Oddly inert, except when it’s blithely nasty, 52 Pick-Up may very well suffer from mismatched sensibilities: those of grim thriller director John Frankenheimer and witty crime novelist Elmore Leonard.
Roy Scheider stars as Harry Mitchell, a married Los Angeles businessman who is being blackmailed over an affair. The blackmailers – three thugs with ties to the local porn industry – get more than they bargained for, however, when Harry confesses to his wife (Ann-Margret) and devises a plan to turn the three against each other.
There’s a good idea here, but it doesn’t have the execution or the cast.
So there’s a good idea here, but it doesn’t have the execution or the cast. Frankenheimer’s direction is listless – there’s little of the urgency that defines so many of his other films – and Scheider is wildly uneven as the lead. More consistent, though awful, are John Glover and Robert Trebor as two of the blackmailers. Leonard, who co-wrote the screenplay, may have a penchant for colorful villains, but Glover and Trebor give us a pair of clowns.
The only person who seems to know how this should be played is Clarence Williams III as Bobby Shy, the other blackmailer. Letting his wild Afro do the talking, Bobby is the drug-sniffing muscle of the trio and the movie’s only truly menacing character. The only times 52 Pick-Up comes alive is when he’s on the screen, and that’s not nearly enough.