Home Video Hovel: Two-Minute Warning, by David Bax
Shout Factory’s decision to release Larry Peerce’s Two-Minute Warning on Blu-ray at this time is a curious one, given the national climate and mood when it comes to mass shootings. You could charitably chalk it up to an attempt to add to the public discourse, shining a light on a major film on the subject from 40 years ago. That take doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, though. Upon actually viewing the film, the queasiness around it only increases as it becomes apparent that, handsomely made though it may be, it’s nothing more than shlock and exploitation.
It’s Championship X, a major football game that is not the Super Bowl for a league that is not the NFL, and the big game is being played in Los Angeles, at the Coliseum. The early segments of the story are intercut with shots of a faceless sniper sneaking into the stadium and setting up on top of the scoreboard with a high-powered rifle. Over the next two hours, we’ll follow this anonymous killer as well as a handful of characters who will be at the game that day, many of them played by big name actors. There’s Charlton Heston as the police captain, John Cassavetes as the SWAT team leader, Martin Balsam as the Coliseum’s manager, Beau Bridges as a recently laid-off dad trying to enjoy a day with his family, Jack Klugman as a desperate gambler, Gena Rowlands as a woman embittered by the stasis of her long term relationship and many more, including cameos by Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell and Merv Griffin as themselves.
Generic as the footballs teams, league and game are (for copyright reasons, one would assume), Two-Minute Warning is remarkably specific about its location in the city of Los Angeles. The Coliseum and surrounding Exposition Park play themselves with geographical verisimilitude. And the sniper’s morning drive provides useful, step by step instructions on how to get from the West side to the University Park neighborhood. This dedication to realism persists in the film’s best scenes, set inside the TV production truck outside the stadium. Peerce employed real, seasoned live sports telecast directors and producers and these sequences crackle with documentary-like authenticity, even when the characters are interacting with Heston and Balsam.
To his credit, Peerce uses this authenticity to good effect throughout the film, slowly increasing the tension as we get closer and closer to the titular event and the bloodshed we expect to come with it. The problem is that, when it does arrive, it’s just that; it’s expected. There’s no surprises, there are no ruminations on the nature of violence and humanity. In short, there’s no reason for us to have watched the previous two hours. These characters in whom we’ve invested exist only to be slaughtered. Two-Minute Warning is exploitative but, unlike good exploitation, it doesn’t have the integrity to present itself as such until the end.
The transfer here is serviceable. The audio is strong but the colors have a made for television sameness to them. Of course, there’s a chance that could have been creative intent, given the need to match with the football scenes, which were taken from a televised USC game.
Special features include an interview with Peerce and, most interestingly, the network television broadcast version, which includes about 40 minutes of different footage intended to make the film less nihilistically sadistic.