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GENE HACKMAN RETURNS IN FRENCH CONNECTION II

Dogging the heels of Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle
Something strange occurred while going back and re-editing a long-ago review of THE FRENCH CONNECTION II: A wrong button was pushed and the whole damn thing vanished...

Year of Release: 1975
Luckily, after hitting the back-arrow enough times, Popeye "Lazarus" Doyle was resurrected (with a complete makeover, including new photos): a simple review about an inferior sequel that's actually more fun to watch than the timeless Oscar Winning original because, in this particular case, there's a feeling of sheer unapologetic voyeurism as a thinned-down Gene Hackman, returning as New York's favorite tough cop Doyle, is eventually force-fed heroin inside a Euro-slum while squirming, vomiting and screaming about baseball legend Mickey Mantle!

FrenchSequelScore: ***1/2
Once again we begin in France, and this time remain there. Unlike his New York stomping grounds, Doyle can't get a decent whiskey buzz, finds it impossible to interrogate perps, and is without partner/anchor Roy Scheider, who, that same year, was busy hunting a Great White Shark for Steven Speilberg, and thus become an A-list star on his own...

But the good news is that Scheider's replacement, French actor Bernard Fresson (resembling Vic Morrow just a bit), does a fine job, starting out as a angry, lecturing detective who has to babysit the infamous American until they begin to trust each other's rhythm... In that, there's more of a character arc than even Gene and Roy shared: them being buddies all along...

Changed Partner in Bernard Fresson
The involving cat-and-mouse chase between our ragged anti-hero Doyle and classy villain Charnier (Fernando Rey) is more of a mangy mutt verses lazy lion this time around. Perhaps because a less mysterious, English-speaking Charnier is too comfortable as he meets with American military agent Ed Lauter, while Popeye, during the first two acts, is stuck without a paddle: a stranger in a strange and very unpredictable land...

"Tell me... Did you ever pick your feet in.. Paris?"
Which does merit some excellent handheld camerawork (but never shaky in those days) that suits director John Frankenheimer's edgy style, keeping William Friedkin's documentary vibe intact... Only this time time it feels like a visitor game without much of a home team, and absolutely no advantage for the star player. Meanwhile, scenes where Hackman and Rey meet eye-to-eye, after so much dodging and ducking from their first battle, hints of James Bond verses a snickering and cerebral Bond Villain, taking us out of an otherwise streetwise realism — Rey is far more effective to read in his language than speaking in "ours." And yet, for the most part, the claustrophobic journey of FRENCH CONNECTION II is downright intriguing, darkly humorous, and at times, extremely bizarre. Perhaps it wasn't meant to be enjoyed, but rather, experienced. And for conventional audiences aka those who like a happy ending, the last frame will be much more satisfying than the original's ambiguous cliffhanger. Which has nothing to do with how the real life drug kingpin wound up.
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