I knew it, I knew it. The minute I start making friends…. You see, Mill Creek Entertainment is releasing all the fun, old Hart to Hart reunion TV movies from the 1990s, and we’ve been reviewing them here at Drunk TV. Well…the response has been overwhelming. There are a couple of Facebook pages devoted to the Harts that think we here at Drunk TV run somewhere between sliced bread and the Second Coming.
That wasn’t going to last.
By Paul Mavis
Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die, the fourth of the eight Hart to Hart reunion movies, is a disappointing outing, to say the least. Broadcast on NBC for May sweeps in ’94, and starring Stefanie Powers, Robert Wagner, Lionel Stander, and a frankly unimpressive supporting cast including Mike Farrell, Vickie Lawrence, and David Rasche, Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die limply shoots for an Agatha Christie vibe, with its secluded setting, assortment of suspicious characters, and bodies piling up in the drawing rooms. However, that familiar construct comes over as derivative here, rather than comfortable and familiar, while its supporting players are either miscast…or just plain boring. Shocking as it is to write: not even Powers’ and Wagner’s effortless charm and personal chemistry puts this one over (yep…that’s how bad it is).
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When best-selling author Jennifer Hart (Stefanie Powers) is invited to the fabulous private Hawaiian island of powerful publisher Alfred Raine (David Leisure) for a three day party, she can’t resist taking along her sponging husband who will go anywhere for free eats: wealthy industrialist Jonathan Hart (Robert Wagner). Unfortunately, just as they’re about to leave for the islands, Jonathan becomes concerned about a possible hostile take-over of Hart Industries. He leaves the investigative footwork to his loyal manservant, Max (Lionel Stander), to discover who wants to buy out his empire.
Once on the island, Jennifer and Jonathon meet their fellow guests and freeloaders, including a chess expert (James Avery), an ardent feminist (Vicki Lawrence), and a health food nut who cheats on his diet (David Leisure). However, Jennifer is most interested in crime writer Frank Crane (Mike Farrell), an old college pal of Jonathan’s who seems suspiciously clairvoyant when it comes to impending disasters involving the Harts. Will the Harts, with the somewhat indifferent help of Detective Whoo (James Shigeta), solve the mystery…or will they wind up dead on the beautiful beaches of Hawaii?
I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die, because it’s not a particularly successful Hart to Hart exercise…let alone a viable Agatha Christie tribute that will appeal to mystery fans in general. Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die pretty much misses the mark on most of the mystery genre levels, and unless you’re a stone-cold Hart to Hart fanatic who has to see everything associated with the original series, it’s definitely a pass. And that’s too bad, because the same creative team―screenwriter Lawrence Hertzog, director Peter Hunt―behind the two previous successful reunion movies (Crimes of the Hart and Home is Where the Hart Is) are back for this exercise. You’d never know it, though, seeing the results here.
The difficulty in assessing what’s wrong with Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die isn’t difficult; what’s hard is trying to decide where to start–there are so many elements you can choose. Story always comes for first for this kind of outing, but this one is far, far too reminiscent of far too many other mysteries. It never jells, primarily because if you’re going with such a tired, patch-worn mystery framework, you had better have some interesting, intriguing characters (or at least compelling or entertaining performers) to buoy us over the familiar patches. And we have neither, here. If the linchpins for the story revolve around the characters created by Mike Farrell and David Rasche, we’re in a lot of trouble right from the start. Bland, boring Farrell (“the man who ruined M*A*S*H!”), an essentially colorless performer with zero personality, brings nothing to the table with his equally anonymous character (we never buy he’d be a friend to the charming, gracious Jonathan). As for Rasche (who was hysterical as TV’s Sledge Hammer), he disappears right off the screen anytime he tries to play it straight. No help is offered to him, however, with the shadowy, cardboard cut-out publisher character supplied to him by scripter Hertzog.
One-off goofs like Vicki Lawrence and Fred Willard (is his shtick one-note or what?) pop up for some unknown reason and disappear completely, and god knows why, but tiny Paul Williams is stuck back in L.A., as a bookie, doing legwork for (obviously ailing) Stander. James Shigeta doesn’t seem to be in on the Abbott & Costello joke concerning his name…probably because it’s not much of a joke by this point. And the sight of Wagner and Powers doing probably the worst Laurel and Hardy imitation I’ve ever seen―not once but twice―only further depressed me (and no, I don’t find it at all cute and amusing to see Stan kiss Ollie).
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By the time the Harts were running around the sparse “jungle” location (that seemed all of about 20 yards long), dodging booby-traps that weren’t particularly menacing (there’s some big oil drum on a swinging rope in the background that they don’t even feature), I wondered what all of this had to do with the previous reunion movies that were so smart and witty, and which were pulled off with a little style and taste.
And then it hit me why I was so disappointed: Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die would have been hard pressed to pass muster as a regular episode from the original series. Why, then, did anyone think it was special enough for a reunion outing?
PAUL MAVIS IS AN INTERNATIONALLY PUBLISHED MOVIE AND TELEVISION HISTORIAN, A MEMBER OF THE ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY, AND THE AUTHOR OF THE ESPIONAGE FILMOGRAPHY. Click to order.Read more of Paul’s TV reviews here. Read Paul’s film reviews at our sister website, Movies & Drinks.