Split Second is one of the worst movies ever made. It was purportedly written by Gary Scott Thompson, the screenwriting luminary behind Hollow Man and The Fast and the Furious, movies that, though unburdened by excessive competence, at least have stories you could summarize while drunk. Split Second, in contrast, appears to be the product of notes scribbled on a cocktail napkin. RUTGER HAUER! SERIAL KILLER? SATAN???? GLOBAL WARMING????
You could ask directors Ian Sharp and Tony Maylam to explain themselves, but that would ruin half the fun.
The hook here is a leather-clad Rutger Hauer in a grim futuristic dystopia: “Look, we can sell it to networks to air at two in the morning–if people fall asleep watching TV, they might wake up and think it’s a weird Blade Runner sequel! That’ll buy us at least a few minutes of their time!” Here, Hauer–with touching earnestness–portrays London cop Harley Stone, a trauma-ridden weirdo who will pull a massive gun on anyone at a moment’s notice. He’s haunted by the murder of his partner, which we will be subjected to in flashbacks (they’re sepia so you know they’re happening in the past). Granted, he’s not so haunted by it that he won’t sleep with his dead partner’s wife, an out-of-place Kim Cattrall; his damage instead expresses itself by him stonefacedly interrogating dogs and surviving on “anxiety, coffee, and chocolate” like some kind of psychotic Bridget Jones. Everyone who works with him thinks he’s a violent, unstable asshole–in 2020, it seems like a nod to realism that this doesn’t stand in the way of him a) keeping his job and b) requisitioning an entire arsenal. As the movie kicks off, he’s forcibly odd-couple-partnered with Dick Durkin (Neil Duncan), an Oxford-educated psychologist and astrology enthusiast who does yoga. Durkin apparently has sex every day, a fact you will never forget because, once it’s revealed to him, Stone won’t shut the fuck up about it.
Together, the mismatched partners will bond as they track down… something. It’s a serial killer who removes people’s organs in BDSM bar bathrooms decorated with blood streamers. Aha, it’s a serial killer with a weird, quasi-erotic obsession with the cop chasing him: one of the organs is delivered to Stone at the station. (In one of my favorite lines of the movie, Stone touches the box before opening it and notes that it’s cold. A grim-faced by-the-book cop inexplicably played by Pete Postlethwaite instantly snaps: “COLD ENOUGH TO BE FULL OF BEERS?!”)
…No, wait. The killings are tied into the lunar cycle, and Durkin has elaborate theories about how all this relates to astrology. (The conspiracy-unraveling speech in Black Dynamite is basically played straight here, to similarly–if unintentionally–glorious effect.) All the pentagrams painted in blood–and the one carved in Durkin’s chest, which he somehow doesn’t notice for several straight minutes–subtly suggest an occult angle.
…Okay, hold on. There’s also a science fictional angle, calculated to fit in with the movie’s drowned London trappings. The killer is made up of all the DNA of his previous victims and possibly the DNA of other serial killers as well. Plus Stone’s DNA. Plus the DNA of rats. None of these suggested DNA sources are notably aquatic, but the creature is eventually revealed to breathe underwater and look like the love child of Freddy Krueger and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Stone rips out the creature’s heart and then shoots it as it beats forlornly in his hand. ‘Twas beauty killed the beast.
The three leads escape via a speedboat while Durkin narrates the story as if it were appearing in a self-written adventure serial that there’s been no indication of until now. A happy ending… for now.
It would be impossible to list everything that is deeply stupid about this movie. What deserves the top honor? The incomprehensible and ultimately irrelevant monster origin? The fact that Kim Cattrall wanders around Hauer’s filthy apartment and then eats a piece of chocolate that’s been stuck to the side of his fridge? The way the movie apparently thinks Durkin’s sudden fixation on getting bigger guns is funny enough that he should repeat it several times in quick succession, like a guy who’s worried that no one heard his joke? The extremely random BDSM club? Hauer repeatedly, aggressively asking dogs if they’ve witnessed anything? (“What about you, dickhead? I know you saw him!”) The sheer cheapness of using the admittedly great “Nights in White Satin” multiple times, including in a bar scene where it’s supposed to be diegetic and yet seems to play out over the course of the hours of time Stone and Durkin kill there, as though some morose bartender has put it on repeat?
This movie is unbelievably dumb and–if you like that sort of thing–quite enjoyably watchable, a constant deluge of inexplicable choices played charmingly straight. It satisfies the central tenet of the truly great bad movie: no one’s winking at the camera. For whatever reason, everyone comes across as completely, adorably committed to this hodge-podge of police procedural, monster sci-fi, and surprisingly tender buddy movie. It’s maximalist in a weird, appealing way, with so much going on–and so little of it coherently explained or even comprehended by the filmmakers–that it adds up to a kind of shaggy, comic book-ish exuberance.
It’s bad. It’s so bad. But I have no trouble believing that this is someone’s favorite movie–and whoever you are, know that I’m already fond of you.