I haven’t much to say about Hickey & Boggs except that it’s got a certain kind of crime-film vibe rare today. Starring Robert Culp (who also directed) and Bill Cosby, from a script by Walter Hill, and populated with a huge range of recognizable character actors, it’s not the “caper” I half-expected from the stars. Instead, the two play rumpled, barely-surviving private eyes who collide in a case with a slew of people trying to get the loot from an old bank robbery.
For the first hour, it’s great fun — exactly the “under-appreciated gem” some Netflix user claims. The dialogue is precise and slangy, the story edited to get some intertwined plots in motion but without expository blathering. Cosby is fantastic, and Culp’s pretty good — both playing their roles low-key, tough. And the film works the slow burn — a sense of plot emerges; the characters are allowed to do human things. What I mean by “deliberate” is the sense of world-building: Hickey & Boggs is as interested in milieu and methods as it is in big reveals, and I enjoyed enormously Culp noodling about an apartment trying to find some meaningful information (and finding, as you would, a lot that is meaningless), or Cosby talking with a new client, his eyes carefully taking in details about this guy but revealing next to nothing in dialogue or action. (Did I say Cosby is great? He’s great.)
Unfortunately, once Culp has to shoot an action scene, that deliberateness goes kablooey. There’s a “big” sequence in the LA Coliseum which is confusing and very, very, very drawn-out. Lots of people watching other people, cutting around as they move in ways that further confuse where exactly they are (or where they’re going). It’s almost incompetent, and it lasts about 5 minutes–culminating in an equally-incoherent gunfight. There are later 2 other similarly crap action sequences.
But if you set your expectations low, stream the film from Netflix some evening — it was in many ways a real joy to see. The kind of film I’d delight in catching on the old cable superstations late at night…