Friday, 25 June 2010

PROCEDURAL (Joel Schumacher, 2004)

It came, as always, way too late. The creaking mechanisms of the filmic industry wither ideas by the time they churn them, causing that aching taste for popcorn on your tongue. When the idea is second-hand, this fresh window is even smaller. So we have our familiar, our Type: A character named Hunch (because, hey, he has lots of them, and also because, naturally, he has a stoop caused by some dramatic injury in the past), whose presence in three different long running television shows has shorn him of what small novelty he contained. Perfect for the big screen, then. Not a mistake in itself, but waiting until that point at which people are forgetting him, but before they're ready to remember him, to make the film: disaster. Pity actor Vince Cannon, whose face is fused to the face of Hunch, because they are one and the same, and will always be.

Cannon briefly threatened to be a going concern, before settling for a life mugging for the gallery. His appearance in Walter Hill's Startled Leprosy (1982) as a complex hood promised a dangerous arc through the netherworlds of character dramas. But he ended up where he ended up so very quickly that his ealy excellence can be seen as an aberration, rather than an example of snuffed promise. Soon he was the star of a plethora of prime-time television dramas, his deadpan delivery of gauche cliche witnessed in the cop shows MALAPROP COP (1993-1995), PROCEDURAL (1998-2007), EXPOSITION (2008-2009) and HUNCH (1985-present). The latter three, in which he plays the ever-so-slightly offbeat detective Christopher 'Hunch' Hunchowski, (who greets each case with the too-wry (too-wry, too-wry-ay) line 'Stevie, Didn't we solve this one last week?' Reply: 'Hunch, don't you say that every week?'), is a precise mixture of perfect formulas. Hunch himself is a hash of implied backstories that include flickers of post-'Nam mysticism, suggestions of cataclismic addictions and hollow flashbacks to A Very Disasterous Personal Event that are never outlined or examined, but serve as a huge dollop of explanation (or lack thereof) for what we see before us, the deep and erratic zen-like logician.

The other characters serve as a Greek chorus of 'This-guy' raised eyebrows,
and the plots that pollute Hunch are never allowed to get in the way, being so familiar as to drift into a babble of Beckettian absurdity. Each episode requires a scene after 35 minutes where Hunch narrates his own brain movements for the benefit of the audience, preferably over ponderous light classical chords; Frequently, he is sitting at his art deco desk (which is carved from, in his words, 'maple and pain'1, and serves as an symbol of the titular detective's affectations), which he strokes like a pony. 'But what if the victim was ambidextrous?' says the voiceover, mysteriously, several minutes after your Dad had, contemptuously.

Humour? It is there, often in elaborately set up lines that Hunch gets to deliver. The best pun of the show's history has been re-used many times, and it goes something like this:

COP: She was a junkie, is all.
HUNCH: She was a victim of society's ignorance and apathy.
COP: What's the difference between ignorance and apathy?
HUNCH: Nobody knows, and nobody cares.

(Insert meaningful silence, as COP stares into distance, looking confused. Hunch walks away. COP finally gets it, smiles, turns to HUNCH; HUNCH is gone.)

The film version, pieced together by Joel Schumacher in one of his lean moods, isn't horrible. Vince Cannon, wisely, is allowed a reprise, and his new cragginess gives a certain poignancy. But as if knowing his face can't carry a film, the script leans heavily on a rookie-cop following Hunch, and an intredid (and beautiful, of course) reporter trying to get under Hunch's aviators. Both can't keep up.

Procedural Directed by Joel Scumacher Produced by Vic Ledgor Starring Vince Cannon, James Gandolfini, Claire Forlani, Tom Skerritt, Andrew McCarthy Written by Andrew Kevin Walker Columbia Pictures 105 mins release date UK/US: March 2004 Tagline: 'Hunch has got a hunch. And a feeling in his gut.'

1. Country singer Earl Lance 'Unlucky' Duckett recorded a eulogy to cops with the title 'Maple & Pain' ('Maple and Pain/ Is all I need to bring it all back again/ Boys in blue/ Carrying memories and Badges too')

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