A messy police thriller that’s too farcical to be taken seriously.
Plot: Veteran cop Jack (Hauser) is after a pair of demented serial killers who are re-enacting classic movie death scenes with unsuspecting victims – for real!
Review: The 90’s were not kind to character actors like Wings Hauser and similar stars of his generation. They were no longer top-lining B- action movies that were given theatrical releases. Thanks to the home video boom, their movies went straight to VHS – and most of them were shabby, disjointed affairs like this film, The Art of Dying.
Wings plays the standard B-movie cop – a rugged rogue with a drinking problem that’s somewhat offset by his heart of gold – who constantly clashes with his superiors and goes beyond the law to exact his brand of justice. Sounds like a recipe for gold to me, but thanks to the film’s scant production values and wobbly script, everything comes off like a live-action movie of McBain from The Simpsons. The film opens with Wings and his partner conducting a bust, but it goes awry and Wings turfs an abusive woman out a second-storey window, killing her instantly! Is he reprimanded? Or suspended? No. The movie just carries on.
The villains of the piece are comic-strip vile creeps who, for some unknown reason, want to copy famous death scenes from films – but actually murder the actors on film –for real! I’ll admit, this is a cool premise, and Wings, who also directs, gets the most of out of this plotline, but without knowing what drives these nut-jobs to commit the crimes, it all seems rather redundant. It also doesn’t help that the actors who play the baddies acting ranges from darkly menacing to sheer camp in a single heartbeat.
As with these standard noir cop-thrillers, Wings is given a hot babe as his love interest – the underrated Kathleen (Halloween 4) Kinmont. Her sexy and lively performance gives the film a much needed boost in between the lulls and she and Wings have chemistry. The love scene where she is fully naked and he is wearing nothing but a wife-beater is pretty funny, and highly gratuitous.
The supporting cast is rounded out by familiar faces such as Michael J. Pollard, who plays an oddball cop (what else?!) and the glamorous Sarah (Superman II) Douglas, as Wings old partner (I think, given the ropey story) who is both sexy and charming.
On the action front, we get some rather brutal stabbings and a gory chainsaw kill that wouldn’t be out of place in the God-awful giallo cheapie Pieces, but thanks to the limited budget, most of the carnage looks amateurish and cheap. One particular death draws unintentional laughter – when a speeding car hits a person who is obviously a dummy – the body’s head flies off and rolls down the street, making it painfully clear that it was just some shop window mannequin.
Overall, Wings does a decent job acting and directing (given what he was given to work with) but without him, and the lovely Miss Kinmont, the film falls apart whenever they aren’t on screen, and it’s limited budget works more against the picture than for it. I would like to see what Wings could do with a greater budget and more time, but that will never happen. Shame.