Downtime (1997)

DOWNTIME is a 1997 British film set in a dilapidated apartment building. I feel like somebody might’ve recommended it to me here years ago, but maybe it’s just in my head because the cover says “MOVE OVER BRUCE WILLIS, A BRITISH ACTION MOVIE TO DIE FOR.” I didn’t really think of it as an action movie, but the DIE HARD connection is obvious: it’s mostly set in one building, and much of it involves elevator-related danger, including climbing up onto the top of the elevator, climbing around inside the shaft, and the elevator falling and exploding. And it’s got a good look to it, with the camera moving around confidently (courtesy of ENEMY MINE and FIREBIRDS d.p. Tony Imi), so maybe there’s some McT influence in there.

But what makes it interesting to me is how much it still feels like something different. While DIE HARD is a pure action movie strengthened by the relationship drama in the middle of it, this feels like it’s a relationship drama that sometimes gets interrupted by some DIE HARD stuff, and keeps trying to brush it off and stay on track. Obviously straight ahead action is my preference, but I appreciate the originality of this approach, and it kept surprising me which directions it went.

It starts with an emergency: a single mother named Chrissy (Susan Lynch, THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH, FROM HELL) is standing on a ledge outside her 21st floor apartment, apparently thinking of jumping. Police inspector Mike (David Roper, THE DAMNED UNITED) convinces his old friend Rob (Paul McGann, EMPIRE OF THE SUN, ALIEN 3), a psychologist who sometimes works as a hostage negotiator, to try to talk her down, though he’s reluctant because he’s depressed himself and afraid of heights.

He goes out onto the balcony and starts making small talk. He seems to assume that being unexpectedly flippant about the situation will win her over, but the theory seems very questionable. She keeps telling him to fuck off and he’s blathering facts about Eskimo rites of passage and shit. There’s a point to it but you wonder if she’ll end up dying of a jibber jabber related eye rolling injury. She asks out loud if this really has to be the last voice she ever hears.

It’s all the more terrifying because her tiny son Jake (Adam Johnston) is behind her, and she says she’s taking him with her, can’t leave him alone. He’s not crying, but is aware enough to tell her not to do it. She says “I don’t want to die, I just don’t want to live anymore.” Fed up with always being broke, owing money, having everything taken from her, not having a way out.

Whether or not it’s Rob’s influence, she decides not to jump. Hands Jake to him, gets him to safety. But as she slowly turns around to climb back into her apartment she slips, screams, falls, just barely catches herself on the bottom edge of the balcony.

Rob is not John McClane. He neither goes right into hero mode or makes a sarcastic comment about how fucked he is. He kinda freezes up, stares at the gathered police and neighbors inside, seems too shocked to do anything. But while we’re back outside of the building watching Chrissy slowly lose her grip he apparently runs downstairs and into the unit below, because he’s there to catch her arm as she drops past.

But the emergency continues! He can’t pull her up. Her hand slowly slides down his forearm, to his wrist, but she’s on the back of his arm, they can’t clasp hands. So instead her hand slides right over his, still trying to hang on, crushing some of his bones, as she says not to drop her. But he drops her.

And this is a spoiler but his buddy Mike makes it to the 19th floor unit in time to reach out and catch her in a hug. I mean, whatever you think of this movie overall, this double fall and catch sequence is a banger. I like that he has to messily grab the back of her pants to pull her up. Most movies would make that last part easy.

Okay, so I hadn’t read up on the movie and before she fell I was prepared for the possibility that it was basically a two person play taking place entirely on that balcony as they converse. Now she’s safely home in bed, not going to harm herself, he did his job, it’s the next day, what the hell is this movie gonna be about? Well, Rob keeps thinking about Chrissy. Mike encourages him to go ask her on a date. He says it would be unethical, but he can’t think about anything else, so he gives it a shot.

