At 25: “K-9”

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April 28, 2014 by billysparrow

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Released: April 28, 1989

Starring: James Belushi, Rando, Mel Harris, Kevin Tighe

If 1988 was the Year of the Body-Switching Movie (and let’s say that it was, because, well, because this is my blog and I have it solely to make bold declarations that you are not allowed to take issue with), then 1989 has to be the Year of the Cop-and-Dog Movie. That is to say, America’s two best-known cop-and-dog movies–“K-9” and “Turner and Hooch”–were both released in 1989, with “K-9” being first out of the gate but, alas, a distant second place in overall entertainment to “Turner and Hooch.”

Perhaps we’ll save the side-by-side comparison for later in the year. Instead, let’s focus on the movie that kicked off James Belushi’s run as a leading man and, well, I’m not sure what else it did.

In retrospect (and possibly in actual spect; I wasn’t really tracking the general critical climate when I was 12), “K-9” seems to be running down a checklist of ’80s movie clichés. First, there is the rogue cop, Michael Dooley (Belushi), who, naturally, has a lieutenant who doesn’t understand his rogue ways and thus has no other recourse but to yell a lot. And, of course, the rogue cop is chasing down a respected member of the community, Lyman (Kevin Tighe), who, unbeknownst to the rich folk in town, is also a drug runner. And let’s not forget the woman, Tracy (Mel Harris) who loves the rogue cop, despite the fact that he’s always late for dinner and puts his job ahead of her. She will, as we know, be kidnapped at some point and almost killed. And, for the cherry on top of the sundae, Yello’s “Oh Yeah” is played. Chick-Chicka-Chicka.

“K-9″‘s big twist is that instead of the rogue cop being paired up with a straight-laced human, Dooley takes on Jerry Lee (credited as Jerry Lee but really played by Rando, as detailed in this “People” article from around the time of the movie’s release) because he needs a drug-sniffing dog to help him bring down Lyman. And get this–hijinks ensue! Jerry Lee saves Dooley from being pummeled at a bar and then takes a bite out of the bad guy’s nuts! Jerry Lee goes through a car wash because he refuses to let Dooley bathe him! Jerry Lee stares at and then interrupts Dooley while he’s having sex with Tracy! Jerry Lee bangs a poodle! What a hoot!

Actually, it’s a little bit of a hoot, but not all that much of one. “K-9” isn’t an awful movie, but I don’t know that it’s a particularly good one either. Rando’s easily the best part of the movie (if you’re gonna have a movie with a dog as co-lead, he better be the best part of it), and even he sort of wears thin by the end of the movie. But the aforementioned ball-biting scene’s a pretty good one. Heck, let’s call it the best one.

In the thankless role of second fiddle to a dog, Belushi’s fine but not quite able to pull off the more dramatic stuff, and the funny stuff he’s given isn’t really all that funny. I can’t find any clips on YouTube that prove my point, but perhaps that proves my point after all.

I would like to highlight the performance of the underrated and underappreciated Kevin Tighe as Lyman, the film’s main villain. Tighe’s never been less than solid in anything I’ve seen him in, and he’s at his best when he’s playing a cool, slimy villain, as he does here. He doesn’t make me hate Lyman quite as much as he made me hate Nick Andopolis’s dad on “Freaks and Geeks” (his delivery of the lines “How much did you spend on drums and how much did you spend on drugs?” and the subsequent “End of conversation” in the discussion that follows after he sells Nick’s drum kit infuriates me every single time I watch that scene), but he’s certainly hateable enough. His best scene involves him offing one of his underlings, but, like 98% of “K-9,” it’s not on YouTube. Don’t bother seeking out the movie to see the scene, though. Just take my word for it that it’s good–the scene, not the movie.

Your life will be just fine without seeing “K-9.” Of course, it’ll be OK if you see it too, or at least I’m hoping it will be, mainly because that would bode well for my life too, and I’m interested in keeping that going. But if you’re only going to see one cop-and-dog movie, go with “Turner and Hooch” (though if you like happy endings, you’re probably better off with “K-9”). I’ll tell you why later this year.

Good luck dealing with that white-hot anticipation coursing through your veins.

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