The weird thing about 52 PICK-UP is that Golan-Globus produced 52 PICK-UP. Golan-Globus was a production house run by two Israeli producers who made a remarkable amount of gleeful garbage in the early to mid-1980s. Don’t get mad at me for saying so — I genuinely love plenty of their movies, but I still need to concede that generally speaking, when a really good one slipped out of the machinery, it was a happy accident.
52 PICK-UP is definitely the finest Golan-Globus production I have ever seen, and I have seen several more Golan-Globus productions than I probably ought to have if I want to be a serious film scholar. (That ship may have sailed, as you’ll see in the next sentence.) Before now, the best Golan-Globus production I have seen would either be BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, the smile-making break-dancing musical extravaganza, or ENTER THE NINJA , which stars Franco Nero and a lot of ninjas.
This one has a far higher pedigree than usual, due to the script by Elmore Leonard (!) based on his own novel, and to the direction by veteran director of suspense John Frankenheimer. Paul Verhoeven’s sometime cinematographer Jost Vacano (ROBOCOP) supplies the smooth camera moves, and (almost) everybody in front of the camera does their typical professional best. I can’t go as far as to call 52 PICK-UP an under-recognized classic, but it’s worth another look.
Roy Scheider (JAWS, SORCERER) is not playing the most decent guy in the world in this one, but he’s Roy Scheider – always ruggedly sympathetic and working-class smart. He plays a successful business owner who gets involved with a twenty-something Kelly Preston — who wouldn’t? — although that means he’s cheating on his wife, played by Ann-Margret — good reason to question that Kelly Preston decision. It’s a classic noir set-up: You step off the straight-and-narrow path, even the one time, and it’s a mistake that’ll dearly cost you.
Plot-wise, as one could expect from the Leonard imprimatur, this affair rapidly becomes a blackmail attempt on Scheider, levied by a gang of unusual criminals. The bug-eyed John Glover is their leader, but it’s Clarence Williams III, best known to my generation as Samson Simpson from HALF BAKED (and to a previous generation as Prince’s scary dad in PURPLE RAIN!), who makes the most intimidating impression as Bobby Shy, the methodically lethal enforcer.
My favorite part of the movie is Vanity, the single greatest Prince protégé of all time, who plays Kelly Preston’s confidante, also Clarence Williams’ girl, also some kind of stripper. She’s got a relatively small supporting part to all these other better-known names, but she’s effective and believable, and even sad, in the few scenes she has. The year before she’d been very sweet in BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON and the year after, she was very sultry in ACTION JACKSON. (We don’t have room to get into NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE.) Vanity’s screen presence in all of these films in the mid-1980s almost suggests a full-on acting career would have been possible, but as history and Nikki Sixx would have it, that was not to happen. The woman formerly known as Vanity was called ahead to a higher purpose, although in my personal heathen opinion appearing in an Elmore Leonard adaptation is the highest purpose there could possibly be.
Jon Abrams is a New York-based writer, cartoonist, and committed cinemaniac whose complete work and credits can be found at his site, Demon’s Resume. You can contact him on Twitter as @JonZilla___.
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Tags: Ann-Margret, Clarence Williams III, Elmore Leonard, Golan-Globus, john frankenheimer, John Glover, Jost Vacano, Kelly Preston, Los Angeles, Noir, roy scheider, Screenings, vanity