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‘The Dead Pool’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 15, 1988

Clint Eastwood breezes through "The Dead Pool" with routine ease, this being his fifth picture as Inspector "Dirty Harry" Callahan, the no-nonsense cop of San Francisco, and he knows the beat well.

He looks great; he's still got the savoir-Clint (laconic, squinty). But murder victims like those fleshed by screenwriter Steve Sharon have been stabbed, shot and blown apart a million times before on everything from "The Streets of San Francisco" to "Miami Vice."

Unless you're a Clint fan (and -- own up -- who isn't?) there's little other reason to sit through this one. Eastwood, who's had far bigger concerns recently, such as directing a movie about jazz great Charlie Parker, seems content to mark time. And pick up another check.

After his court testimony puts a key mafia figure into San Quentin, Callahan finds unwanted fame in Frisco. Now it seems every hired hood in town is after him. To make it worse, Homicide wants him to go public: Play nice with the press and work with token-ethnic Quan (Evan Kim). And Harry's name is discovered on a list of celebrities who are being killed one after another.

Turns out a horror film crew in town for a shooting had compiled the names for a "dead pool." They're laying bets over which public figures are most likely to buy it.

The murder clues seem to point to the horror film's director (Liam Neeson), who makes movies with names like "Hotel Satan." But Callahan has his doubts. He also has to contend with a pushy TV reporter Samantha Walker (Patricia Clarkson), who'd just love to do a big story on him.

Well, the rest is pursuit-and-shoot, with unsuccessful attempts to create a new Dirty Harry expression a` la "Go ahead -- make my day." Posing as a customer in a Chinese restaurant, his Magnum .44 loaded under the table, Callahan tells a henchman, "You forgot your fortune cookie. It says you're {bleep} out of luck." On another occasion, a disturbed man summons a TV crew to witness his immolation death. Callahan, now posing as a TV cameraman, tells him, "You can set yourself on fire and we'll break out the marshmallows and weenies, but you're not going to be on news at 11."

The standout scene involves an intentionally comic car chase, where Callahan must fly over those San Francisco hills trying to get away from a radio-controlled toy car that packs a big bang. It sort of sums up the movie: Big guy gets involved with dinky vehicle.

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