Best Seller (1987) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Best Seller (1987) is a thriller staring Brian Dennehy as a career cop, who has written and published a few books, but has had writer's block since the death of his wife from cancer. He is doing a great job raising his daughter, but is not doing well financially.


There is brief nudity from Claudia Stenke who is picked up at a bar by Woods. Her breasts are clearly visible, and we see her buns in a distant fuzzy shot.
A bust goes wrong, and a mysterious gunman (James Woods) saves his life by shooting one of the bad guys who is about to shoot Dennehy. Seems Woods has a private agenda, and a history with Dennehy. He wants Dennehy to write his own story, which will be a sure best seller. He worked as a hit man for a rich and powerful industrialist, who fired him. He is hoping for fame, fortune and revenge with his plan. Dennehy finds the man's claims to be dubious, and much of the film is spent with Woods trying to convince Dennehy. Finally, there is a showdown, in which Dennehy, his daughter, and Woods are in jeopardy.

Roger Ebert savaged this film and awarded one star, basically because he hates stupid heroes who can't recognize the obvious. I think it was Ebert, in this case, who didn't recognize the obvious. Dennehy needed absolute proof before publishing a book trashing one of the most important and powerful men in LA. He was also still a cop, in addition to being a novelist, and knew that he was collaborating with a criminal.

DVD info from Amazon

Full-screen format, as well as a widescreen anamorphic (1.85) version

IMDB readers have this at the luke-warm level. I liked it much better than that. Woods created a fascinating character. While clearly a cold blooded killer, he also has a sensitive caring side, his crimes are workmanlike and dispassionate, and he is clearly very intelligent. In keeping with this tone, the film was shot in good neutral light, which means you could see what was going on.  
Scoop's thoughts in yellow:

It's interesting to me to see the way three of us responded so differently to the way that the cop took so long to trust the hit man.

  • Roger Ebert thought the cop was exceptionally dense, and should have believed the hit man's story much sooner.
  • Tuna thought it went down about right.
  • I thought the cop believed and trusted the hit man too soon. At one point in their bonding process, for example, the hit man arranges a meeting at a pistol range, and offers the cop a chance to try his gun. The policeman just took the gun trustingly, and tried it out, but I would have been thinking, "Do I want my fingerprints on the weapon of an admitted professional hit man? Why does he want my hands on this gun?"

So I guess it's all in your perspective, or your sense of paranoia. I agree with Tuna that Roger Ebert missed the boat. The cop never really trusted the hit man because he shouldn't have. The killer may have been telling a completely true story with the motivation being exactly as he presented it, or he may have been telling an almost true story based on a completely different motivation, and there was no way the cop could have sorted all that out from the information given to him. In fact, the hit man lied to him about some important things, so why not suspect other lies as well?

As to the larger question of the film's merit, I agree with Tuna's assessment. It's a solid genre flick with good characterizations from Woods and Dennehy. It is not a high caliber theatrical release, but it will not disappoint genre fans as a casual rental.

The Critics Vote

  • Ebert 1/4

The People Vote ...

  • with their dollars: a loser. Domestic gross $4.3 million.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C (both reviewers). For those who don't like thriller/cop movies, this one will not win you over, but for those that enjoy the genre, I find this a good one.

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