Skip to content

Lynchpin Performances: John Ritter in “Hero At Large”

July 28, 2010
tags:

A Lynchpin Performance is one of the rarest things in film. It’s really two things in one. The first is the entire film is basically held together by one actor’s work. But, more importantly, If you attempted to cast any other actor in that role (Jack Lemmon not withstanding), the entire film would have fallen apart!

So let’s begin with a great example: John Ritter in a film called “Hero At Large” from 1980.

The scene: contemporary New York City, with its still smutty Times Square and questionable neighborhoods. Ritter (still keeping “Company” on ABC television at the time), plays Steve, a struggling actor attempting to do any job he can get so he can make the rent. And, when he lands the part of “Captain Avenger,” a cheesy comic book character turned into an even cheesier big screen action adventure star, he’s not in the film; he’s the stooge signing 8x10s in front of the movie theater, one of dozens of guys hired do that to promote the film around town!

But in a chance moment, when his neighborhood bodega is being held up at knifepoint as he returns from the gig, still dressed in the costume, Steve chases the would-be bandit away! And that’s where the fun really starts. The media pick up the story and do a piece on the city’s newest anonymous hero, and ask… what now, Captain Avenger?

Steve’s neighbor J (played by Anne Archer) is a quick love interest and Steve finds that between the media asking for more from Captain Avenger and in trying to impress her, he starts wanting to take more risks and capture more criminals. But he’s just a regular guy, with no powers, no gun, not even a badge. What can he really do?

Meanwhile, Burt Convy, best known as the nice guy host of the game shows TattleTales and Win Lose or Draw, here plays a sleazy PR agent who was promoting the Avenger movie but sees an opportunity to tie in Steve’s genuine actions with the reelection of the Mayoral incumbent, and starts to arrange for Steve to “create” some events, leading to him receiving the Key to the City in his superhero guise, and turning that event into a pep rally to get the Mayor a lot of votes.

But here’s why this is a Lynchpin Performance. Ritter really hits every note perfectly. He isn’t cliché, when it’s so apparent he could easily have been, especially coming from the slapstick sitcom that made his career. To the contrary, you never feel as if he’s doing something beyond his means or beyond the realm of possibility, and you will follow him every step of the way.

Ritter’s character really was about making New York think about a higher ideal, and that’s where his superhero really takes flight. Even without any major special effects, the shining heart of Ritter’s performance is his simple and kind truth that maybe you don’t need gadgets or superpowers to be a hero. Maybe just doing what’s right is enough. It’s a very real and genius performance that the trailer for the film didn’t quite capture, but the film itself most certainly does.

Advertisements
7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 28, 2010 3:54 pm

    Meanwhile, Burt Convy, best known as the nice guy host of the game shows TattleTales and Win Lose or Draw, here plays a sleazy PR agent who was promoting the Avenger movie but sees an opportunity to tie in Steve’s genuine actions with the reelection of the Mayoral incumbent, and starts to arrange for Steve to “create” some events, leading to him receiving the Key to the City in his superhero guise, and turning that event into a pep rally to get the Mayor a lot of votes.

    This review had me at John Ritter (an excellent tipper and all around nice guy) and Burt Convey.

  2. July 28, 2010 5:17 pm

    I see you, Bert Convy! I was really sad when he died unexpected.

    Also, Dean, I was watching Blake Edwards’ Skin Deep the other day — I like that we both have John Ritter on the brain. I remember Hero at Large vaguely in snippets on cable, I’ll have to check it out.

  3. July 28, 2010 5:27 pm

    I actually had Ritter on the brain too! I caught clips of the underrated “Hooperman” and was once again blown away by his talents. He was also stellar in Slingblade.

  4. July 28, 2010 9:26 pm

    @Snarky’s Machine I wish I could say I crossed paths with Ritter. He really seemed like a genuine great guy and I think this is my favorite performance of his overall, or at least it’s how I’d like to remember him. But good call on Hooperman, a yet another intelligent and amusing series that didn’t find its audience and got the far-too-quick hook.

    @raymondj Convy’s appearance here also makes this film unique, as I don’t recall either him or any other television “good guy” playing bad in a feature film! (and no, I don’t count Richard Dawson in “The Running Man,” because he WASN’T a tv good guy!) Convy is very convincing as a sleazebag! Meanwhile, I haven’t seen or even thought about “Skin Deep” in ages! Maybe it’s time for a Blake Edwards Film Fest?

  5. July 29, 2010 9:01 am

    Dean, I would write about Skin Deep and Victor/Victoria!

    Also, I didn’t realize how much I missed this show:

    I bet Bert, Burt, and Loni used to have dinners together every week in Malibu.

  6. eieioj permalink
    July 29, 2010 10:04 am

    aw, John Ritter….

    I haven’t seen this movie in ages, but I bought it not long ago along with Stay Tuned, which is a bit of oft-forgot cheesy Rittery goodness.

    Guess I’ll have to pull both of these out and watch them.

  7. July 29, 2010 11:02 am

    Yeah, I need to see this. Ritter always seemed to be the most earnest of actors. But while for most people, it doesn’t work, he always pulled it off beautifuly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: