Director: Lewis Teague
Every stand-up comedian gets a vehicle at some point, manufactured to display their talents in a larger arena than a dusty stage in a two-drink minimum comedy club. Jay Leno eventually rose to stardom by inheriting The Tonight Show from Johnny Carson in 1992, “retiring” from The Tonight Show to begin The Jay Leno Show in 2009, and then “re-inheriting” The Tonight Show in 2010 from Conan O’Brien all thanks to the brilliant programming practices of NBC. Way before all of those shenanigans, Jay Leno tried out another vehicle for his comic talents, which was Collision Course, another production off the Dino De Laurentis assembly line. As film critic Joe Bob Briggs points out, this film is basically a remake of Red Heat, the Arnold Schwarzenegger/James Belushi East-meets-West-fish-out-of-water-buddy-cop- action-comedy where a slob Yankee cop is partnered with a fussy foreign other; this time not the Other is not Russian but Japanese, so you could call Collision Course the original Rush Hour if there was anything original at all about Collision Course. Pat Morita, Mr. Miyagi himself, shares screen space with Leno’s chin as the Japanese detective on the hunt for a “top secret turbo-engine” on the mean streets of Detroit, their partnership summarised by the highly original tag-line of the movie poster: “The only thing stopping these two cops from solving the crime of the century... is each other.” Hi ho!
The first scene has Leno driving a classic car - a ’57 Dodge’ - through the streets, which makes it feel as if the script was specifically written for him what with his renowned fetish for collecting classic cars. So, yeah, he’s driving down the street being cool, stops at the lights, trades some quips with some funky black dudes eating pizza and listening to funk, and then they agree to drag race for $20, and you’re like ‘Woah, who is this cool maverick who is down with the brothers and likes to put the pedal to the metal?’ Then there are sirens and Leno waves off the black dudes to escape while he deals with the fuzz and the uniformed cops are like ‘Hey now, you were speeding’ but BAM, Leno shows off his shield, “I’m a cop, you idiots.” Uh Oh, Spagehtti-O’s! Then he snowballs them with some cockamamie story about working undercover and then grabs the number of the fetching female blonde cop. Classic character introduction there and a contender for MOVIE COP OF 1989! Pat Morita doesn’t really get an equivalent scene; he’s just told to come into his superiors’ office in Japan, ordered to fly out to Detroit and locate a missing engineer who is selling this “top secret turbo-engine” to American car manufacturers. Turns out the engineer was killed by criminals working for a corrupt car manufacturer wanting the turbo-engine to bolster their sales. Of course, the criminals who are played by stand-out character actor favourites Randall “Tex” Cobb (Raising Arizona) and Tom Noonan (Last Action Hero) also wind up killing a junkyard owner who was an old buddy of Leno’s (just like in Turner and Hooch!). This provides the funniest moment in the movie when Leno is told of the bad news and you get to watch him feign sincere human emotion like sadness with his huge-head and little-face, uttering in his helium-addled voice, “He’s been shot?” with the grace of a chainsaw carving up a bonsai tree. Then Leno finds a keycard to the engineer’s hotel room and its there that he meets up with Morita snooping around in the dark for the turbo-engine. Before Morita can say, “I’m a cop, you idiot”, Leno is switching on the hotel lights, pointing a gun at him and uttering the lamest line ever, “Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees!” I look back on my notes and realise that I wrote the word “BROAD” in big letters if you need any further indication of how such classic one-liners are delivered.
So Collision Course was made in the late 1980s and set in Detroit, back when American anti-Japanese sentiment was high with their growing economic power and the resulting closure of American car plants thanks to the success of Toyota etc, so there’s a great vein of casual racism throughout the whole enterprise, not simply the obvious meathead racist cops who call Morita “Tojo” and lines about the dead Japanese businessman like “Do you call a Jap a John Doe?”, but also Jay Leno’s “harmless” rib-tickling with great jokes like when his angry black police chief has Morita in his office and Leno comments that “They’re performing a Kabuki in there with Madame Butterfly” and when Morita is on the phone to his angry Japanese superiors, Leno is all like “Hey, better warn the village that Godzilla is invading!” Zing and double-zing! However, sure enough, Leno and Morita bond over one night of drinking 12-year-old scotch (much like in Shanghai Noon) and they’re overcoming their differences and learning to trust one another and getting into crazy scrapes like a brawl at a bowling alley where Morita confronts the grizzled Randall “Tex” Cobb with a karate stance (in like a wink wink nudge to fans of The Karate Kid) and Cobb retorts, “Karate this!” and bitch-slaps him through a divider. They also crash a city planning ceremony where slick evil businessman and head villain Chris Sarandon is cutting the ribbon for a new community centre in the inner-city and so Leno starts acting like a rogue cop once again by yelling out accusations of Sarandon’s misdealing which leads to this classic exchange:
SARANDON: “What’s the matter? Are you on something?”
LENO: “Yeah, I’m on something... I’m on your ass!”
Then Leno and Morita also find themselves jumping out of an exploding house when bald, gun-nut, psychopath Tom Noonan (the crook who killed the junkyard owner with a “gyro-jet rocket gun”!) fires a rocket launcher at them and chases them onto a cargo train, but not before they trick him with some secret documents wrapped in a grenade that blows him up and leaves Morita to say to Leno, “I think that you have avenged the death of your friend now.” However, Morita finally lives up to the Japanese stereotype he is playing with some grace and some charm and not being Jay Leno when after the three car chases they have at the climax, he stands by the wounded Jay Leno and faces the oncoming car of the murderous Chris Sarandon and Morita does a Banzai run towards the speeding car - it’s Man versus Car basically - and then Morita does a fly-kick and smashes his feet right through the windscreen and crushes Sarandon’s face in, which was basically the best bit of the movie. My second favourite moment was Ernie Hudson playing Leno’s other partner, Shortcut, who refers to one of the criminal’s rap-sheet with this line: “The guy’s done everything except rape Bambi!” Fast forward to the end and you have Leno seeing Morita off at the airport (just like in Black Rain) but they are both in wheelchairs and body casts because of their adventures and Leno gives Morita the “turbo-charger” and bows and then Morita returns the gesture with a trademark Leno “up yours” hand gesture, and then cut to the final split-screen freeze-frame shot of them smiling at each other, East and West united in this partnership until anti-Japanese pro-American sentiment would be stirred once again with the film, Rising Sun in 1993. In conclusion, Pat Morita is dead and Jay Leno is still on television with 84 cars in his possession, which says it all really.