Split Second (1992) may be more than a little uneven, and it borrows liberally from better films, but it’s still a whole lot of fun. Tony Maylam (The Burning 1981 – our retro review) is credited as the director, but Ian Sharp (The Final Option 1982) was tapped to complete production when Maylam stepped away. The script by Gary Scott Thompson (Hollow Man 2000 –our retro review) was constantly being rewritten throughout the filming process, which is what purportedly led to Maylam’s decision to leave. This lack of clarity in certain storylines is evident onscreen, but lead Rutger Hauer (The Hitcher 1986 – our retro review) and some inspired production design muscle the film to a satisfying conclusion. May 1, 2022, marks the film’s thirtieth anniversary. Let’s take a look back, shall we?
In the far-flung future of 2008, climate change has left London partially flooded with the added bonus of an explosion in the rat population. On its grimy, waterlogged streets, loose cannon homicide detective Harley Stone (Hauer, just this side of over the top) is hunting a vicious serial killer. The last time they met, the murderer killed Stone’s best friend and partner. However, due to his increasingly erratic behavior, Stone is assigned a partner. The highly educated square rookie Dick Durkin (Alastair Neil Duncan: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 2011) is the opposite of Stone is almost every way, but he soon proves his worth to him. As the murders begin to pile up, it becomes clear that Stone has some sort of psychic connection to the seemingly unearthly killer.
Kim Cattrall (Big Trouble in Little China 1986 – our retro review) has a sizable role as the widow of Stone’s partner. We also get Alun Armstrong (Sleepy Hollow 1999), Pete Postlethwaite (Alien 3 1992 – our retro review) , Ian Dury (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover 1989), and the always welcome Michael J.Pollard (Scrooged 1988).
As I said earlier, Thompson’s script for Split Second is a little wobbly. Even before the production rewrites, it had gone through several iterations and had actually started life as a thriller with similarities to 1990’s The First Power (our retro review). The main casualties are probably the structure, which is a little clunky, and the motivations and origin of the creature. It feels like the monster should be extraterrestrial in nature, but the film instead veers toward a supernatural aesthetic. On the other hand, the dialogue isn’t bad for this type of film and effectively utilizes humor and tough guy patter. Seeing Hauer deliver lines like, “Well, Satan is in deep shit,” in his curt, raspy voice is sheer joy.
Speaking of Hauer, he carries the film, and it is his performance that covers most of the shortcomings in the writing. All of the performances are solid if a bit broad. Duncan is pleasing as a levelheaded foil to Hauer.
The sets are strong as well. Seeing the actors constantly trudge through murky, ankle deep water truly sells the reality of the story’s backdrop. Stone’s filthy, cluttered apartment is nicely detailed, and the final confrontation in the abandoned subway tunnel provides flavor, too.
Split Second‘s camerawork by Clive Tickner (The Puppet Masters 1994) emphasizes the dank sets and world building, including some cool aerial shots of the famous River Thames, while still delivering some heroic shots of Hauer. The editing by Dan Rae (Candyman 1992 – our retro review) stitches everything together admirably, considering the circumstances.
The creature effects are a mixed bag, although future Blade (1998 – our retro review) director Stephen Norrington purportedly only had three weeks to design it. The amount of screen time it ultimately gets is a little unsatisfying. Explosions and property damage are competently executed. Gore is relatively minimized, with most of it being relegated to the aftermath of the killings. The great Wendy Carlos (The Shining 1980 – our retro review) was originally tapped for the score, but her work went unused. Francis Haines (The Return of the Living Dead 1985 – our review) and Stephen Parsons (Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf 1985) end up providing a suitably atmospheric and futuristic suite that’s reminiscent of Brad Fiedel’s work on The Terminator (1984).
I won’t argue if you say Tony Maylam/Ian Sharp’s Split Second doesn’t completely gel. However, it still has a lot going for it. At 90 minutes, it only meanders a little as the uneven scripting stumbles here and there, but it’s never boring. Rutger Hauer admirably powers the story to its conclusion, giving the effort most of its fun. Though it’s not nearly as polished as Alien, Blade Runner, or the aforementioned The Terminator, I recommend Split Second to fans of those films.