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The Last Hard Men / Sky Riders


While Coburn isn’t ‘Hard’ to like, some of his movies are.

Rod Lott January 4th, 2012

As a recent release of a bitch-slappin' medical mystery reminded me, James Coburn is really as cool as Clint Eastwood, so I welcomed Shout! Factory’s new “Action Double Feature,” which places two of the late actor’s 1976 films on one DVD.

actiondoublefeature

Neither, however, was really all that good.

“The Last Hard Men” — snicker, snicker — is an update of the traditional Western, in which Coburn sets himself free of a prison chain gang using a railroad spike so he can exact revenge on a retired lawman (Charlton Heston, gruff as ever and hiding behind one monster of a mustache) for putting him there in the first place.

Why do so many of the era’s movies take place around hanging meat carcasses? And why didn’t more of them cast Barbara Hershey? “The Last Hard Men” is based on a Brian Garfield novel, but the author saw his source material adapted much into something much more gripping two years earlier, with Charles Bronson in “Death Wish.”



And then there’s “Sky Riders,” which is to fad of hang-gliding what 1989’s “Gleaming the Cube” was to skateboarding: a hokey attempt to marry an extreme sport to a do-or-die situation. Directed by Douglas Hickox (“Theater of Blood”), the thriller has guys in paintball masks and armed with machine guns kidnap the wife and kids of industrialist Robert Culp and demand a $5 million ransom.

Because Culp is no he-man, he brings in his wife’s ex (Coburn, natch) to infiltrate the terrorists’ castle. He does them by hiring a team of hang gliders. Repeat: hang gliders.

All this frou-frou action unfolds to an uncharacteristically wussy score by Lalo Schifrin, which took me back to my kindergarten days of riding shotgun in my grandmother's Lincoln Town Car as she ran errands to Hyde Drug at 50th and Shartel. —Rod Lott

 
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