START TO name some of the most notable action-laced movies set in San Francisco, and it’s easy to gravitate toward such titles as “Bullitt” or “Big Trouble in Little China” or the “Dirty Harry” films, to cite just a few.
Although the new Marvel sequel “Ant-Man and the Wasp” nods overtly to Steve McQueen’s “Bullitt,” with its epic car chasing, director Peyton Reed said he had another movie from that era squarely in mind when preparing to shoot on the iconic streets of San Francisco.
“I actually screened ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ when we were prepping the movie,” Reed said of the 1972 romantic comedy starring Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal and Madeline Kahn. “I saw it as a kid and loved it.”
Reed, again in the directing chair for Marvel after his winning “Ant-Man” ($519 million worldwide) scored with crowds and critics, says he thought it would be informative for his team to study the big chase scene in “What’s Up, Doc?” That film’s wacky high jinks, as directed by Peter Bogdanovich, reach their apex as rival parties careen through the city’s steep hills, winding curves (cue Lombard Street) and inevitably end up hurtling into the cold bay waters.
“What’s Up, Doc?” tapped “the specificity of San Francisco as a character in the movie,” Reed said in a recent interview. “And for that chase scene, it uses the really specific topography of that city and specific landmarks.”
In “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” the title characters, played by Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly, get caught up in a wild car-heavy chase of their own. And instead of a floating Beetle winding up in the Bay — as happens in “What’s Up, Doc?” — it’s a floating superheroic bug.
“There’s also that MacGuffin in that movie of all those different [travel] cases,” Reed said of the 1972 movie. “And of course, we have our [shrinkable] building that changes hands.”
“What’s Up, Doc?” allowed Bogdanovich to nod to many comedic staples from Hollywood’s silent comedies — unfolding visual gags that rely on buildup, misdirection and madcap slapstick.
“We toyed around early on, when we were designing the action scene, for several weeks we had [visualized] that giant pane-of-glass gag,” said Reed, noting a “Doc” moment when a whir of cars and workers are narrowly avoiding a moving piece of window.
Reed also appreciates the sizzle of comedic and romantic chemistry between Streisand and O’Neal — and puts Rudd and Lilly in a position to create some such moments of their own. (“Ant-Man and the Wasp” also stars Michael Douglas, who in the early ’70s had his breakthrough role on the TV series “The Streets of San Francisco.”)
But mostly, Reed said, the Bogdanovich film “was one of the big ones that we watched and said: ‘There should be a bit of ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ in [our] movie.”