Watching some “major” motion pictures from the 1970s today can evoke nostalgia, but in many cases also the feeling that you’re watching an episode filmed by the makers of “The Love Boat” (which I actually enjoy) or “CHiPs” (which I also enjoy). The production values just do not hold up that well and when the acting reflects a poor screenplay, well then you have one such as “Two-Minute Warning.” It’s not a terrible film, but you’d do better with an old “Columbo” episode.
(1976; 115 minutes; rated R; directed by Larry Peerce and starring Charlton Heston, John Cassevetes and Martin Balsam)
IT’S THE 1970s AND IT SHOWS … AND NOT VERY WELL
Simply looking at its big cast will give you hope that the 1976 thriller “Two-Minute Warning” will hold up well after nearly 40 years. Sorry, but the actors’ efforts and the poor cinematography are the reflection that leave this one mired by its own ineptitude. Since “Two-Minute Warning” is so difficult to find, don’t do yourself any favor by hunting it down.
It too bad that a supporting cast of Gena Rowlands, David Janssen, Jack Klugman and even the venerable Walter Pidgeon, whose career spanned six decades, couldn’t do any better. Somehow, I don’t believe any supporting cast would have helped “Two-Minute Warning.”
As for the plot, it is pretty standard Hollywood fare: a psychotic sniper takes up residence in the L.A. Coliseum’s clock tower before a championship football game. He’s mysterious (only called “the sniper” in the credits) and killed an innocent bicyclist at the beginning of the film. Half the film is the run-up to the excitement with cops in the stadium, as the big cast sets the tone of a group of people whose individual stories converge at the game.
The converging stories include a deep in-debt gambler (Klugman), a family going to the game (the father played by a young Beau Bridges), a couple (Janssen and Rowlands) seeking something meaningful in their relationship and a variety of other ships passing in the night.
The one neat thing to see here (and I remember from going to football games in that era) is how some men dressed up to go to a game by wearing suits (Rowlands even wears a stylish fur coat). Also the ambience surrounding the game has evolved into a more professional wrestling spectacle today than could ever have been imagined.
Charlton Heston, who was in the much-better “Midway” big-cast film the same year (click here for my review), leads the cast as “Capt. Peter Holly,” who is the cop in charge here. Heston gives his usual competent performance here, but there’s nothing special about this role, unlike his work in “Planet of the Apes” or his little-remembered role in “The Three Musketeers.” It’s a similar effort to his work in “The Omega Man” or “Soylent Green,” but certainly not like “Ben-Hur” (his Oscar winning performance).
John Cassevetes is Heston’s co-star here as “Capt. Button,” who is the leader of the S.W.A.T. team (for special weapons and tactics as well as a TV show) that has to go after the sniper. Cassevetes is like Heston in this one: competent but nothing special. Cassevetes was in “Tempest” with real-life wife Rowlands, “The Dirty Dozen” and “Rosemary’s Baby.”
Elsewhere in the cast:
- Janssen as “Steve” and Rowlands as “Janet” show none of their considerable talent and appear to be more in a barbiturate fog than anything else. I’m sure neither one highlighted “Two-Minute Warning” on their resumes. Janssen was of course TV’s “The Fugitive” as well as being in “The Green Berets” with John Wayne. He died of a heart attack four years after “Two-Minute Warning” at the age of 48. Rowlands was absolutely pitch perfect in the original “Gloria” (she was nominated for an Oscar) and was also in “The Notebook” and got another Oscar nomination for “A Woman Under the Influence.”
- Pidgeon is here just as a blast from the past as “The Pickpocket.” He was also in “How Green Was My Valley” and “Funny Girl.”
- Klugman as the down-on-his-luck gambling “Sandman” should have stuck to TV episodes of “Quincy, M.E.” (it debuted the same year) instead of giving this horrid effort and “Two-Minute Warning” is a long way from TV’s “The Odd Couple” for him.
- Joe Kapp not surprising plays star quarterback “Charlie Tyler” here (both he and his characters had bad knees as competitors). Kapp, who does an acceptable job here, is a very surprising person as he was the only quarterback to start in the Rose Bowl, the Super Bowl and Canada’s Grey Cup games and then turned that fame into roles in films such as “The Longest Yard” and the execrable “The Choirboys” (click here for my review).
- Brad Savage, who had a small role as one of Bridges’ children, would go on to better roles in the very scary TV adaptation of Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” and the original “Red Dawn.”
So, it’s a big … yawn … for the supporting actors.
“Two-Minute Warning” was far out of the top 10 films for 1976, which was chock full of hits with “Rocky” as the No. 1 film at the U.S. box office with $117.2 million, according to Wiki. Other top grossers were “All the President’s Men,” “The Omen,” “Silver Streak” and Clint Eastwood’s “The Enforcer.” Even “Midway,” also a big-cast spectacle film with Heston, was No. 10 with $43.2 million. “Two-Minute Warning” just didn’t measure up then, either.
Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):
- Allan Miller plays the “Mr. Green,” who menaces Klugman over a gambling debt. I don’t mention him here for his acting but because he has the same name as one of my family member (although he does have two “Ls” in Allan). Miller was also in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.”
- One actor with a bit part as “vendor” is Robert Ginty, who would go on to a career spent in supporting roles including “Coming Home,” “Loverboy” and a string of TV roles including “Black Sheep Squadron” (original title: “Baa Baa Black Sheep”) with Robert Conrad.
- Klugman was the only primary cast member to do an episode of “The Love Boat.” Too bad as I really would have enjoyed seeing many on that venerable TV series.
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