He catches up with her on the sidewalk outside of her building. Looks different in the day time, and from the ground. But she’s not happy to see him. She keeps calling him “copper,” tells him to fuck off, accuses him of classism in the way he talked to her up there. He apologizes. He knows he was weirdly dickish to her, even though he saved her life, or at least didn’t inspire her to end it. There’s a good joke where she gives him a sarcastic “Goodbye!” as she gets on the elevator, her voice just dripping with disdain, but we also hear little Jake saying “Goodbye!,” not knowing any better than to be sincere.

There are little scenes with some of the other residents of the building, particularly a group of teenage boys who made a maintenance room into a trashy club house covered in graffiti, trash all over the floor. They sit together with their terrible ‘90s fashion (enormous windbreakers, vests, camo pants, white Calvin Klein logo t-shirts) talking about wanting to fuck the Spice Girls and stuff. (Actually I couldn’t make out most of what they were talking about.) They’re not harmless though, they like to threaten people and start fires.

On another day Rob shows up and tries to talk to Chrissy again. She’s not much more receptive, but at least allows him to continue the conversation into the building and onto the elevator. She’s got her kid with her and an old man neighbor named Pat (Birdy Sweeney, THE CRYING GAME, SPACE TRUCKERS) is also going up.

They don’t make it to their floor before this old piece of shit elevator dies. Yeah, come to think of it, in the opening scene when Rob and Mike were coming up to try to talk Chrissy down they commented on how rickety the thing was. I noticed that it didn’t have interior doors, you just have to stand back as it raises or lowers, so you don’t get scraped or caught on something, which seemed incredibly dangerous. And it’s kinda wobbly too. Never holds steady. Not surprising it has motor issues.

But they don’t panic, so now it’s a single location play again. They’re trapped in an elevator, waiting for someone to help them, getting to know each other. For a while. But meanwhile the teen boys are fucking around, they start kicking electrical boxes and stuff, causing the motor to start up again. It’s not working properly so the passengers are still stuck, moving up and down violently, and the flashing lights cause Pat to have an epilectic seizure. So now they start panicking. And they don’t even know that the elevator room has caught on fire. Teens, man.

So I guess this is the part where Bruce Willis is requested to move over. I still don’t consider it an action movie, because there’s nobody trying to kill them (except poverty), but they’re in danger, there is a death, etc. There are two particularly effective sequences that made me wince. In one of them the elevator lowers when Rob is trying to climb out, and it seems like it’s going to crush him. In another, Chrissy tries to climb down the cable, telling a story all the way down so that Jake (left above with asthmatic, ailing Rob) will stay calm. She doesn’t notice, but we do, that a piece of the cable is split below her. But the closer she gets the less I worry it’s going to break and the more I worry what it will do to her hand. What it does is bad enough to splatter blood onto her face!

Before/between some of this stuff, Rob and Chrissy converse, and warm to each other. At first when Rob talks about his son dying and his wife leaving him, she tells him to fuck off again, accuses him of trying to have a my-life-is-sad Olympics. But eventually they’re in a place where he can tell her more about it and she can sympathize. And she’s also able to smile at him and at least laugh when he asks if they get through this if they can have a real date “at ground level.” But she says they make no sense together, they’re nothing alike, and she says “we’re not even opposites,” so he’s unable to cite the Paula Abdul/MC Skat Kat precedent.

The next surprise is that they get safely out of the elevator and there’s still 15 minutes left. So where does it go now? I will SPOILER it for you if you want. They both go to recover in the hospital, but nice old Pat died in that elevator, and his son Jimmy (Tom Georgeson, A FISH CALLED WANDA), who also lives in the building, gets it in his head that it was Chrissy’s fault. And he shows up at the hospital wearing a weathered Union Jack t-shirt and toting a shotgun. Also the teens start a fire in the hospital but nothing really becomes of that, the important part is the standoff, and Rob returning to his role of hostage negotiator. The way it all wraps up is a bit befuddling to me, but I respect that it does end as a romance. The two actors have a good chemistry, they look at each other so adoringly, and they’ve been through alot together, why not? It’s weird, but I think it’s earned.

