Color, 1982, 86 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Peter Carter
Starring Richard Harris, Christopher Plummer, Beverly D'Angelo, Kate Reid, Peter Donat, Saul Rubinek, Robin Gammell, Maury Chaykin
Kino Lorber / Code Red (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1 / 1.66:1) (16:9)
A baffling Canadian tax shelter project that feels like it was consigned to cable TV before a single frame was even shot, Highpoint is even more inexplicable given the caliber of its cast including Richard Harris, Beverly D'Angelo, and one of Canada's greatest thespian exports, Christopher Plummer. Basically doing a lighter variation on his magnificent villainous turn in a prior Canadian thriller, The Silent Partner, Plummer's the main reason to sit through a very tonally confused project whose Blu-ray release sheds a lot of light on how it came to be.
Narration by Harris is spackled heavily over this story in which he plays Lewis Kinney, a job-starved accountant who takes a job as a driver for a strange family including pretty Lise (D'Angelo) and her foul-tempered, dying adopted mother (Reid). Unbeknownst to Lewis at first, Lise's brother, slick and unstable businessman James Hatcher (Plummer), has faked his death after swiping $10 million from a deal going down at his office between gangsters and crooked cops. Now the thief wants to get his family to a safe house at Lake Arrowhead, a plan with more than a few flaws along the way. Soon a motley crew of assassins and CIA agents is on Lewis's trail, leading to much hopping around North America and various showdowns involving cars and helicopters.
The final feature directed by Canadian helmer Peter Carter (Rituals, High-Ballin'), this film's official release version sent to American theaters with a whimper in 1984 was the result of considerable retooling over the years since the first round of principal photography in 1979. It was originally conceived as a much sillier comedy with some fourth wall breaking and other indulgences proving to be too much for audiences in the very few European theaters where it first played. By the time it landed in the lap of post-Roger Corman New World Pictures, it was close to the write-off stage but still merited some tinkering to hammer a coherent story out of it somehow. The tactic didn't really work, but it's a fascinating example of how much battering a problem film can take without quite descending into pure mulch. Some decent stunts (including a much-touted Dar Robinson climactic falling feat) keep the action quotient high enough to make sense of New World's decision to focus on that aspect of the film, as long as you're willing to forgive that laziest of comedy devices, sped-up slapstick motion.
Issued with little fanfare on VHS by Embassy, Highpoint has been rarely seen since then until the 2017 Blu-ray release assembled by Code Red and released through Kino Lorber. The standard New World cut is the main viewing option here, and it looks pretty solid with a fresh HD scan that marks the best presentation of the film to date (not much competition in that area, but still...). No issues with the DTS-HD MA English mono audio either. The big extra here is the inclusion of the bizarre original comedy version as a standard definition rough cut (111m57s), taken from an open matte (4x3) work print. It's a listless and often painful mess with random soundtrack choices ranging from whimsical flute music to funky disco, none of which quite seems to fit the film or boost its excitement level at all. However, as an exercise in how to transform a film from one genre to another, it's a fascinating inclusion and a great tool to figure out how New World tried to salvage something commercial out of a problematic asset.
For film score fans, the highlight here will be an interview with Young, one of the brightest composing lights to come out of New World with titles like Hellraiser, Avenging Angel, and Flowers in the Attic. He vividly recalls how he got to this film's U.S. release in 1984 after working on The Power and Pranks, being scared out of his mind picking up a project with major stars that had been picked up by New World from a batch of titles from a bankrupt Canadian company. The whimsical original score by John Addison proved unsuitable for what New World had in mind, obviously, so Young was commissioned to do a big, splashy orchestral action score for the film's new shift in tone. He only singles out the main title as a memorable component of his work, but it worked well enough to ensure his status at the company for a few years. He also goes into the demands to sound like James Horner, a fellow UCLA alum, who had just burst out of the Roger Corman school around the same time. (The pressure to sound like him is obvious in spots, especially a recurring chase theme that's a dead ringer for Gorky Park.) For some reason the featurette is filled with distracting nonsense like digital flames and fog, as well as random cutaways from the film to make it sound like he's being eavesdropped upon, but it isn't enough to detract from Young's always enthusiastic personality. A longer interview with executive producer Bill Immerman (32m55s) is also filled with strange visual business throughout, and like the other featurette, it was shot by Damon Packard with what looks like a camera planted down at the subject's knees for no apparent reason. He recalls how this came in as one of the earliest films to jump in on the new Canadian tax incentives, bringing in Richard Harris when the hard-drinking actor's difficult reputation was at its zenith and rounding up some of the supporting cast from Second City. The actor's indulgences proved to be a problem when he was brought back for looping, which turned to be just the first of many post-production hiccups before the film reached the screen and, in the process, lost most of its spoofy, talk-to-the-audience moments (inspired by Tom Jones). Finally the disc rounds out with the film's theatrical trailer (which promises something much sillier and more in line with the original cut) and bonus trailers for The Funny Farm and Kingdom of the Spiders.
Reviewed on May 27, 2017.