You can almost sense the series winding down as the writers almost seem to be running out of villains for Dirty Harry Callahan to face down. “Sudden Impact” is probably the weakest of the Dirty Harry series not because it suffers from a lack of villains but because it has too much going on. There are so many sub-plots thrown our way that it’s almost too much to keep up with at times. Dirty Harry is considered a dinosaur among a new generation of officers who don’t believe in excessive force as a means of justice and Harry almost always faces consequences for his rash violent behavior. It’s almost comical in “Sudden Impact” where Harry does something and the next scene involves some police official chewing Harry out.
After Harry confronts a mob boss at a wedding accidentally giving him a heart attack, Harry is yet again chewed out and forced in to taking a vacation. The vacation doesn’t go as planned as the associates of the mob boss are now intent on killing Harry, as are the petty thugs who got away with an assault due to Harry’s inability to follow proper procedure. After many more shoot outs and failed assassination attempts Harry is put back on the job and sent to a seaside town to investigate a series of serial murders taking place by a mysterious assailant. Harry must now adjust to small town life, try to unwind, and dodge the assassination attempts, all while trying to figure out who is knocking off citizens of the small town. Wow, that’s a mouth full.
In the same time, Harry meets Jennifer, a local town resident who happens to be the serial killer who he forms a romance with, and also learns how to care for a bulldog his best friend gives him. “Sudden Impact” is at times like a traffic jam of different stories and characters crossing paths back and forth for almost two hours, and there isn’t too much tension to go with it. Harry’s adjustment to the town is barely focused on and for a long time the attempted mob assassinations become ridiculous. Especially when one of them is foiled by Harry’s trusted dog Meathead. The only really interesting side plot is Jennifer’s quest to avenge her and her sister’s gang rape by the town’s group of thugs, all of whom ravaged them near the local carnival mercilessly.
Sondra Locke gives a very heartbreaking performance as Jennifer who spends her time stalking her violators and murdering them in cold blood while dealing with her own inner demons and caring for her catatonic young sister. There’s so much activity in “Sudden Impact” that the tension the first three films perfected is somewhat missing, while Harry constantly finds himself in the middle of a violent situation he somehow miraculously escapes. Eastwood is still very good as Harry Callahan, who just can’t relax even if his life depended on it, and when he’s not trying to unwind, he finds himself incapable of living in a more civilized world where monotony is the order of the day.
Thankfully his relationship with his dog is only a footnote in the plot, and it never gets too sentimental. Harry knows deep down that anything and anyone that attaches itself to him never lives long, so he actively keeps his distance from his dog, even if the dog takes a liking to him. While the plot is very busy and predictable with a ho hum surprise reveal in the finale, “Sudden Impact” is still a strong entry in the Dirty Harry series and Eastwood owns the character of Dirty Harry Callahan. It’s not the strongest of the “Dirty Harry” films but it still manages to entertain when it’s not throwing endless sub-plots at the audience. Clint Eastwood is about as slick as ever as the man who does the dirty work no one else will.