Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Recommended!: The Hidden (1987)

A bank robbery turns into a rampage, and a blockade of cops, headed by Detective Tom Beck (Michael Nouri), finally brings the thief down in a hail of bullets. But Beck is perplexed when the crimes continue, executed by criminals with similar predilections for fast cars, loud music. And he has no idea what to make of Lloyd Gallagher (Kyle MacLachlan), the mysterious but earnest federal agent assigned to his case, who warns of still more crimes to come.

The Hidden is very much of a piece with Paul Verhoeven's Robocop (also released in '87). Both are mid-decade genre movies that violently but wittily unpack the psyche of 1980s America within a science fiction/action framework. But The Hidden hasn't enjoyed quite the enshrinement that Verhoeven's (admittedly classic-level) movie has. Though director Jack Sholder enjoys nothing like Verhoeven's international profile, he proves more than adept at balancing The Hidden's various action scenes, arch flourishes, and quieter moods.

Sholder and co. gleefully expose the hedonistic materialism of the Reagan years, pushing the fantasies of that decade's American dream to their logical, violent conclusions. There's some fairly unsubtle symbolism throughout; the money enmeshed in Claudia Christian's stripper costume offers a blunt statement on the sexualization of capitalism. And the titlular antagonist itself suggests the Reagan-era's id gone absolutely berserk, fueled by stimulus, greed, sex, and eventually political ambition.  But several nicely observed character details and moments help the whole combustible brew go down easily: Nouri and the actors playing his fellow cops (including stalwarts like Ed O'Ross, Clu Gulager, and Clarence Felder) are more than credible, with totally believable reactions to the gonzo violence exploding around them. And MacLachlan gives arguably his finest performance outside the David Lynch oeuvre, a capable but lonely outsider very tangibly out of step with the rest of us.

No bones at all about The Hidden, then. It's the kind of genre film they used to make all the time: visceral thrills delivered with wit, created by folks on and off-camera who uniformly give the project more than it seems to deserve. Even outside its status as a time capsule of its era, it engages and thrills. And finally, it moves.

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