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Art Of Dying, The (1991)

Directed by Wings Hauser
PM Video VHS

Wings Hauser is in this movie.

This is literally the only thing you need to know about The Art of Dying. That’s pretty much my review. Whenever Wings Hauser shows up, you are guaranteed a good time. And when he doesn’t show up, you get confused. A little cross maybe. You yell at the TV, why isn’t Wings Hauser in this goddamn movie?! The people deserve Wings Hauser!

Detective Jack (Wings Hauser) and his partner (not Wings Hauser) roll up to a seedy Hollywood neighborhood. The partner is a sassy black lady:

“What you need is trim . . . juicy trim.”
“Are you coming onto me?”
“I haven’t had a white boy since the high school football team.”

Immediately you think, I like this broad! She’s got some brass! But sadly, she’s only in the movie for five minutes so don’t get too attached.

The cops answer a call about a domestic disturbance and break up fight. There’s a scuffle and Jack throws someone out the window. I love movies where people get hurled out of windows. It’s satisfying to see someone flail to their death in slow-motion. This may or may not have anything to do with the fact that I work on the seventeenth floor.

“Jack, you threw her out the window!”
“What was I supposed to do?”
“Uh, restrain and subdue?”
“Well, she looks pretty subdued now!”

And this is precisely why I love Wings Hauser. He is a ham-fisted actor whose arrogance and enthusiasm renders him incapable of nuance. I get the sense that he loves acting so much — and thinks he’s so great at it — that he overdoes it. Whether he’s playing a loose canon of a detective or a blood-hungry villain, Hot Wings Hauser chews everything in a scene until there’s nothing left. He takes the movie over and makes it his bitch. Even in supporting roles, he desperately tries to steal the spotlight. But there’s still something charming about him so you don’t turn off the TV when he’s over-emoting and gesturing wildly and slamming his badge on the captain’s desk because he’s been suspended for being a hothead.

A sleazy Hollywood director named Roscoe (deliciously oversold by Gary Wentz) aims his camera at a young actor in a red bandana who is holding a gun up to his sweaty forehead. He shakes in fear. It’s a Russian roulette scene that looks oddly familiar to another famous Russian roulette scene. Think Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken. But wait, what’s this?! It’s actually a real game of Russian roulette! The young actor is dead, but the director has the shot. Roscoe weeps happily because “That is the way it should be done.” And not that make-believe playtime garbage from The Deer Hunter.

The director’s assistant goes around town promising hungry starlets a part in  a real Hollywood film. The assistant’s name is Latin Jerry but it’d be more accurate if he were named Gay Jerry or even Jewish Jerry. Together Roscoe and Latin Jerry recreate and film famous scenes — like the shower scene from Psycho — that end in real murder. Oddly enough, their movie is called The Art of Dying. Now Wings Hauser must dive into the dark Hollywood underbelly to bring justice.

The Art of Dying is a solid, entertaining ride. It has something for everyone: guys sawed in half, a man who runs while holding a pizza, the smoothest jazz this side of the 405 freeway, and a pet rabbit on the beach. There’s also a scene where Wings Hauser busts an office of phone-sex operators, which is funny because phone sex seems like something you can do from home. There’s plenty of cringe-worthy dialogue too, including a scene where our hero rues the state of romance:

“I’m sick of one night stands that never end with a girl whose last name I don’t even know. If this is any indication of what the 90s will be like for men, I’ll go gay. I’ll become a gay traffic officer on Santa Monica writing tickets with a pink pen!”

There’s also an extended lovemaking sequence between Wings Hauser and a girl with no last name. It involves strawberry jam, a gallon of milk, and a kitchen counter. It’s less of a nod to 9 ½ Weeks, and more of a case of gastritis. Milk is and never will be sexy, just the way Wings Hauser is and never will be Mickey Rourke (which is a good thing, probably).

The Art of Dying is directed by Wings Hauser. It stars Wings Hauser. And a song called “The Old West” is written and performed by Wings Hauser. It does not sound like Wings. Is there anything this man can’t do, other than act? All hail the Lord of the Wings Hauser!