The Dirty Harry franchise consists of 5 self contained movies without any overlapping narrative. Each movie can be watched without having seen the previous ones, much like the James Bond movies. Over the course of 5 movies the only thing that has changed about the character of Harry Callahan are his partners and the only thing keeping this series from becoming truly repetitive are the original cases Harry is saddled up with. This time Harry finds himself on a list named the Dead Pool: a game where participants draw up a list of (local) celebrities which they think will die soon. The game is played by a film crew shooting in San Francisco, but when people on the list are being murdered one after another Callahan is put on the case. A case which he has to solve before he becomes the next victim.
By this time the franchise really has no surprises for the viewer, unless you have never seen a Dirty Harry movie and you just so happen to be watching this one. Harry, once again, has a new partner; this time an Asian-American who was once a member of a gang and knows Martial Arts because of the unwritten Hollywood rule that every Asian in a movie knows Martial Arts. There’s also a love-interest in the form of a journalist for Harry. She wants to get a look into his mind as well as his pants. Next to solving the Dead Pool case, Harry must also dodge several attempts on his life due to being responsible for imprisoning a head of an organized crime syndicate.
Being made in the late 80s Harry has become such a larger than life character he is seemingly bulletproof. When he’s boxed in by two other cars and they open fire on him Harry not only dodges all the bullets despite being stuck in his car, he also emerges from the tilted over vehicle victorious quickly blasting away all of his machine gun carrying opponents with his trusty .44 Magnum. In a later segment in the movie, probably the greatest scene in the movie, Harry is being chased by an RC-vehicle carrying explosives. The scene ends with Harry quickly putting the car in reverse so the exploding RC-vehicle only damages the front-end of Harry car. Harry hasn’t got a scratch, unlike his partner who is hospitalized after this incident rendering him out of the picture. The movie jokingly refers to how all of Harry’s partners either end up in the wounded or dead and then does the same to his current partner.
One of the more interesting aspects of The Dead Pool is the inclusion of several now familiar faces: Jim Carrey, Liam Neeson and Patricia Clarkson where all at the beginning of their (Hollywood) careers when they appeared in this movie. It gives the movie something extra, compared to when it was released and only had Clint Eastwood carrying the entire movie. Noteworthy is the inclusion of Guns ‘N Roses in two scenes who supplied the movie with one of their most famous hits: Welcome to the jungle.
The Dead Pool is essentially a slasher movie disguised as a police thriller. The identity of the killer is the movie’s central mystery, with all the clues pointing to Liam Neeson’s movie director Peter Swan. These are all red herrings and the identity of the actual killer is a cheat as this character was never a part of the movie’s list of main characters. If you want to do a whodunit right, the trick is to put the perpetrator under our noses and have the clues be so subtle we hit get mad at ourselves for not picking them up. It worked miracles for The Usual Suspects and several seasons of Murder, She Wrote.
As Harry Callahan Clint Eastwood can sleepwalk through his performance and still pull it off. It’s hard to envision someone else in this role of which most of the fun comes from Eastwood grinding the iconic phrases the writers constantly come up with. In The Dead Pool Harry’s catchphrase from Sudden Impact, “swell”, makes a return but he is also given new golden lines like “You’re shit outta luck!” and “opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one”.
Being the final installment it’s kind of a letdown that the movie ends the same way the previous movies did: Harry killing the villain(s) after a final showdown, walking from the scene as the camera pans out and becomes an aerial shot while the end credits start rolling. Having no overlapping narrative also means that this movie doesn’t give the character of Harry Callahan a proper send-off. You could watch all of these movies in any given order and the only thing to be inconsistent is the aging of Eastwood.