Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Accidental TV Movie Week: Bridge Across Time (1985)

aka Terror at London Bridge

Accidental TV Movie Week is what happens when I read the excellent “Are You in the House Alone?” edited by blogger and podcaster Amanda Reyes and spend a week only watching the sort of US TV movie treated in the book. Don’t be afraid.

In the 60s, good old London Bridge was dismantled and parts of it shipped off to Arizona to become part of a partial reconstruction of the bridge using the original masonry crossing Lake Havasu. That’s the actual version of events; for the film at hand, the bridge was re-erected in Arizona stone for stone. Well, all but one stone that dropped into the Thames together with Jack the Ripper during a police chase, that is. Now, in 1985, this final stone has been found in London and is added to the Arizona version of the bridge with great fanfare. Alas, a female tourist bleeding on the stone revives old Jack who gets back to his old ways - except he’s not murdering prostitutes anymore but whatever woman he can find, has gone off the mutilation trip, even hides one of his victims, and well, honestly, doesn’t act like Jack the Ripper at all.

Anyway, the only criminological genius available in Lake Havasu’s Podunk tourist hellhole to solve the case is fresh Chicago import Don Gregory (David Hasselhoff). Don has the trauma obligatory to all cops after 1982 in his past, which in this case mean he shot a black kid he thought was holding a gun but who of course didn’t. For some reason (this is sarcasm, dear reader) Don didn’t land in prison but got a one month suspension for it. However, our protagonist turned out to actually have one of those conscience thingies police unions advise against, so he can’t cope with having to deal with guns anymore and left Chicago for supposedly more peaceful shores. Solving the pretty insane case and his trauma will of course not be Don’s only problem: the town fathers have a bad case of the Mayor of Amity, his boss (Clu Gulager) doesn’t like him (I can only assume he’s jealous of the Hoff Hair), and his new love interest (Stepfanie Kramer) is clearly only in the movie to be threatened by Jack in the end.

Given that this was written by well regarded horror writer William F. Nolan, it is a bit of a surprise that the weakest part Terror at London Bridge is indeed its writing. The script starts with a goofy idea, adds a barrel of clichés that were as ancient in 1985 as they are today, and can’t even get up to make its dialogue terribly amusing. The plot also suffers from having its protagonist stumbling around trying to find out things the audience knows from the beginning, resulting in quite a few moments where I mostly felt impatient for the Hoff to finally catch up. It’s not that this sort of structure cannot work, but it actually needs some element to keep an audience’s interest in the plot up, and there’s little of that to be found here.

That the film is still generally more entertaining than not is mostly thanks to its director E.W. Swackhammer. While Swackhammer may “only” have been a competent craftsman who shot whatever TV piece came his way, he’s an experienced hand at making decent entertainment out of the best parts of dubious material, so the handful of suspense scenes the script gives him are much more effective, at times even atmospheric, than they are goofy, and the obvious red herring character may be obvious, but is also presented as the sort of fun crazy person we all like to enliven movies of dubious intelligence.

Speaking of crazy, Hasselhoff does a pretty decent job throughout, clearly committing fully to the clichéd background of his character and laying his various emotional outbursts on so thick they are at least entertaining to watch throughout, be it when he makes the bug eyes of growing obsession, the bug eyes of Big Drama, or the bug eyes of love. His love interest as played by Kramer is alas pretty much a non-entity here (also thanks again to the script), while the more experienced actors – there are also Adrienne Barbeau as Kramer’s librarian-friend, and Lane Smith as the Mayor of Amity – do what they can to give their underwritten parts some punch.

And honestly, how couldn’t I be at least a little entertained by a film about the Knight Rider himself fighting Jack the Ripper in Arizona?

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