= Highest Rating
butt-stroked a maintenance man off a sixty-foot ladder."
If you can keep from laughing
when Charlton Heston says lines like that —
in fact, the term "butt-stroked" is used three or
four times in the movie —
then you might have a mildly entertaining experience watching
this '70s suspense thriller. I was inspired to give it a shot
in the wake of EC contributor Lyle Horowitz's recent review
of the excellent 1968 maniac-sniper film Targets.
Though ostensibly a crime thriller/police procedural, Two-Minute
Warning is in many respects a Disaster movie, with its
cast of generic stock characters and climactic scenes of mass
panic. Coming near the end of the Disaster wave generated by
1972's The Poseidon Adventure,
the film at least puts a different spin on things: the catastrophe
du jour is purposefully man-made and (in its own time,
at least) frighteningly plausible.
In Los Angeles, on the morning of a pro football
championship game (the words "Super Bowl" are never
used), an anonymous madman randomly shoots a bicyclist from
long range with a high-powered rifle. In the hustle and bustle
of the big day the killing doesn't make more than a ripple.
But the psycho sniper has more ominous plans. With the components
of his disassembled rifle concealed within a specially-designed
jacket, he enters the L.A. coliseum along with 91,000 other
ticket-holders and (rather too easily, it seems) makes his way
to a commanding perch above the scoreboard. Here he waits. It
isn't until the film's 98-minute mark that he opens fire. Until
then we're introduced to and follow an ensemble of cardboard
characters whose lives are inevitably altered, some fatally,
by the faceless man with a 30-round clip and a God complex.
headliners of Two-Minute Warning,
Charlton Heston and John Cassavetes, don't really factor in
the story until roughly halfway through. Heston, in the midst
of a long, Oscar-winning career which had successfully embraced
science fiction (Planet of
the Apes, The Omega Man), plays
a cop for the very first time here. He also sports one of the
worst toupees he ever wore in any of his films. (Even Shatner
would be cringing.) When the camera aboard the Goodyear blimp
spots the sniper during half-time, stadium manager McKeever
(Martin Balsam) calls in police captain Holly (Heston), who
in turn summons S.W.A.T. team commander Sgt. Buttons (The
Dirty Dozen's Cassavetes) to deal with the situation.
Above all, McKeever and Holly want to avoid a panic in the crowd.
Police sharpshooters, dressed as repairmen, take positions atop
the stadium lights while important politicians are quietly escorted
from the stands. The cops can't be sure that this isn't a hit
by a trained assassin rather than just a nutjob with a rifle.
Still the unidentified suspect holds his fire, pacing about
nervously in his roost. Holly authorizes Button to take the
sniper out at the game's two-minute warning signal... if the
manic doesn't begin shooting first.
this is padded with the stories of the stock soap opera characters
in the crowd: the middle-aged couple (David Janssen, Gena Rowlands)
with a troubled relationship; the high-stakes
gambler (Jack Klugman) who must win a $30,000 bet on the game
or be rubbed out by mobsters; a young family man (Beau Bridges),
his wife and two small kids; the attractive singles (David Groh,
Marilyn Hassett) who meet in the stands and feel instant sparks.
There's even a pointless plot thread about a dapper, elderly
pickpocket (Forbidden Planet's
Walter Pidgeon) — pointless except that he gets shot by the
sniper. If we're supposed to care about who else among the cast
is going to take a bullet then it really doesn't work out that
way. Some genuine suspense is built around when the gunman
may make his move, and the stampeding crowd scenes which ensue
when he finally does are exceptionally well-staged. But at over
two hours' running time the movie is just too long. Rather than
pony up money for the rights the filmmakers sacrifice an element
of realism by substituting fictional football teams. (Simply
"Baltimore" and "Los Angeles" — the team
names are miraculously never mentioned, even by real-life sportscasters
Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford.) One key scene really
stretches credulity, marring what is easily the strongest, best-crafted
part of the film, its climax. (A S.W.A.T. sharpshooter is targeted
by the gunman and shot, his body dangling from a safety line
only feet behind hundreds of people who never notice.)
With its TV-movie feel, Two-Minute
Warning is a middling suspense thriller at best, one
which would've really benefited from some judicious pruning.
A notorious TV version of the film thankfully didn't make it to
DVD. In it, via more than an hour of subsequently filmed footage,
the crazed sniper is morphed into a professional marksman hired
to cause panic at the stadium as cover for an art robbery. This
totally destroys the whole thrust of the narrative. He hardly
even kills anyone!
is an early (1998) Universal disc which apparently sold well enough
to remain in print. A widescreen (2.35:1) transfer is used but
it is not anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Grainy and soft,
the print is further compromised by serious moire effect in the
scenes of the empty stadium and in some of the actor's clothing.
Sound quality is satisfactory.
At least the
DVD comes with some minor extras: the theatrical trailer and brief
onscreen liner notes.
A supposedly anamorphic edition will be released on June 1, 2010.