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French Connection II - Blu-ray DVD / action DVD review
FRENCH CONNECTION II Rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America curledupdvd.com rating: 3 stars
Actors: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Bernard Fresson, Jean-Pierre Castaldi, Philippe Léotard
Director: John Frankenheimer Distributor: 20th Century Fox
DVD release: 24 February 2009 Runtime: 119 min.
(1 disc)
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen, Blu-ray
DVD features: 1080p High Definition, Aspect ratio 2.35:1, Audio tracks (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 - English; Dolby Digital Mono - Spanish, French), Subtitles (English, Spanish), Closed captioned, A Conversation with Gene Hackman, Enhanced for D-Box Motion Control Systems, Commentary by Gene Hackman and Producer Robert Rosen, Commentary by dir. John Frankenheimer, "Frankenheimer: In Focus," Isolated score track (dts MA), Still galleries

Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) has been sent to Marseilles, France in an effort to nab Charnier, the drug-trafficking Frenchman from the original The French Connection. Doyle is set up with local law enforcement and in his own unlovable style manages to avoid his making a good first impression. Second, third and fourth impressions are also not his thing. To be fair, his contact on the force, Henri Barthélémy (Bernard Fresson), isn't trying too hard to make nice with Doyle, an outsider cop who's stepping on his toes. Henri sets Popeye up with a desk right outside the men's room and puts him in charge of interrogating witnesses and suspects who speak only French, a language Doyle has not even a passing acquaintance with.

Popeye is a fish out of water - he has trouble even getting drunk in a bar, making small-talk with the ladies, or finding anyone who knows who the Yankees are. Soon Popeye makes his presence known to Charnier (Fernando Rey), who has him kidnapped, confined to a hotel and hooked on smack. Seems a fitting way to get the cops to be sympathetic to your business angle, if you ask me.

When Doyle is finally set free, he must detox cold turkey. I've never seen this experience portrayed as pleasant, and this film is no different. Hackman gives his masterful all: the addiction and withdrawal are grueling and emotion-packed. However, it brings the film's pace to a grinding halt (you'd think this would be a good time for Charnier to conclude his drug transactions and get some work done, free of that nosy American cop). After Popeye's recovery, the film runs as fast as it can to catch up, but by this point the audience doesn't quite have the energy to remain invested.

The original The French Connection may very well have invented the rough-around-the-edges loose-cannon cop who knows his beat and all the grinding gears beneath. It boasts one of the most memorable car chases in cinematic history in which Doyle chases an elevated subway train. As in the first film, Popeye Doyle is hard to empathize with - he's so abrasive and argumentative that I'm surprised he was ever able to work well with any one. Roy Scheider's Buddy Russo is missed here as someone who could plausibly work with Doyle (and be the soothing yin to Doyle's raging yang). In the spots where Henri and Doyle should be bonding and working together, Doyle is abusive. I'll give it this: it's unconventional if not quite enjoyable.

French Connection II somewhat redeems itself by the climactic final scene in which Popeye Doyle chases Charnier down on foot. Seems he's often up against public transportation. Perhaps slimming down the heroin addiction scenes would have helped, but they're some of Hackman's best work.
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reviewed by Eric Renshaw
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