The Osterman Weekend is a junk movie dedicated to the destruction of as many material things as possible – not to mention human lives (which seem altogether secondary).
The movie begins with masked invaders jamming a giant hypodermic needle filled with poison through a naked girl’s nose until it hits her brain. Peckinpah loves this ghoulish scene so much that he repeats it three times during the picture.
The last thing anybody cares about in a Peckinpah action epic is the plot, but this one is more ludicrous than usual . . .
Four friends who went to Berkeley are getting together for a reunion. Three of them, Richard Tremayne (Dennis Hopper), Joseph Cardone (Chris Sarandon) and Bernard Osterman (Craig T Nelson) are Russian spies. The fourth is controversial TV personality John Tanner, played by Dutch actor Rutger Hauer as a cross between William F. Buckley and Dick Cavett. He’ll do anything for a scoop.
Maxwell Danforth (Burt Lancaster), the slimy head of the CIA, agrees to be a guest on the TV show if this gullible innocent will betray his friends. All of which paves the way for a lot of gratuitous violence that is more laughable than repellent.
The first hour of The Osterman Weekend drones along setting up relationships that never make any sense, piling up motivations so scrambled they defy logic, and dispensing dialogue so undecipherable it borders on idiocy.
The second hour concentrates on the seemingly endless novel ways these various spies and double agents manage to kill each other. By the end, they’ve managed to dispatch men, women and children with petrol, guns, swords, explosives, laser beams, even a bow and arrow.
It all ends up on network television, where a mass execution gets a bigger rating than the last episode of Dallas.
John Hurt, as an anaemic-looking CIA agent called Lawrence Fassett who controls everything on closed-circuit TV to seek revenge for the murder of his sexy wife, phones in his performance from a computer terminal.
Meg Foster, Helen Shaver, and Cassie Yates are the women who look as glazed as campfire girls suddenly set upon by visiting peapods from Mars.
Burt Lancaster dashes off his sour-faced performance between martinis at the Polo Lounge, and Rutger Hauer seems bewildered and hopelessly miscast as he grapples unsuccessfully with both a zonked-out role and a wayward American accent.
Craig T. Nelson
Merete Van Kamp