Short Time 1990

Short Time (1990)

This is a film I remember sitting on the video shelf for years and I bypassed every time for something for two reasons. Firstly, it looked like a run of the mill 80’s comedy and if you hadn’t heard a word of mouth recommendation then it wasn’t worth your time. Secondly, I had no idea who Dabney Colman chap was. I would have been more likely to pick it up had Gene Hackman, Danny Glover or Burt Reynolds been on the cover, but Colman just was on my radar then. 20 years later I was reading a list of recommended car chases in movies. Short Time is mentioned. Those 20 years had allowed me to familiarise myself with the incredible Dabney Colman and I was off tracking down a copy on the DVD.

Short Time

The film is similar to … well it’s Lethal Weapon meets Joe Vs The Volcano. Colman is a cautious cop who, through a plausible but extremely legally liable mistake, is told he has two weeks to live. This comes a week before he is due to retire. It then becomes apparent that Colman’s life insurance policy would not pay out and his surviving family will not be provided for fully, dampening Colman’s hopes of his son going to Harvard. However, if Colman was to die in the line of duty then a much larger sum would be paid to his family. Colman heads onto the street with a death wish to be taken down in the line of duty. 

It’s pretty dark stuff, but played as a wacky buddy comedy. Joining him on this quest is the painfully dressed Matt Fewer as his partner and best friend. The two get into all sorts of scrapes and Colman’s new found recklessness see accolades a-plenty from his miser of a captain, played by Barry Corbin.

In the background there are some dastardly fiends, lead by Xander Berkeley (relishing an over top role,) who are needing a particular type of justice that, fittingly, Colman’s newly found crazed demeanour could undertake.

Despite Colman’s age Teri Garr plays his ex-wife and mother to his 10 year old son. The two do not live together, however, appear to be in love and fully invested in the interests of their son. A unique approach that helps endear the characters a little more whilst keeping Garr at arm’s length from Colman in an attempt to preserve what little humour can be gotten out of the dark storyline. Garr plays cute and vulnerable very well, however, I’m sure the idea that she would be unable to provide a worthwhile future for Colman’s son without Colman’s financial input would not sit right with most viewers outside of the 80’s.

Short Time does indeed feature an exceptional car chase and that really is the only highlight. This is an action comedy and whilst there a couple of other action sequences that are entertaining the car chase is the only standout. When the comedy arrives it’s pretty tragic, for example, the lead characters are called Burt and Ernie, that’s one of the biggest jokes the film offers. Most of the comedy is absurd, an example of which is Colman defusing a hostage situation in his underwear. This is an entirely visual joke with no witty or clever lines to address a state of undress. Notably reworked much more successfully in Lethal Weapon 4 for comedic effect.

Dabney Colman is perfectly acceptable in the lead and brings an extra level of quality and believability to the character of Burt Simpson (the name gags are just killing it here.) Better known as a scene stealing comedic character actor during the 80’s this rare starring turn proves he was an extremely capable leading man and it’s a shame this film was such a misfire. 

Directed by the Second Unit Director of Stakeout, Blue Thunder and Saigon Gregg Champion, this would be his first feature film as director and after only one more mainstream film he would move to TV where he continues to direct.

Short Time is a bad movie, right from the illogical handling of its story. Certainly there is no shortage of thriller and action movies with a vaguely similar premise, and Lethal Weapon proved a lighter approach could work. The next problem is that Short Time just isn’t funny. The buddy buddy banter works quite well, however, there isn’t enough comedy, quips or fun to cover over the darkness of the story and instead it bleeds through.

The only reason to seek out this film is that car chase, an exceptional chase at that. In this movie, it works. Having Colman drive with complete disregard for his own personal safety, leaving a trail of carnage everywhere. After 5 minutes his car resembles Buford T. Justice’s car in the last few minutes of a Smokey and the Bandit film.

My takeaway is purely Dabney Colman, he should have been a leading man for often. Certainly he is excellent in the smaller character roles he is best known for but he kept the film moving, were another star would have given up, looking at you Gene Hackman from Loose Canons.

Poster used the big “gag” of the film. It’s a fun image but hardly a gag worth basing an advertising campaign on. The German version is a little less visual with more emphasis on the the crazy action in the film.

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