Saturday, August 7, 2021

Jogger, The (1988)

Directed by:
Robert Resnikoff

One of five short films made for Chanticleer Films, as part of a project called The Discovery Program, which offered up fledgling directors the money, talent and resources to make their first film, which was to act as a resume builder of sorts to hopefully help them get their foot in the door in Hollywood. Believe it or not, in most cases this actually worked exactly as planned. From this first crop of directors, there were numerous success stories. Bryan Gordon, director of Ray's Male Heterosexual Dance Hall (which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Short Film, Live Action in 1988), was making a major feature for Universal, the John Hughes-scripted Career Opportunities (1991), just a few years later. Since then, he's directed dozens of TV shows, including, most recently, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Stephen Tolkin made The Price of Life for the program, then moved on to work extensively on TV for such shows as Brothers & Sisters and Summerland. Robbie Fox (The Great O'Grady), went on to script major studio comedies for the likes of Mike Myers and Pauly Shore, which some may consider successful.

And that leaves just two others from the original slate of directors unaccounted for: Susan Rogers (who made the sci-fi short Astronomy) and the director of this one; Robert Resnikoff. It does not appear that Rogers received much work after this, though she was a budding female director and it was 1988 so that, sadly, may not need any further clarification. Resnikoff, on the other hand, was given the chance to direct the 10-million-budgeted horror film The First Power (1990) soon after, which more than doubled its budget in its U. S. theatrical run and also did well on home video. Despite his feature debut being a modest financial (but not critical) success, it was curiously the only feature he'd ever make and, according to IMDb, also the very last film project he has worked on to date.

Considering Resnikoff was already 40-years-old when he made this and Tinseltown has always been obsessed with fresh young talent, the lack of further opportunities could have boiled down to something as simple as ageism. In fact, part of the reason this project came into existence in the first place was the fact it was easier for a fresh-outta-film-school young man to be given the chance to direct a feature film than a very experienced veteran who worked in other film-related capacities for years but had yet to be given the chance to direct anything. And it's always possible that Resnikoff simply didn't enjoy his time working on the feature and / or preferred to go into another line of work. It's difficult to tell. (By the way, you can read more about the genesis of this project RIGHT HERE.)

Cast in lead here is Terry O'Quinn, who was fresh off his success in The Stepfather (1987); a role which garnered him several high profile award nominations plus excellent reviews even from critics who didn't love the film itself. In The Stepfather, he played Jerry Blake (more specifically, "Jerry Blake," as that was merely one of many identities), and here plays another Jerry; only this one an average middle-aged man facing typical middle-aged man problems. He's at that age where he needs to start taking better care of himself. That means, up at 6:30 a.m., throw on some sweats, down a few pills, gag down a nutritious shake ("I've got bean sprouts and carrots coming out my ears!") and then start exercising. It's especially important for Jerry, who's had a little cholesterol problem that led to a little heart attack and now doctor's orders specify he needs to be more careful about what he's doing, what he's putting into his body and how much stress he's under.

Jerry has recently started jogging every morning and set a 5 mile goal for himself. His wife (Elizabeth Ruscio) playfully nags him a bit about needing to take it easy. And he will. Once he reaches his goal. Jerry must wear a watch that monitors his heart rate, though, which sounds an alarm any time his pulse starts to get dangerously high. Whenever that happens, Jerry has to stop whatever he's doing, take a few breaths and start counting backwards from 5.

As Jerry sets out for his jog through the heavily-wooded hills behind his home, another, fitter jogger (played by professional stuntman Tom Morga) starts catching up behind him. The man, clad in all black and sunglasses, doesn't say a word but challenges Jerry to a race. Jerry manages to speed ahead. Then he loses the guy. And then the man reappears, moving even faster, catches Jerry and body checks him; pushing him over the side of a hill. Dirty and startled, Jerry regains his composure, goes back to the trail and continues his jog. But then he's tripped up by a rope intentionally tied between two trees. Sensing the first attack wasn't a one-off incident of path-rage, Jerry grabs a branch and starts scouring the area. The next time he encounters the man, he pulls out a switchblade, slashes his stomach and then punches him in the face. From then on out, it's a game of cat-and-mouse through the woods as Jerry fights for his life against an almost inhumanly relentless attacker.

Nothing groundbreaking here, but this is still a compact, skillfully-crafted short that's entertaining, well-edited, suspenseful and provides a few good jump scares, as well as a typically fine performance from O'Quinn. It would have been right at home as an episode on any number of 30-minute anthology TV shows (this one runs 23). Since these things can never just be cut-and-dry, there's a Twilight Zone-style twist at the very end that makes you question most of what you've just watched. The budget was 30,000 dollars, it was shot in around a week and, along with all of the rest of the shorts, played at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1989. The music is by Stewart Copeland (from The Police), who also did the end theme song "Strange Things Happen."

This and the other Discovery Program (which continued on well into the 90s) shorts were all released as part of a 7 disc, 56 film DVD box set titled Cinema Collection. This is also currently on Youtube.

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