San Fran Tan Line Review
By Nathan Garden
San Fran Tan Line Review
In years to come, this film may be seen as simply strange, an ugly, misanthropic oddity, like the fossil of an unidentified prehistoric scavenger which shows all the signs of having died out from stupidity. At best, it will be cited as an obscure footnote in a film encyclopaedia cautioning us to the fatalities of not really knowing what you are doing. For now, however, I am content to neutralise whatever masochistic appeal it may have, and even that is far more attention than it will ever deserve.
Let me set the scene: San Fran Tan Line is greasy, tasteless dross with all the class and sleek of a 1970s car advert, and all the charm and suave of a skunk. But this is not to say it isn’t thought-provoking. Indeed, I quite often found myself gulping, frantically wringing my hands, contorting not only in physical pain but in puzzlement as I tried to fathom what I had done to deserve this. But then it hit me, an answer so obvious that I was amazed I had ever been in doubt. It was not the answer I hoped for, but one which I know in my heart to be irrefutable: if you pay to see a film as bad as this, you deserve everything you get.
A lot of people will be pointing fingers in the coming weeks, but buddy detectives shouldn’t be implicated in the crimes of this villainous little twerp. They just have to hold their noses and sit tight because if justice is done it is San Fran Tan Line that will be captured and locked up forever, sharing a cell with the rest of the felons who so debased their genre and tried to get away with it.
It is San Francisco in the mid-1970s. Hank and BeeBee are cops or detectives (it is never really explained which) who are trusted with tracking down a teen-aged girl who has vanished from a drug-addled crime scene. Over the next seventy minutes, gift-wrapped clues and join-the-dots updates occasionally coax them out of their watering holes to bounce from warehouse to video rental store to seedy sex shop, only to discover that a local kingpin is abducting girls to use as drug mules and transport his stash to Latin America. And it is their job to bust the operation. So, to summarise, two Californian hairballs have sex, and get drunk and stoned several times over the course of a weekend, and along the way get a slew of hand-outs to help them solve a crime. Now that that unpleasantness is behind us, let’s start on the next one.
Whatever their genre, buddy films need a lead duo with a strong macho bond, a common goal, and most important of all, an endearing rapport with their audience. It is with great anguish, however, that we gradually realise that our heroes are a pair of irritating, impish dumbasses whom we hate. I would actually go so far as to say we would rather they died than prevailed. There are several reasons for this, and the first is that they are both unlikable in every way.
They have no charisma or camaraderie, and we cannot be made to care whether or not they succeed. Rather than warming to them over the course of their ordeal and learning to over-look their iniquities in favour of their virtues like we should, we become more and more agitated, spiteful, and restless, not only as a reaction to their idiocy, but to their poor hygiene and hog-like eating habits.
These are not things you can over-look, either. Following them anywhere entails watching them strut down the street exchanging stupefying catch-phrases with hot-sauce all over their chins, or chuckling over a joint while scratching themselves and complaining about the colour of the onions in their hotdog. Worse than this, they seem to have a complete disregard for the task at hand. Despite the time pressure and all the lives in the balance, they somehow always find ample opportunity to binge on junk food, shoot pool, get drunk, and have sex with several witnesses.
With regards to the last point, however, they cannot even get points on sex appeal because aside from their junk-shop fashion sense, balloons of fat hanging over their belts and porn star moustaches, they periodically strip off to reveal pale, flabby potato bodies covered in patches of faded tattoos and back hair. It is even worse that they are invariably squashing actresses who are far younger, sexier, and, we can realistically assume, more talented than they are. Unfortunately for everyone, however, these girls often end up either gasping for breath under the mumbling, hirsute troll playing BeeBee, or taking a bath with the guffawing clown playing Hank, never to be seen or heard of again once their nipples cease to be interesting.
I am not squeamish about films showing the insalubrious, corrupted underbelly of what their cop protagonists get up to off duty. Vice can be a great vehicle to authenticate character, and, if it’s done properly, can show them up for being cut from the same cloth as the men they are trying to catch. The problem with Hank and BeeBee, however, is that because there are so many detours and indulgences, so many irrelevant encounters with conga lines of gigolos, bootleggers and hairdressers, there is no urgency or momentum, and this goes for the plot as well as their motivation. Investigating just seems like something they do in between casual sex and eating, with the knock-on effect that the plot is stagnant for vast stretches, with quite literally nothing happening besides Hank and BeeBee gaining three stone in weight and running out of condoms.
Not to labour the point, but they also look ridiculous, spending the greater part of their working hours encased in bright orange ponchos, green bell bottoms and towering cowboy hats, all the while jangling with their shape-shifting collection of amulets and gold chains. And they don’t just look stupid, but worryingly camp. Indeed, by the time things really kick off and we are force-fed gunfights every ten minutes, when all we have for sustenance is the questionable spectacle of Hank and Beebee fleeing down hallways, tumbling down flights of stairs, or rolling out of stolen cars and scuttling for cover, they look like a pair of gay strippers who are being lynched by their dissatisfied clientele. And I wouldn’t blame them.
Now we finally get to it… The big issue. The script.
It is not that it has been obliterated in editing (vis-à-vie Space…) or that it is grounded in an idea waiting to self-implode (Nero vs Cleopatra). It’s not that it is riddled with clichés. If only it was. I suppose the main problem is that the screenwriter is a troglodyte who learned his trade eaves-dropping in bowling alleys. And the fruit of his labour is a hellish, freakish concoction. Because, besides the debacle of a plot, he has dished up a script studded from head to toe in goitres, bunions and tumours. No event, circumstance or character is immune to the wit and wisdom of the world’s worst double act, with quite literally everything being paint-balled by inane, nonsensical crap.
