Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 7, 2016)
With 1974’s McQ, we get one of John Wayne’s final films – and a flick that takes the Duke away from his usual Western milieu. Set in Seattle, a mysterious assassin murders police officers in cold blood – and then gets shot by hitman Paddy Samuels.
We learn that the original assailant was a cop himself: Detective Sgt. Stan Boyle (William Bryant), the partner of Detective Lt. Lon "McQ" McHugh (Wayne). With an obvious interest at stake, McQ becomes part of the investigation and also a target of whoever launched this murder spree in the first place.
Apparently Wayne was offered the lead role in 1971’s Dirty Harry but he rejected it – and later regretted this decision. As such, one can easily see McQ as Wayne’s attempt to make up for that lost opportunity.
Unfortunately, McQ is no Dirty Harry - no matter how hard it tries, it feels like a pale imitator of its more successful predecessor. I don’t want to imply that McQ slavishly imitates the Eastwood movie, as both take different paths, but it remains clear McQ wouldn’t exist without the popularity of Harry.
Wayne seems game to play a badass cop, but he lacks the vicious bite Clint Eastwood brought to Harry. While Wayne made his bones as a movie tough guy, he always imparted a gentle sense of humanity, so he lacks the dark edge that we need from McQ. We just don’t buy him as a cynical, no-holds-barred presence, so Wayne leaves a mushy hole at the film’s center.
It doesn’t help that Wayne seems to be much too old to play the character as depicted here. As written, McQ seems like someone who should be a much younger man – especially since the film forces him into potential romance with Diana Muldaur, a woman who was more than three decades younger than Wayne. Even without those awkward love interests, though, McQ simply comes across as a role that would better suit a guy in his 40s or maybe 50s, not a man who then pushed 70.
Even if I ignore that factor, McQ fails to give Wayne much into which he can sink his teeth. The plot seems loose and purposeless much of the time. While it feels like something that should prompt great intrigue – what with dead cops and various forms of deceit – the narrative simply lacks much energy.
This means the movie ambles and wanders when it needs to kick into higher gear. There’s an odd sluggishness to the proceedings, and this absence of momentum can turn it into a tough ride.
At times the film feels more like a random collection of strange scenes than a coherent narrative. Probably the worst of the bunch occurs when McQ plies an informant named Myra (Colleen Dewhurst) with cocaine and then beds her. This feels bizarre, gratuitous and wholly unnecessary.
That factor makes McQ longer and slower than it needs to be, and it helps ensure the viewer never buys what it sells. McQ doesn’t flop enough to be a bad movie, but it seems mediocre at best.