Two-Minute Warning is one of the numerous disaster films to come out in the ‘70s. They often starred Charlton Heston, and this one is no exception. It may be a disaster film at first glance, but it’s much more of a cop thriller mixed with a dash the aforementioned genre. It deals with a sniper at a big American football game, which is basically the SuperBowl but is called “Championship X” for film purposes, probably for legal reasons.
It’s a bit of slow-burner but you have some excellent first-person shots through the eyes of the sniper early on. However, halfway through when the Goodyear Blimp camera spots the sniper, it becomes this fast-paced, race against the clock thriller. Police Captain Peter Holly (Heston) teams up with SWAT team leader Chris Button (John Cassavetes) to devise some kind of plan to capture the sniper before he causes an unspeakable amount of deaths.
The film owes a great deal to Peter Bogdanovich’s debut feature Targets, which uses a similar plot but is much stranger cult oddity, and transports a psychotic sniper to a drive-in movie theatre. That film came out six years before the George La Fountaine novel that Two-Minute Warning was based upon, so it probably influenced him somewhat. However the late ’60s and early ’70s saw the first big increase of crazed snipers and various other mass murderers killing random civilians: from the mass shooting at University of Texas to the Zodiac Killer, it was in the air, so to speak.
The cast is really excellent: you have Heston on very subdued form, without that many Hestonisms in his performance. Cassavetes is his usual cool self, which was very much his style in the films he starred in to make money for his own movies. Gena Rowlands, who of course was Cassavetes’s wife, appears in a rare role that was not his love interest but instead one half of an older couple who are at loggerheads. I’m sure she got the role because Cassavetes always tried to get her into whatever film he was doing, whether he was directing it or not. The supporting cast is rounded off by some strong supporting players, like Martin Balsam and Beau Bridges (Jeff’s brother).
It’s a very workmanlike thriller that is elevated by strong performances by an ensemble cast to die for—which was how the best of those ’70s disaster films were cast. Interestingly enough, a radically different TV version was released that was reshot by a different director, who changed the plot to involve an art robbery instead of a mass shooting. The film was directed by Larry Peerce, who also made the fascinating but ill-devised John Belushi biopic Wired, which basically killed off his career in making theatrical films.
The disc ports over a 25-minute interview with Peerce from the Shout Factory disc, during which he talks candidly about the process of making the film and also has a dig at Michael Moore over that interview in Bowling for Columbine. However, it doesn’t have the recut television version, which is a shame, because I’m sure it would be an interesting watch.