Saturday, April 13, 2013

In short: The Seven-Ups (1973)

Buddy (Roy Scheider) is the leading member - that is, the only one with any character traits beyond "has a family and is therefore doomed to die" - of a secretive investigation unit of the New York police called the Seven-Ups because they're only interested in crime that'll get the perp seven years or more. Their investigation techniques are supposed to be somewhat unorthodox, even though we see only one rather stupid moment of tough guy bullshit that'll probably get their case thrown out of court. The rest of Buddy's approach consists in basic detective work like observation of targets and tips from his schoolyard friend and informer Vito (Tony Lo Bianco).

Without Buddy's knowledge, Vito is milking him for information for his own business. Vito's the information source - though a completely hands-off one - for a group of criminals (including Richard Lynch) concerned with the abduction and ransoming of various higher-ups in the organized crime world.

In the end, Buddy's job and Vito's business contacts just have to collide. Soon The-Cop-With-Family (Ken Kercheval) is dead thanks to Mafiosi stupid enough to think he's part of the kidnappers, and kidnappers stupid and unlucky enough to kill him as part of a suspected mafia trap. Obviously, Buddy and his remaining buddies are going to go all-out vigilante on the kidnappers turned accidental cop-killers.

The Seven-Ups is a minor example of the kind of cop-centric crime movies caused by the success of William Friedkin's The French Connection. The film's director Philip D'Antoni did produce Friedkin's film, so the influence is understandable.

It's also not difficult to understand why this is D'Antoni's only movie as a director. While about half of the film gets by on the natural grit and grime of New York in the early 70s, D'Antoni's just not the man to get as much use out of the scenery as possible. The film is erratically paced with moments of tension and moments of plain boredom alternating, giving the film an unplanned and vague sort of feel, particularly because its dramatic arcs are lacking any kind of originality and just don't hold together all that well. There are some decently done action scenes, but the film's rhythm is so off, their impact is reduced until they turn into forgettable noise.

Even though the actors are good (who can argue with young Richard Lynch or 70s Roy Scheider?), the film doesn't give them much of interest to do. Sure, Scheider does the whole "cop turning vigilante" thing, but the film's lack of dramatic tension makes it feel rather unimportant, possibly because The Seven-Ups never bothers to establish much about his character traits. What does Buddy feel or think, what makes him tick? The film doesn't know, doesn't tell, or just isn't interested, and so makes even a scene where Scheider threatens a mob guy and his wife in their bed to get at information somewhat bland and uninvolved.

As much as I like grimy 70s New York and 70s crime movies, there's just too little depth or imagination in The Seven-Ups to make it really worthwhile; it's not a bad film by far, yet one whose stubborn mediocrity seems much less interesting than actual badness could ever be.

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