Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 13, 2004)
Back before pornography became so mainstream that folks like Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson turned into household names, the field was viewed as the lowest that one could fall. That attitude lies underneath the surface of 1979ís Hardcore, a then-shocking exploration of the eraís sex industry.
Set initially in Grand Rapids Michigan, we encounter a conservative and religious community. The film focuses on business owner Jake VanDorn (George C. Scott) and his teenage daughter Kristen (Ilah Davis). Her church group takes a bus trip to California for a Youth Calvinist Convention, and Jake soon gets a call that tells him Kristen disappeared during a visit to Knottís Berry Farm. He finds out that Kristen was talking to a strange boy at the park before she vanished.
Jake flies out to LA to get involved. After the police offer little support, he hires a private detective named Andy Mast (Peter Boyle) and then returns home to look for clues in her private possessions. Time passes and Jake tries to adjust to life without his daughter. After some time, he gets a contact from Mast. The detective comes to Michigan and shows Jake a crude porn film that features Kristen.
Eventually Jake goes back to LA to check into things, and he fires Mast when he sees the detective fool around with a girl. Jake decides to take things into his own hands, but his methods go nowhere until he takes an unusual tactic. He calls himself ďJake DeVriesĒ and claims that he wants to get into the production of porn flicks. This allows him to become more involved in the world of adult movies, as he meets those involved. The rest of the movie follows his investigation and his further attempts to find Kristen.
I was 12 when Hardcore came out, and I recall that it was perceived as a very extreme film. Maybe my memories are incorrect, but I remember that it was seen as a graphic and rough look at the porn underworld.
Maybe thatís how it looked in 1979, but now it doesnít pack much of an impact. Actually, Hardcore suffers from a schizophrenic attitude. Sometimes the movie shows the porn business as very seedy and dirty. It flirts with extreme pieces like snuff films and occasionally gives us a look at real nastiness.
On the other hand, it periodically comes across like parody. That attitude mostly pervades Hardcore. Porn producer Bill Ramada is a campy character, and the depictions of the movie shoots look goofy. Some of this may be unintentional, but thatís not the impression I get. It looks like the filmmakers meant for most of the funny bits to be amusing, as they show a goofiness that goes beyond unintended comedy. Címon - how can we take seriously a movie that briefly introduces an actor named Big Dick Blaque?
Occasionally the movie captures some seediness, but not frequently. This inconsistent tone makes the flick lack commitment. On one hand, it wants us to see what makes Jake so despondent and desperate, but on the other, it gives the porn scene such an air of chipper goofiness that itís tough to worry too much. The movie never becomes quite quaint, but it doesnít follow up with the appropriate intensity to make us feel the nastiness.
The movie depends heavily on Scott to act as our surrogate, but he only sporadically succeeds in the role. Actually, he mainly does well, as he brings a weary tone to Jake that makes sense. He persists but comes across as a man beaten down by his problems, and Scottís choices in that regard work.
However, his occasional flares of anger donít come across as well. He goes so over the top in those moments that they become unintentionally comic. Scott usually makes Jake quiet and reserved, so I figure he thought the outbursts would present power as a contrast. They donít and they simply produce laughs.
Hardcore examines an interesting subject and occasionally turns into something intriguing. Unfortunately, it indulges in too much comedy to prosper. This erratic tone harms the flick and makes it unsatisfying as a whole.