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‘52 Pick-Up’

By Paul Attanasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 12, 1986


John Frankenheimer
Roy Scheider;
John Glover;
Clarence Williams III;
Kelly Preston
Under 17 restricted

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Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard, "52 Pick-Up" is the story of Harry Mitchell (Roy Scheider), a ramrod business executive whose midlife fling with a nude model (Kelly Preston) gets him into plenty of hot water. First there's the Sturm und Drang between Harry and his wife (Ann-Margret), a local politico. But that's nothing compared with the trio of blackmailers armed with videotaped evidence of poor Harry's naughty detours.

Harry, a self-made man and Korean War veteran, isn't one to take this sort of arm-twisting lying down. The blackmailers' increasingly vicious ploys only add to his gumption, as he slyly plays the villains against each other.

John Frankenheimer has directed "52 Pick-Up" in a style so devoid of nuance, the movie almost watches itself. From the crosscutting between Scheider and Ann-Margret that opens the film (an exchange of glances so portentous you think an earthquake is about to hit Los Angeles) to the way every emotion is underlined with tight close-ups, "52 Pick-Up" is so aggressively explicit that it might have been made for an audience of trained apes.

Part of Frankenheimer's intention is to capture the lower depths of L.A. sleaze, a milieu where he seems all too comfortable. "52 Pick-Up" is nakedly violent and violently naked, tailor-made for connoisseurs of the female breast, and for those who can't wait to see women scared, strangled, shot and otherwise abused.

What's surprising about this is that the producers, the interminably self-promoting Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of the Cannon Group, regard "52 Pick-Up" as one of their "classy" pictures. In Cannonese, "classy" translates to an almost foolproof recipe for low camp: a "big-name" director whose big name was made 30 years ago, stars far gone into self-parody, acting so overheated it expands previous definitions of the grotesque, an execrable, pumped-up score (here, by Gary Chang), and exactly the same exploitative elements as the decidedly unclassy films in which Cannon specializes.

Wallowing enjoyably in the ridiculousness of "52 Pick-Up" is former Mod Squader Clarence Williams III. As one of the blackmailers, Williams seems like a bizarre melange of H. Rap Brown, Lou Costello and Charlton Heston in "The Ten Commandments." And if you can imagine such a thing, you could probably have directed "52 Pick-Up" yourself.

"52 Pick-Up" is rated R and contains graphic violence, considerable nudity, sexual situations and profanity.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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