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The Crossing Guard

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Crossing Guard

Starring: Jack Nicholson, David Morse
Director: Sean Penn
Rated: R
RunTime: 111 Minutes
Release Date: November 1995
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Anjelica Huston, Robin Wright, Piper Laurie, Richard Bradford, Robbie Robertson, John Savage, Priscilla Barnes, Kari Wuhrer

Review by Andrew Hicks
2 stars out of 4

Why did Sean Penn cross the road? I don't know and I don't care. My question is more along the lines of why Sean Penn devoted so much of his energy to scripting and directing this thriller whose only action scenes are at the beginning and end with a whole lot of boring melodrama in between. I don't know if you'll take my word for it, though, because from the video box it looks like a promising movie. Jack Nicholson plays the father of a murder victim who's been counting off the days to the killer's release from prison, when he'll exact his revenge, most likely in the eye-for-an-eye manner by killing the killer.

But we know from the beginning that Jack ain't such a smart guy. He marches into the home of his ex-wife (Anjelica Huston), who was his wife at the time of the murder, and announces his plans to kill the murderer. Huston and Nicholson have had this discussion over and over (and will have many more before the fade-to-credits) and it's obvious Nicholson is a disturbed man who intends to go through with his plans, but Huston doesn't tip off the police, even after Nicholson gets in a fistfight with her new husband.

So the murderer, played by David Morse of "St. Elsewhere" and 12 MONKEYS, gets out of prison and returns home to his loving parents. By this point we know something's wrong -- Nicholson is much more of a menace to society than Morse. That night Nicholson sneaks into Morse's bedroom while he's sleeping and points a gun at him before realizing there are no bullets. Morse wakes up and begins a casual conversation with him ("Oh hi, Jack. Come to kill me again?"), fully aware of Nicholson's plan to kill him. Everyone in this movie knows what Nicholson is up to but no one tries to stop him. All Morse does is ask for three days to live out his life before Nicholson claims it.

Nicholson grants him the three days, beginning a long, no-action stretch of movie in which Morse falls in love with Robin "Jen-ny" Wright (you almost expect Forrest Gump to start stalking him too) and Nicholson spends most of his time at a strip club and lays at least ten separate women. This guy gets more action than James Bond, but unfortunately THE CROSSING GUARD has none of the action of a Bond film. That hour or so in the middle serves mostly to show us Morse is human after all, with a lot of remorse for what he did, and that Nicholson is nuts after all, which we know before the opening credits are even up.

Even the climax is dull, beginning with Nicholson being pulled over by the cops. He runs off into the woods, leading them on a chase, before somehow ending up at the home of Morse. Then they both run down the street for awhile, take a bus, run some more, climb a fence or two -- mostly in slow motion. When even the action scenes are boring, there's a problem. And when there's at least thirty minutes of painfully-slow, superfluous drama, including Wright's interpretive dance of Salt-N-Pepa's "Whatta Man," there are a _lot_ of problems.

Penn's message that the guilty are still able to feel remorse, to love and be loved, was later personified by Penn himself in DEAD MAN WALKING, which had genuine drama and none of the contrived action. The fault for THE CROSSING GUARD rests squarely on his shoulders. Lord knows Nicholson and Huston are wonderful actors, but when given crap, they can hardly rise above it. It may be high-quality crap, but it's still crap, a dead movie barely crawling.

Copyright 1995 Andrew Hicks

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