"But who polices the police?" Dirty Harry apparently needed a touch of clarification, and this is it, from artists (Clint Eastwood, John Milius, Michael Cimino) who are no strangers to "fascist" charges from jackass critics. Outlaws are freed by "those snot-nosed young bastards down at the D.A.’s office," self-appointed executioners take them down: Targets include corrupt politicians, a Mr. Big’s pool party, a killer pimp and a chubby dealer caught rolling in bed with a tawny, coked-up Adam and Eve. The Milius-Cimino screenplay promptly catches up with Eastwood’s Harry Callahan -- the cop foils an airplane hijack mid-lunch break, his superior (Hal Holbrook) cries "Callahan!" the way Chief Inspector Dreyfus cried "Clouseau!" A charming bit has the inspector caught off guard by his hippie neighbor as a trolley clanks by the background (passengers wave at the camera), although his wry passion is inflamed much more by the adroit target-practice shooting of a batch of police academy lads (including Tim Matheson, David Soul and Robert Ulrich). Ted Post’s virile camerawork gives the supermarket shootout its due viscera, and lays out the subversive themes in the marksman competition where Callahan shoots a "good guy" police-officer cardboard cutout. The notion of "law" is still up for grabs ("...as long as the right people get shot"), but police force has been distilled to the leather, helmets, sunglasses, and Nazi impulses that Kenneth Anger brewed in Scorpio Rising. "All our heroes are dead," the neo-Gestapo tells the hero, who, faced with a magnification of his own philosophy, sounds like James Stewart confronted by eager pupils in Rope. (Spellbound is evoked in the credits, as a .44 Magnum pistol in ceremonial profile turns and discharges at the viewer.) With Felton Perry, Mitch Ryan, and Margaret Avery.
--- Fernando F. Croce