Split Second (1992) Blu-ray Review: Blade Runner and Alien’s Stupid Baby

Stealing the antagonist from one Ridley Scott movie and the world building (and star) from another, Split Second could have been a visionary bit of sci-fi weirdness. If it had fully embraced its strange plot and generated an atmosphere that properly combined the occult with the futuristic, it could have been a moody and delirious vision of a grim future. Instead, it’s a basic buddy cop movie with an incoherent plot, characters that declare their traits instead of acting them on the screen, haphazard world-building, and a bunch of plot elements that don’t come close to coming together into anything that makes sense.

Rutger Hauer stars as Harley Stone, a cop in London with an American accent who has been suspended but still chases down the serial killer that killed his partner years ago. Stone has some kind of connection with the killer, and manages to be on the spot where the murderer finds another victim: a young girl, whose heart he disposes with. For violating his suspension, Stone’s chief very sensibly reinstates him with a new partner, a serial killer expert with the apparently hilarious name of Dick Durkin. He can barely keep up with the belligerent Stone as he blunders about, not really doing any police work. A new crime is called in, another corpse with a missing heart, and this time the killer has helpfully left some clues in blood on the ceiling: zodiac signs.

Is the murderer a Satanist? Is there a real psychic connection? Does it have some connection with the rats that are infesting London, along with the flooding caused by global warming? How does everything connect? At the risk of spoiling the film, it doesn’t. None of it.

You can’t look at the cover of any release of the film without getting some hint of who, or what, the killer is. At the further risk of spoilers, I’ll say there’s no explanation for why this thing is happening. Why this monster is doing what it does. The film offers no explanation, and doesn’t replace it with any intriguing mystery. If there’s any pleasure to be found here (and, to my taste, it’s quite meager) it’s in some of the smaller details. Rutger Hauer devours the scenery, making the most of a one-note character. His partner Durkin is a poindexter, but he eventually gets into the spirit of the “shoot first, ask questions never” attitude of Stone, and has some fun scenes when the two are raiding the police armory. For anyone who has had to endure modern low-budget horror and sci-fi, there’s some nostalgic pleasure in watching a film where actual set decoration and planning had to be done to make things look decent.

London is flooded, and the jeeps the cops drive in are constantly sloshing through water-logged streets. Stone’s home is infested with pigeons (no doubt a ham-fisted homage to his dove handling in Blade Runner), and it’s fun to see them harassing Kim Cattrall. Speaking of whom, Kim Cattrall, playing the ex-wife of Stone’s old partner (and his erstwhile lover) is a sudden breath of humanity in the center of this bit of cinema. She seems to accidentally embody an actual character, and almost brings out some warmth from the gruff caricature that Hauer splays out on the screen. That she has a mostly gratuitous shower scene in the middle of the film is also not unwelcome, and is contrasted by a later, completely clothed bath scene that almost accidentally brings out the humanity in both of their characters.

Split Second was directed by Tony Maylam, who’s most notable previous title was middling slasher film The Burning, and who hasn’t done much since in the feature film realm, if IMDB can be relied upon. The movie is pretty fast paced and the camera work is energetic, if not particularly memorable or revelatory. And to give credit where it is due, there was clearly hard work being done on a low budget to create a near future world. It’s not always convincing, but the effort is appreciated. However, it’s always surprising that the cheapest thing to get right, the script, just words on paper making a story that makes some sense, never seems to get the consideration it deserves.

Split Second has been released on Blu-ray by MVD. Despite my misgivings of the film, for fans of Split Second they have created a generous special edition release. There’s a new feature commentary for the film by film historian Mike Leeder and filmmaker Arne Venema. There’s several new video extras for the film: “Great Big Bloody Guns!”, an interview with producer Laura Gregory & actor Alastair (Neil) Duncan (28 min); “Call Me Mr. Snips!”, an interview with composer Stephen W. Parsons (22 min); “Stay In Line!”, an interview with line producer Laurie Borg (23 min); “More Blood!”, an interview with creature effects designer Cliff Wallace (32 min); “Shoot Everything!”, and an interview with cinematographer Clive Tickner (19 min). Archival extras include the original 1992 Split Second “Making of” featurette (7 min), original 1992 behind the scenes featurette (4 min). There’s also a second cut of the film with extras scenes from the Japanese release, in standard definition (95 min), and a separate extra with just those extra scenes, also in standard def (5 min). The disc also includes promotional material.

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Kent Conrad

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