San Francisco cop Dirty Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) has recently been responsible for putting away a gang lord, which wins him the acclaim of the public but the opprobrium of the criminal underworld. One night soon after the gangster is jailed, Callahan is driving home when he notices he is being followed by a pair of cars. Worse than that, one stops in front of him while the other stops behind, the occupants get out and start firing machine guns at him as he desperately tries to get away, running over one of the gunmen and overturning his vehicle in the process. He won't be kept down, and makes fast work of the other assailants - but he's on someone's hit list...
The Dead Pool was the fifth in the line of cop thrillers featuring the Dirty Harry character, and to many eyes the least of them, although in truth it was downhill all the way after the original. Fittingly, almost every eighties cop thriller had followed the template designed by the first instalment complete with maverick detective and the view that the best way to deal with criminals was to blow them away with your trusty firearm rather than follow proper procedure and arrest them instead.
The script, by Steve Sharon, makes sure to present its main character as fitter than everyone else in spite of his advancing years, and many is the shot of Eastwood jogging, running or even working out. We needn't worry about him, he's invincible as proven by his tendency to escape unscathed from a hail of bullets or even a bomb. The reason he is targetted is because he's on the list of the dead pool of the title, a game played by jaded movie industry people to work out which celebrity will die first, and the names on the list of horror film director Peter Swan (Liam Neeson doing a John Lydon impersonation, bizarrely) are turning up murdered.
Now the first one to to be killed is the star of his film, and he's played by a pre-fame Jim Carrey. It's very strange to see him miming to the Guns 'n' Roses hit Welcome to the Jungle and making with the Ace Ventura moves while he does so, but the big stars have to start somewhere. If there's another bit that sticks in the mind it has to be the world's most ridiculous car chase (that we're supposed to take seriously) where Callahan and his new partner Quan (Evan C. Kim) are pursued by a remote controlled toy car filled with explosive. Incredibly, the toy manages to keep up with their vehicle, perhaps because of how slowly they are driving in certain shots.
As for intentional hilarity, Eastwood gets to fire off a few wisecracks ("You forgot your fortune cookie.... It says you're shit outta luck."), but there's a hypocrisy about The Dead Pool that may rankle with fans. Never mind that one of the murder victims is a Pauline Kael-style film critic, but the film has a less personal agenda, one to take down horror movies. According to this, it's fine that in an action movie like this we should cheer on the hero as he kills the bad guys with barely justfiable violence, but to kill people off in a horror movie is unacceptable. This despite the fact that action movie fans watch these films for their violence. As it turns out, Swan is the only suspect so it couldn't be him, and it turns out to be a fright film obsessive instead. Not the best way for a classic character like Dirty Harry to bow out, then. Music by Lalo Schifrin.
Definitely the weakest Dirty Harry movie, although I'd argue each entry has individual merits. I never twigged the film critic victim was a dig at Pauline Kael. It's hardly surprising, since Kael's personal vendettas prevented Eastwood (and many other worthy filmmakers and actors) from getting their critical due.