- Movie Rating -

Hopscotch (1980)

| September 26, 1980

Watching Hopscotch is kind of a befuddling experience.  Walter Matthau gives such a good performance that you kind of wish the rest of the movie would get out of his way.  He’s given a part to play here that you can feel fits him like a good suit, but he’s stuck in a screenplay that isn’t quite written at a level of interest?  So, how do I recommend the performance and not the film?  Alas, there’s the film critic’s rub.

The movie is a potentially tasty piece of Cold War espionage, written halfway between Mickey Spillane and one of those beer commercials where Rodney Dangerfield keeps busting in the door.  Screenwriter Brian Garfield would like this to be the kind of spy thriller that sees the genre with a lightness of touch, twisting the world of international espionage into a kind of corporate mentality, with all of the same kinds of boardroom efficiency and professional backstabbing that one might find any another other business.  The problem is that Garfield has the framework but doesn’t quite have the intricate touch to make it work.

Matthau, however, does make it work.  Lessening the kind of weary grump character that he is best know for, here he’s more of loveable troublemaker.  He plays Miles Kendig, a CIA operative at the end of a two years of what he thinks is a pretty successful two-year operation in Western Europe, but is none-the-less called on the carpet by his new boss G.P. Myerson (Ned Beatty), a man who offers a perception of professionalism but is really just a reactionary looking to make his mark as the author of stupid stunts like sending poison cigars to Castro.  He calls Kendig on the carpet for breaking up the Soviet operation not taking out the target, a KGB operative Mikhail Yaskov (Herbert Lom) which was never really his intention in the first place.

Myerson informs Kendig that he is going to sweat out his remaining time doing desk work (read: under this thumb) until his pension comes due, but Kendig would rather face a Russian firing squad then have to work under a such a functionary mouthpiece.  He quits, unofficially, and makes his way to Austria.  Weighing his options, he decides to write a tell-all memoir exposing what he knows about the CIA, the point of which is to expose Myerson for the ineffective blowhard that he is.  This leads that CIA to believe that he is in cahoots with the Soviets and makes him a marked man.  Myerson marks him for death but other seem to know that he’s playing a game.

All of this stuff is pretty entertaining, but it never quite comes together.  Matthau is very good in this role as a man who has spent so many years playing the Cold War games that he wants to spend his remining days on the job having a little game for himself.  But I was never really convinced that he was in any real danger.  I never sensed that the CIA would do him any real harm.  Plus, I never really understood what Glenda Jackson was doing in this movie.  She plays Kendig’s old flame whom he shacks up with to write the memoirs, but she never really seems to have a function here.  Her casting feels more or less like a stunt since she and Matthau were so good together in House Calls.

I enjoyed Hopscotch much of the time, again for Matthau’s performance, but it was never really as involving as Garfield’s meaty screenplay might promise.  It’s a well-thumbed paperback that you might enjoy, finish, put down and not really think about when it’s over.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1980) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized