Film discussion

Split Second (1992) – Film Swap Challenge

In our Film Swap Challenge series, our reviewers assign each other films to write about: films that one writer enjoys or values, and the other writer hasn’t seen – and which might be slightly out of their comfort zone! Here, Leslie Byron Pitt is challenged to write about Split Second by Shaun Rodger.

Let’s drop this little ditty into the latest slot of the What the Hell Did I Just Watch? files. If one is looking for a drop of bizarre lunacy to take the edge off whatever strife they may be facing, then this dollop of what in the hell of absolute chicanery may be the biscuit that you need to take.

I hope there will be a time when I’m in the presence of someone of some royal personage, so I can bring up the film in which Rutger Hauer showed a police badge to a dog and called it a dickhead. I would like to see that dignitary’s face. Would it be confusion? Disgust? Anxious amusement? Those were the expressions my face contorted into when watching this American-British low budget production.

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Was I entertained by Split Second? A film in which Hauer plays a maverick cop hunting down a supernatural beastie in a waterlogged, dystopian London? Maybe. I was possibly more curious. I couldn’t comprehend the film’s creation any more than its convoluted storyline. A hodgepodge of police cop drama clichés and naff science fiction, the kernels of a good idea are kicked under the carpet for a flood of half-cooked banalities. Seriously. The main conceit again. Rutger Hauer is a Detective who is hunting the now flooded London streets for the supernatural serial killer who murdered his ex-partner. I see promise there. The reality is my face twisted in puzzlement as Hauer calls a dog a dickhead. Twice.

It is easy to scoff at Split Second (I don’t recall why it’s even called that) because it’s the type of cheapie sci-fi flick that would be picked up by only certain completists in a Ritz video hire on a Friday night. However, its broad, misjudged attempts at humour, awkward tonal shifts, and typical action set pieces clearly place it in the realms of cult. Real cult. And not where we are with the multitude of B-movie shark films which are all far too knowing about what they’re doing. This is a movie that has a certain amount of tradesman craft behind the camera (co-director Ian Sharp directed the action sequences for Goldeneye), and there is a clear earnestness in everyone we see on screen (poor Pete Postlethwaite). They even manage to get the great Wendy Carlos to help with the music.

But lord if this isn’t an unholy mix of McBain from The Simpsons (1989), Alien (1979) and the best mid-level PlayStation video game you never played. Choc-full of elements we’ve seen played out in better movies, the film draws you towards the more bizzaro aspects because of itself. Assault rifles in fridges. Blowtorch lighter for cigars and Ian Dury as the owner of a dystopian bondage club. For myself, I found it difficult not to love Hauer’s character living in nothing more than a pigsty of a disused studio flat but enjoying a bathroom with the best hot water a detective could buy. The shower being the optimum chance for Kim Cattrall to get nude and distract us from her unfortunate haircut. Such aspects helped me forget that this US/Brit hybrid production is released two years before Danny Boyle injects energy into British cinema with Shallow Grave (1994). Something that Split Second desperately needs at the best of times considering its genre stylings.

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The star of the show is Hauer who shows that he was an actor who was game for anything. He’s less chewing the scenery as he is chomping at it as if it’s saltwater taffy. Credit must be given to him as he, along with the awesomely oddball alumni of known character actors handsomely bite their cheeks and get down and dirty with the film’s Red Dwarf level special effects. Forget about the plot. It’s bobbins. It’s best to observe Split Second along with Johnanne Roberts’ Storage 24 (2012) as a double bill of not great but strangely compelling creature features that could get you through a couple of bags of Doritos and dips on a Friday night. Split Second isn’t going to top any sci-fi actioner charts, but the chance to see the likes of Hauer deadpanning lines and half-smiling with a twinkle in his eye in a film that’s clearly below his station is more warming than this review lets on.

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