Hardcore review by Mike Long

Writer/director Paul Schrader has made a career of showing the seedy underbelly of urban culture and by making films which show the obsessive nature of man. On his own, and in his work with Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull), Schrader has explored the lengths that characters will go to in order to achieve their goal. With the 1979 film Hardcore, Schrader mixed his own background with an unblinking look at life in the adult industry of California to create a film which is very dated when viewed today, but is still interesting.

George C. Scott stars in Hardcore as Jake Van Dorn, a businessman from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Jake is a very religious and conservative man, and his world is turned upside-down when he learns that he his daughter Kristen (Ilah Davis) has disappeared while on a church retreat in California. Jake travels to Los Angeles along with his brother-in-law Wes (Dick Sargent), where he learns that the police can't do much, so he hires private detective Andy Mast (Peter Boyle) to help find Kristen. After a few weeks, Mast comes to Grand Rapids with shocking news for Jake. Andy has obtained a short pornographic movie and Jake is horrified to see Kristen in the movie, having sex with two men. Jake tries to cope with this new knowledge, but can't, so he travels to L.A. to take over the search for his daughter. Jake enters the shocking new world of L.A.'s porno culture and soon learns that he won't get any information with his stern, mid-western look. So, Jake completely immerses himself into this alien landscape and soon learns that there is much more to the world than he ever imagined.

Hardcore is a film which is essentially presenting us with two storylines -- on the one hand, we have the frantic father who is searching for his daughter; on the other, we have the voyeuristic journey through the world of pornography, a trip that many of us dare not take. And while these two plots certainly intersect in the film, it's very easy to separate them when watching the film with a modern eye. I can't say for sure, but I feel certain that Hardcore was very shocking when it debuted in 1979. The movie shows sex shops, peep shows, and the kind of sleazy establishments that once inhabited the urban sections of many cities. However, in our age when porn stars are featured on "Entertainment Tonight" and vibrators have become quite mundane, the film's shock value doesn't hold up. If anything, the novelty in the film are the dated qualities of items such as 8mm film reels and video booths. Still, some of the things that Jake encounters, such as a private screening he attends, remain unique.

The other side of the film, Jake's search for his daughter, is somewhat uneven. While this harrowing event should effect the viewer, the movie keeps its emotional distance. This is due to odd pieces of the story, such as the fact that Jake waits 5 months to take the investigation into his own hands. Once Jake arrives in California, it's obvious that he's determined, but Scott's performance is too restrained and we never get any sense of desperation from him. Season Hubley appears as a stripper who helps Jake, but her character is underwritten and we don't get to know enough about her...but we do get to see her naked, unfortunately. The ending isn't the "shocking" one that I'd read about for years concerning Hardcore, but it is very unsatisfying. The story contains some plot holes as well, the most notable being the fact that we never learn how Mast got the movie to begin with. Hardcore is certainly a mixed bag, as it offers a glimpse into pornographies past, and shows how it influenced modern films like 8mm (which owes a huge debt to this movie). The film offers some cheap thrills and who can pass up the chance to see George C. Scott in a wig and fake moustache looking like the lost Mario Brother?

Hardcore struts onto DVD courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is OK, as the film definitely shows its age. The picture is sharp and clear, but rather drab, looking very flat and showing no vitality. The colors are OK, but look slightly washed out at times. The image shows some grain, but there are no overt defects from the source material. The DVD's Dolby Digital stereo audio track sounds terrible and I had to totally reset my receiver to reach a point where the dialogue was audible. The speech was still somewhat muffled and the music and sound effects were much louder than the dialogue. The DVD contains no extra features, save for some bonus trailers. Note that the girl on the DVD cover is not the actress who plays Scott's daughter, but some random character who is shown for a split-second at the end of the movie. Weird.

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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