Split Second (1992)

2020 #135
Tony Maylam | 91 mins | digital (HD) | 16:9 | UK / English | 18 / R

Split Second

I confess, I hadn’t even heard of Split Second before a remastered Blu-ray release was announced a couple of months ago (more details about that at the end). A sci-fi/action/horror hybrid starring Rutger Hauer is the kind of thing that sounds interesting to me, but the fact I’d never come across it before seemed like a red flag. Fortunately, it’s on Prime Video, so I didn’t have to make a blind buy, and this is a recommendable course of action for anyone similarly unacquainted with the film. I did go on to purchase the Blu-ray, but I can see why others would not. Split Second isn’t exactly in “so bad it’s good” territory, but it has a distinctive quality that will not be to everyone’s taste.

Set in the future-year 2008, when London has been flooded thanks to global warming and pollution has turned day into night, Hauer chomps cigars, chocolate, and scenery as Harley Stone, a badass rogue cop on the hunt for the serial killer who murdered his partner three years ago. Assigned to keep him in check is rookie cop Dick Durkin (Alastair Duncan), and together the pair realise their quarry may not be altogether human…

And if you’re wondering what the film’s title has to do with any of this… yeah, bugger all. One of the working titles was Black Tide, which suits the film so much better. I mean, it’s still not wholly fitting — the global warming/pollution stuff is dystopian-future scene-setting without any true bearing on the actual plot — but at least it evokes the tone and style of the film more than “Split Second”, which sounds like a Steven Segal movie.

Stone Dick

It’s almost hard to describe what that tone and style is, mind. It starts out almost like budget Blade Runner — it’s the future (so we’re told); it’s night; it’s raining; a hardbitten cop visits a seedy nightclub; etc. But then we get Stone’s first line of dialogue, which comes after a guard dog barks at him. He flashes his warrant card — at the dog — and says “police, dickhead.” To the dog. It’s hilariously terrible and awesome in one fell swoop. Hauer doesn’t give it an overtly comical delivery, and so you can’t quite tell if Stone is deadpanning or genuinely offering this information… to a dog.

This kind of almost-a-comedy-but-not-actually tone pops up increasingly as the film goes on, as if it was shot in order and the cast gradually realised how ridiculous it all was. By the time you get to the point where a deranged Durkin is demanding bigger guns, you’ll be cackling. Or you’ll be thinking “what is this godawful crap?!”, which goes back to my initial point: some people will delight in it all, while others will feel they’ve wasted their time on a low-budget no-mark that should’ve been left forgotten in the early ’90s.

I’m the former. You couldn’t reasonably call this a great movie — parts do border on “so bad it’s good”, and there’s much joy from the cast clearly realising it’s ludicrous. Plus, there’s a sense it’s not quite sure what it wants to be. It jumps from genre to genre as it goes on, and even the final monster (designed by Stephen Norrington, who’d go on to direct Blade and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) looks to be a mishmash born of uncertain direction, part hell-demon, part tech nightmare (is that a motorcycle helmet?!) But good golly does that crazy mix make for some barmy fun.

Watery London

I tell you what, though: the underlying concept isn’t bad. This is exactly the kind of movie I think someone should actually spend the money and effort to remake: something with decent ideas and intentions, but which didn’t come off on the first go. Iron out the plot (mixing genres is fine; jumping between them feels “made up as we went along”), smooth out the tone (keep the deadpan humour, up the thrills and scares), and give it a decent budget (this one has a rough-around-the-edges feel), and you could have something special. Especially if you retitle it Black Tide.

3 out of 5

Split Second is released on Blu-ray by 101 Films in the UK today. A matching edition will be released in the US on August 11th. It’s also currently available on Amazon Prime Video in both the UK and the US.

3 thoughts on “Split Second (1992)

  1. I haven’t seen this, I’m sure I will some day. Reading your post though reminds me of my sadness regards how Rutger Hauer’s career went; over the years following Blade Runner it slowly became apparent to me that talent is no guarantee of success, and that actors are only as good as the films they appear in. Hauer was so good in Blade Runner, stealing the film from Harrison Ford, and while, clearly, not every character can be as memorable as Roy Batty, it became sadly obvious to me that Hauer was not getting a repeat opportunity. Indeed, he often seemed to end up in dire-looking b-movies that felt more like straight-to-VHS trash. Maybe part of that was his choice of projects, but I imagine it was chiefly what the business offered him, and it seemed such a waste. Hell, I think his biggest success after Blade Runner was that series of Guinness ads he appeared in.

    Which is not to suggest he was some kind of failure or that he had a poor career, its just that as an LA2019-obsessed observer, I couldn’t figure out what happened to him. I began to realise that, despite my own fascination, Blade Runner was indeed just a movie, and one that flopped, too. Eventually the film got reappraised and less the obscure cult I adored, but still, as far as the industry seemed to be concerned, Hauer was not the big deal I thought he was. I was always rather surprised that Ridley never used him again in something, you’d think Ridley knew he was good enough and could offer something special in the right role.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll never quite understand how actors’ careers pan out — some great ones languishing in obscurity, mediocre people becoming stars… I guess there’s probably a lot of factors involved — whether they’ve actually got good taste; whether their agents are any good; etc, etc.

      I hadn’t realised quite how rough Hauer’s CV was until I looked it up just now. I guess I always assumed he was still appearing in movies of some quality while also turning up for cameo-type roles in stuff like Batman Begins, but… The Scorpion King 4? Oh dear.

      Liked by 1 person

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