We might call Metro by Tom Carter a palimpsest movie—one where
you can read another text beneath the one on the surface. To some extent this is
true of all Hollywood movies, which are made (as they nearly always have been
made) with a cavalier disregard for the
writer’s craft. At some point in the
very early history of this script’s
re-writing, it might well have been a good film, and you can still see the
traces of the film it could have been. In fact, up until about half way through
it, I was thinking what a pleasant surprise it was to find the picture not at
all bad, though always treading on the brink (inevitably for this kind of cop
movie) of cliché.

There was, for instance, some interesting stuff going on with the gambling
habit of the hero, Scott Roper (Eddie Murphy) which might have meshed
interestingly with his job as a hostage negotiator for the San Francisco police.
The first time we see Scott in a hostage negotiation, the thing is handled
stylishly by both director and actor, and there are more interesting things
going on with the ex- and possibly future girlfriend, Veronica, or Ronnie
(Carmen Ejogo), now dating a high-priced baseball player, and a new,
wet-behind-the-ears partner, Kevin McCall (Michael Rapaport) who is nevertheless
a veteran of the SWAT team and so likely to have a very different attitude
towards negotiation. Then, of course, there is the whole mystery of hostage
negotiation itself, comic potentialities in the fact that, when
Scott’s car is repossessed he has to
use an old pickup truck as his police vehicle, and dramatic possibilities in the
hints of police corruption.

Though not all of the most originality, the mix of these ingredients promised
interesting things. But the film wastes them all, simply dropping them one by
one as it finally tips over into cliché completely. Maybe
it’s the fact that it is set in San
Francisco, and they just couldn’t
resist another car chase through those hilly streets. Hey, they throw in and a
hijacked cable car too, and make the chase go on for so long that it begins to
get boring. And once they decided on doing the car chase number, the filmmakers
must have ben unable to stop themselves from making the rest of Metro
ever more ludicrously improbable. It must have been an exquisite self-indulgence
for someone’s postmodern sensibility
to end the picture with a girl tied to a veneering machine, a mad, sneering
villain and several large explosions. Will anyone ever be able to sell American
movie audiences on the virtues of understatement? Not on this showing.

Michael Wincott does a creditable job as Michael Korda, the bad guy. He, too,
is potentially interesting: a jazz afficionado and amateur jeweler, he seems to
have a touchingly close relationship with a slightly retarded cousin, Clarence
(Paul Ben-Victor). But we never learn anything more about him than this, or
anything interesting, except possibly for the Neapolitan proverb:
“When you think
you’re fucking them,
they’re fucking
you.” Eddie does his Murphy routine in
response to this: “We
ain’t in
Naples,” he explodes;
“forget about that
fuckin’ Naples
shit!” Old Eddie, what a hoot! M.
Korda (there’s a Neapolitan name for
you) simply becomes your generic cold-blooded killer with the luck of the
devil—until he is incinerated in the final, generic car explosion.

Oops, I gave away another ending. As if you
couldn’t guess! But then
that’s the difference between movies
and real life: in real-life a vicious cop-killer like Korda who had the
incredible luck to be made a trustee in the prison dry-cleaning shop even before
there was any trial, and who then had the even more incredible luck of being
able to escape by hiding in the dry-cleaning carousel while the guard is talking
on the phone, would hardly be expected to go for the trifecta by kidnapping the
arresting officer’s girlfriend, tying
her to a veneering machine, and using this to force the cop to steal his swag
from the evidence room and bring it to him, alone, at a deserted
dock/warehouse/factory at midday. This is after he has, from his jail cell, sent
poor Clarence to his death on a (naturally unsuccessful) mission to kill the
same girlfriend, apparently for no other reason than vengeance. It must be one
of those Neapolitan things. Anyway, you
wouldn’t understand it.

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