 and the great BUFFALO BILL sitcom, pulls off some great work in this underappreciated comedy.
And, yes, I realize the two cops are named "Ernie" and "Burt".