DOWNTIME is the feature debut of director Bharat Nalluri, which brings me to the reason I watched it. Recently a trailer came out that proved that somehow, some way, they actually really for real this time did a remake of THE CROW. And that reminded me to do something I’d been thinking about for years, revisit THE CROWs part 2 and 3. I have a decent write up of the original THE CROW that I did in 2009, and a better one for THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS (from my 2017 series Summer Flings), but I haven’t seen THE CROW: SALVATION since I reviewed it for The Ain’t It Cool News in 2001, and I never got around to THE CROW: WICKED PRAYER. So now I’m gonna do it.

And Nalluri happens to be the guy who directed THE CROW: SALVATION. But first I foolishly watched his second movie, KILLING TIME (1998), a still-only-on-VHS action movie that had caught my eye before with its sleek lady assassin on the cover, dual-welding in a black catsuit in front of a white void. Seemed promising.

Unfortunately, that one was boring as shit. It’s about a lady who’s hired to I guess kill someone, which she eventually gets around to. There are many scenes of her just walking around though, with these skinhead guys in a van following her around and yammering, the adult version of the doofuses in this one, but with way more screen time. I think maybe it’s trying to do a Guy Ritchie thing, but there’s just not enough excitement for me. A real bummer to watch. How was that the guy they thought would make a good CROW movie?

Now that I’ve seen DOWNTIME it makes more sense. Not that it has much to do with THE CROW, but at least there’s an urban atmosphere, a grittiness, and some well executed action sequences. I can see why he seemed promising.

This entry was posted on Monday, April 1st, 2024 at 7:16 am and is filed under Reviews, Action, Drama, Romance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

4 Responses to “Downtime (1997)”

  1. Never heard of that one, but it sounds good. I know Nalluri mostly as a British TV director, which I guess is where he landed after his CROW movie.

  2. I’m working from home today so I popped this one on while I did some mindless stuff. It really tried to lose me at the beginning. I almost couldn’t get past the fact that this woman just tried to kill not just herself, but also her kid and there were no consequences. I’m sure things are different in the UK than they are here, but really? Nothing? Here she would’ve been put on a 3 day psych hold and her kid would be immediately taken away and it would be a helluva fight to get him back. Then every moment spent with those shithead kids made me want to kill myself. Especially when thinking they probably accurately represented certain shithead kids the world over.

    Then the action kicked in and the two lead actor’s chemistry kicked in and they reeled me back in. The action beats were quite suspenseful and the two actors did a great job at making two kind of unlikeable characters likeable.

  3. I’m a Doctor Who nerd, so you had me at “Paul McGann.” I also recognize Nalluri’s name from British TV like Hustle and Life on Mars. Didn’t realize he made a CROW. (WICKED PRAYER is the only CROW I’ve ever seen, and all I remember is that it’s terrible. Good luck.)

  4. A weird bit of trivia about WICKED PRAYER is that it is based on a pre-existing CROW novel. You remember how in the 90s you used to see STAR TREK novels and X-FILES novels and shit that weren’t novelizations but new side stories for the paperback and audio cassette formats, and I think it went all the way into DEXTER and HOMELAND and probably through to the current day. Well, WICKED PRAYER was a CROW novel. And they decided to adapt it into a CROW sequel, like if STAR WARS VII had been HEIR TO THE EMPIRE or of BLADE RUNNER 2049 had been based on BLADE RUNNER 2: THE EDGE OF HUMAN. As far as I know, this is the one and only time something like this has happened.

    It also has a weirdly impressive cast, at least if you are impressed by having previously heard of someone; Edward Furlong, David Boreanaz, Tara Reid, Dennis Hopper, Macy Gray (does not sing), Emmanuelle Chriqui and Danny Trejo.

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