Take for instance their spiel while standing in line at yet another burger van: “You know sometimes you wake up with a woman and she ain’t who she said she was?” “Yeah.” “Yeah, I got that.” “Wow. Sounds bad.” Or as they ascend to a casino penthouse: “I’m never going through this again.” “Until next time.” “Yeah. Let’s hope not.” Going to the toilet is heralded by, “I’m just going to see a fella about a Texan chocolate watch”, and lighting a joint by, “They’ll taste just like a tofu burger if you smoke it right about midnight.” Every time a female saunters on screen they start limply pumping out insane pick-up lines like, “I bet your cherry tastes better than mine” and, “Wouldn’t you rather babysit me? I could be your baby.” They respond to a condescending gangster with, “You calling me a cracker? I crack worse than your Easter eggs,”. Even the sexy secretaries are in on the act, deflecting them with, “Why don’t you just keep your eyes on the prize, honey? And by that, I mean third prize.”
No one is being cruel here: I’m not asking the script to be an immaculate, genre-busting epic. I’m not even asking it to break the mould: if you have to give me the clichés then fine. There will be no surprises, but it can still be fun, and at least I know what I’m getting. Frankly, I’d take anything over this horror show. But then again, it is possible that we simply can’t win, because even if the script was any good, Hank and BeeBee’s speech is sometimes so incomprehensible it is as if a pair of ogres have learnt a foreign language on a flight, sometimes so stiff that they both seem to be practicing their lines on a dummy.
Had any of this been done with any irony, if Hank and BeeBee’s negligence had been for comic effect, if the script had been written with bumbling cops in mind, this film might have had the ingredients for a perfect spoof. Unluckily for us, however, it’s all serious, every last second being executed without a shred of parody or self-awareness. Everything that could have charmed us into forgiving the rickety plot, that could have been funny, everything that could have been fun is shot up and left for dead while San Fran Tan Line gets to work demolishing everything we hold dear about screwball cop duos. Even the time-honoured staples of car chases and shoot-outs, the traditional breathing space between the intricacies of solving the crime, are so disastrous that we would give quite literally anything for the action to stop and go back to the plot. But no, I’m afraid we have to duck and cover through a blitz of trashy action drivel, where everyone has the keys for every vehicle in sight, and Hank and BeeBee endlessly skid round corners in pursuit of limos, garbage trucks and renegade show-room Ferraris.
But what’s wrong with this? Film-makers who specialise in these kinds of silly set-pieces never normally have to justify their main men beating up x number of bad guys or firing pistols with perfect precision at ninety miles an hour. It just happens: they are the good guys, good guys are better, and that’s all there is to it. Why should I get off with picking on the chases in San Fran Tan Line?Can’t I just enjoy them as the good old-fashioned cheesy action showpieces they should be? I did try, but no. Absolutely not. If any of this is cheesy, it is only cheesy in the sense that it is covered in strange, chalky craters and polka-dotted with blue stains. It is the kind of cheese that stinks so bad you feel the need to cleanse your nostrils with a snort of olive brine. It is the kind of cheese that transforms into a soft brick of toxic waste at the bottom of your fridge.
Now, bad as all this is, what is possibly even worse is that San Fran Tan Line has no idea what it wants to be. This might sound like flowery critical garble, and maybe it is, but let’s talk our way through each department and try to figure this out for ourselves: the dressing room seem to believe they were working on the set of a kitsch disco video, the action choreographer has been lured away from his post on a lousy children’s cartoon, the screenwriter has inadvertently doubled his money and written not only a buddy cop flick but a terrifying weight-loss motivational video, and as for the lead actors, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had turned up for karaoke. No, rather than aiming for something, sure of its target and assured of its skill, this film has simply whipped out a pistol and fired randomly into the air, terrifying all within range and attracting the stern attention of the authorities. But we are the spectators: what are we supposed to do? We cannot commit, we cannot laugh, we cannot believe our eyes or ears. In fact, it is difficult to do anything other than slouch, scoff, and occasionally choke.
I have seen a regrettably large number of bad films, a select few of which have prompted me to completely reset the scale of how I measure and comprehend how horrendous something can be. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this planetoid monstrosity may eclipse all others, however, because it won’t. It will eclipse many of them, but for some, it is simply too small. Having said this, the comparably modest running time of ninety-four minutes might seem innocuous, but after barely twenty you will give up what little strength you have left and let it machine-gun you into the ground because there is no hope. Just accept it, you are stuck in the clutches of a messy, vile creature and no one is coming to save you.
I must confess, however, that despite all the ammunition I have spent on San Fran Tan Line, a mere half of which would be enough to dismember most other films, this review still feels desperately impotent for the simple reason that it is so oblivious to its ineptitudes that no review, no matter how scathing, will have any long-term effects. There is no point even in ridiculing this film: it is probably too stupid to realise. And yet, as bad as it gets for us, watching scene after scene of this pea-brained, balding rodent head-butting rocks and stumbling into ditches, fretfully trying to remember what it is looking for, San Fran Tan Line is always at least as aloof, as dazed, disorientated and gormless as we are.
So maybe it doesn’t need to be locked up. Perhaps instead we should shut it away in an asylum and hope that one day someone can give us a more insightful diagnosis, and maybe even decode which of its unpleasant personalities it really wanted to be all along.