It goes without saying amid the Black Panthers and 7 Days in Entebbes that Hudson County this year quietly recut its own version of the 1967 classic The Dirty Dozen, casting U.S. Senator Bob Menendez in the role of Maj. John Reisman, a tough guy officer – himself nearly on the skids – tasked with whipping into shape a bunch of doomed would-be WWII recruits.
The contemporary version obviously takes a few liberties with the basic dimensions of the 20th Century adventure tale, which no doubt will disappoint diehard WWII history buffs. In the new, Jersey City-North Bergen-Union City-Secaucus interpretation, Menendez trains the ragtag bunch of guys not for a raid on a fortified chateau behind enemy lines in France – but for his own reelection campaign against Bob Hugin (who reinvigorates the role of Col. Everett Dasher Breed played in the original by tough guy actor Robert Ryan).
Determined to undermine the mission before they even get to the transport plane, the team of crack-ups and cut-ups features Union City Mayor Brian P. Stack cast in the role of Franco, which John Cassavetes made famous in the 1967 version. “They get hot water, how come we can’t have hot water?” Stack emotes at one point, demanding for Hudson the same treatment Menendez allegedly affords others in his political circle.
Stack shines in the role.
One minor quibble, however, is you can barely see him. In an effort to project political people power, Stack’s surrounded by 1000s of Hispanic extras in every scene. It’s fine for the most part, but in the initial prison yard sequence, it has the unintended consequence of almost ruining the entire film. When Menendez hops out of the jeep to undertake his initial grim review of the troops, the viewer is looking for 12 iconic actors playing The Dirty Dozen, and all one sees are 11 guys and then 19,000 people – we frankly lost count – around (we guess) Franco.
Other highlights and observations?
Climbing gamely out of the back of a service truck on Route 9, Tom DeGise as Vernon L. Pinkley has fun with the bit originally played for laughs by Donald Sutherland when Robert Ryan (in this case Hugin) attempts an overly bombastic review of a bunch of political operatives. “Never heard of it,” DeGise deadpans to Chris Russell, when the Republican operative – in a terrific, understated cameo – says that he’s from Jackson, New Jersey.
Then there’s the scene where Menendez pushes Posey (played by U.S. Rep. Albio Sires) to the edge, an unexpectedly raw physical piece of acting by the duo of longtime political allies.
“I don’t like to be pushed,” Sires warns Menendez.
It’s powerful stuff.
Senator Nick Sacco shows his acting chops too as Wladislaw, a role originally undertaken by the equally phlegmatic Charles Bronson. “Killing superintendents could get to be a habit with me,” Sacco avers in the hospital to Menendez in the movie’s final scene. We have to give credit too to Jerry Walker as Jefferson when he runs across the Pulaski Skyway with that sack of hand grenades, and former Speaker Vincent Prieto does a good job reconceiving The Bramble Bush for modern audiences.
For his part, tasked with essentially carrying the movie, Menendez – his own soul evidently burdened by dramas bigger than the running board wars of his beloved Hudson County and the fires of his own trials (or trial), appears to undertake the weight of his team’s internal childlike and puerile strife with crusty, almost rejuvenated relish.
All in all, a fun ride.
One hates to over-intellectualize this stuff. It’s a Hudson County movie, and as such should be spared analysis reserved for art house crap, and yet, cast alongside its predecessor and in the larger framework of American politics wherein grown men chest thump via twitter and never throw a punch, it’s hard not to lament the stark hermaphroditic overtones the film reveals about contemporary society. The original featured a bunch of unmitigated tough guys going after Nazis in a testosterone-fueled frenzy. Needless to say, there was plenty of action. Here we have guys bludgeoning one another with the admittedly less crude but also less macho instrumentation of Facebook.
In the end, as Stack cries out, “We made it, we made it!” it’s a blizzard not of incoming Panzer divisions but of social media muzzle flashes.
In that regard, at least, the movie – which might be dismissed on its face for lacking anything of substance – has real value as an American (or at least New Jerseyan) social document.
Its lack of substance is precisely that observable, discernable – and deserving – contemporary societal substance.
The Dirty Dozen on the Hudson is now playing in local theaters. It runs 188 minutes and is rated R.
The Full Cast:
Bob Menendez as Maj. John Reisman
Mike Soliman as Sgt. Clyde Bowren
Nick Sacco as Wladislaw
Brian P. Stack as Franco
Tom DeGise as Vernon L. Pinkley
Steve Fulop as Gilpin
Jerry Walker as Jefferson
Albio Sires as Posey
Joey Muniz as Archer J. Maggott
Craig Guy as Maj. Max Armbruster
Vinny Prieto as Jiminez
Anthony “Stick” Romano as Bravos
Mark Albiez as Sawyer
Jimmy Davis as Lever
Richard Turner as Maj Gen. Sam Worden
Kevin O’Toole as Brig. General James Denton
with Ravi Bhalla as Vladek
and Bob Hugin as Colonel Everett Dasher Breed.