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52 Pick-Up

Few Americans could hope to build a life as idyllic as Harry Mitchell's. After retiring from the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a combat pilot, Mitchell (Roy Scheider) developed a lucrative aerospace patent, which serves as a cornerstone of his privately held steel company. His domestic life is spoiled with riches as well, with a posh L.A. mansion, a carefully restored Jaguar E-type convertible, and a beautiful wife, Barbara (Ann-Margaret), who's an attorney in the District Attorney's office with political ambitions. However, like many wealthy men, Frank has a secret — one that involves spending time with a much younger woman, Cini (Kelly Preston). But when Frank arrives at a motel for one of his regular assignations, he's greeted by three masked men who show him incriminating photos of the affair, and they demand $105,000 (the annual value of Frank's aerospace patent) to keep a lid on it. As it turns out, Frank's indiscretions compromise more than his marriage. In fact, Barbara just recently accepted a slot on a political ticket, making it especially crucial that he's not exposed as her philandering husband, and that he doesn't get the police involved. Frank also knows that a simple payoff won't end the matter, and before long he works up the courage to confess the affair to Barbara, although he keeps the blackmail angle to himself. But when Frank essentially tells the crooks to shove off, they respond by framing Frank for murder and putting the incriminating evidence on ice, after which they demand annual payoffs, or else. Frank thus has little choice but to go after his blackmailers, whom he manages to ID with the help of Cini's friend Doreen (Vanity), an exotic dancer who's more mixed up in the plot than she realizes. But after the trio realize that they've been made, Alan (John Glover), Bobby (Clarence Williams III), and Leo (Robert Trevor) target Barbara as their next victim.

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52 Pick-Up (1986) is a pretty potent dose of street-level sleaze with A-list credentials, thanks to director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate), novelist and co-screenwriter Elmore Leonard, and stars Roy Scheider and Ann-Margaret. It's entertaining, but far from perfect — emphasized, perhaps, by the fact that the principals have contributed not only to better films, but some legitimate Hollywood classics. Instead, 52 Pick-Up is a throwback to the glory days of Hollywood B-movies, exploitation flicks, and vengeance-tinged noir. All of the basic food groups are represented — sex, drugs, porn, guilt, and cash — and while Harry Mitchell may have strayed from his marriage, it's easy to build a rooting interest in his one-man war, simply because he's a well-meaning soul, he's battling not just criminals but psychopaths, and he's played by Roy Scheider, who headlined the ultimate revenge movie a decade earlier by hunting down a hot-tempered shark. 52 Pick-Up doesn't hang together nearly as well — it's not always clear why Frank can't go to the cops, who could easily put a sting on the three blackmailers, and after he's framed for murder it makes even less sense (what's a little adultery and social scandal compared to a murder charge?). Frank and Barbara even fail to hire private security for their palatial home, a mistake that gets them in hot water not just once, but twice. But cops are for policiers, not noirs, and Scheider does his best to channel Glenn Ford's avenging angel roles in such exploitation fare as The Big Heat and The Blackboard Jungle. Again, 52 Pick-Up doesn't compare favorably to the classics. But that doesn't mean you can't take the color all the way down on your TV and see what it gets you. MGM's DVD release offers a solid widescreen transfer (1.85:1) with DD 2.0 stereo audio. No extras, keep-case.

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