Starring: Reed Birney, Sheree Wilson, Bruce Campbell
RENALDO – “I’ve never seen you here before. I like that in a woman.”
WOMAN – “You’re cute.”
RENALDO – “Heh, keep talking baby. Maybe you’ll tell me something I don’t know.”
As far as unknown movies by popular filmmakers go, Crimewave is a double whammy of forgotten history. To many a film directed by Sam Raimi and written by the Coen Brothers would be a match made in heaven, but in fact it already happened with Crimewave. So why has a film with such a pedigree been lost in time, all but vanished after 26 years? Because Raimi and co-producer Bruce Campbell despised it.
The plan sounded great at first. After the huge success of The Evil Dead, young filmmaker Raimi decided that Crimewave was to be his next film. As with Evil Dead he rounded up all his friends – actor Bruce Campbell, editor Kaye Davis, composer Joe DoLuca, but this time he signed a deal with a big film studio so he wouldn’t have to worry about a budget anymore.
Eventually the studio muscled in and made changes Raimi wasn’t happy with – they kicked out Davis and DoLuca and replaced them with staff of their own choosing, and Bruce Campbell was removed from the lead role, a move that pissed off Raimi immensely. What’s more, the two lead actors brought in by the studio were, according to Campbell in his autobiography years later, “coke-nosed weirdo nutjobs”. The result was a film that Raimi and Campbell don’t like to talk about any more.
It’s a shame really, because Crimewave isn’t actually that bad. It’s got an interesting style, with ’40s-style characters, cars and interiors set against a story involving a security camera business in 1980s Detroit. It’s continually messing with your head as you try to place it in the right era, until you realise it isn’t supposed to have one.
The plot may seem complex (it’s the Coens after all) but it’s actually pretty easy to follow since it crams in all the story in the first 15 minutes or so. In brief: a co-owner of a security firm realises his partner is selling the business to a sleazy heel called Renaldo (Campbell), so he hires two goons to kill him. After a mix-up the goons kill the co-owner too, then go after his wife who was spying on them from across the street. Meanwhile, a hopeless nerd (Birney) is trying to chat up a beautiful woman (Wilson) but she’s after the heel who’s buying the company.
In reality, all that is just an excuse for loads of ridiculous slapstick comedy that will be familiar to anyone who remembers the sillier scenes from The Evil Dead. While a lot of the acting is of a fairly low standard and some of the special effects are hokey at best, there are plenty of clever and funny moments here to have you smiling a few times throughout. One fantastic scene in particular has a woman being chased into the security shop and through the “safest hallway in the world”, which soon becomes a surreal ballet of colours and doors. Here, watch it for yourself and tell me this isn’t an amazing scene:
While I’ve already said that the performances are a little shaky, there’s one very obvious exception to this in the form of the magnificent Bruce Campbell. Bruce was originally supposed to be playing the lead role of the nerdy guy who becomes the hero and given his similar role in The Evil Dead it would have been a perfect fit. Ultimately though that pesky studio replaced him with someone else, leaving Raimi to put Campbell in a smaller role, that of the heel. Despite this, Campbell still manages to steal the show as a hilariously arrogant arsehole.
Crimewave is a difficult film to find (I bought a Hong Kong DVD of it about six years ago), and overall it’s not worth spending a lot of time or money trying to get it. If you get the chance to watch it though I’d recommend you do so, because while it’s nowhere near the quality of Raimi’s other films like Evil Dead or Spider-Man, or the Coens’ later projects such as Fargo and The Big Lebowski, it’s still got enough glimmers of genius to make it worthwhile to an extent.