From the Archive: Desperate Hours


When I wrote this, I don’t think I realized the film was a remake (and also had earlier iterations as both a novel and a stage play). So, that’s embarrassing, especially when I make the observation that the makings for a good film are present, betraying no evident knowledge that maybe one already existed. I still haven’t seen the 1955 version, directed by William Wyler and starring Humphrey Bogart, so I can’t even weigh in on that now. This was the penultimate feature in the career of Michael Cimino, Academy Award winner for The Deer Hunter and Hollywood cautionary tale after presiding over the disastrous bomb Heaven’s Gate. I evidently didn’t have anything to say about the notability (or notoriety) of the director. As this lint trap accumulation of flaws implies, this review was written fairly early in the fun of the radio show that served as my first real experience in writing about movies. I was still learning. It shows.

There’s something very frightening about the idea of being trapped in your own home. That’s the basic premise behind the film DESPERATE HOURS. The film centers around Michael Bosworth, an escaped convict played by Mickey Rourke. Bosworth is sly and scary, Mickey Rourke’s favorite kind of character, and he plays it well here. After making his escape, Bosworth teams up with two of his pals and decides that the safest way to lay low is to find a nice house in the suburbs and stay there until he can hook up with his girlfriend, an attorney played by Kelly Lynch. He ends up in the home of Cornells, a family in the midst of a divorce. Bosworth takes the house and the family hostage.

In its early scenes, the film is somewhat effective in relaying a real sense of fear and dread. When Bosworth has just arrived in the house, the only resident there is Nora, played well by Mimi Rogers. The film is at its best as we see Bosworth and Nora interact with each other. Bosworth is frightening, and Nora is trying to be brave in an extremely dangerous situation. However, as more people arrive in the house, the film becomes increasingly hard to take. The children swing between scared to death and strangely defiant, and they are given incredibly foolish dialogue. Anthony Hopkins as the father of the family also is left with nothing to do other than grumble angrily and pull knotheaded attempts and saving his family that actually put them in more jeopardy.

And then the film nosedives more as the FBI steps into the situation with their overly aggressive tactics, trigger-happy gunmen, and methods of following a person that can’t exactly be described as “sneaky.” Michael Bosworth is described as being very intelligent, but the only way the movie shows this is by surrounding him with idiots. He’s smart by default, I guess. There’s some framework here for an effective thriller, but ultimately it’s wasted. The only desperate hours involved with this film are the two you’ll spend waiting for it to end.

(1 and 1/2 stars, out of 4)