Two-Minute Warning

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Well, it’s Super Bowl Sunday, 2023, which means that it is time for me to revisit my favorite of all football related movies: Two-Minute Warning (1976). As is the case with all my most cherished football films, Two-Minute Warning isn’t about the game or the players. Like Freebie & The Bean (1974), Two-Minute Warning uses a football game as a backdrop and narrative device. However, in this age of police brutality and mass shootings Two-Minute Warning has become something of a chilling prediction of our age broadcast from the past.

Two-Minute Warning may have been released a year after Jaws but it adhere’s to the blockbuster formula of the first half of the seventies. Epitomized by the Airport franchise and Irwin Allen’s disaster films, the blockbuster of the early seventies utilized large ensemble casts that brought talent, old and new, together in a spectacle of survival. Typically these movies revolved around some terrible disaster or crime that would occur at the end of the first reel and link a group of disparate characters together. In many ways this bloated, slogging approach to mass entertainment continues today in the guise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

However, Two-Minute Warning waits for its disaster. The sniper overlooking the football game doesn’t really begin his reign of terror until the two-minute warning sounds. So, for the first eighty or so minutes of the film, director Larry Peerce crafts a tapestry of interwoven narratives while gradually building suspense as we await the bloodbath. Two-Minute Warning is a film of expert craftsmanship. Every shot is held for exactly the right time and every cut is deliberate, all in service of the final twenty-five minutes of the film.

Peerce’s use of POV shots to put the audience in the shoes of the killer is some of the best work of this kind outside of Richard Fleischer’s The Boston Strangler (1968) or the work of Dario Argento. When Two-Minute Warning cuts to the POV of the sniper the whole tone and feel of the film shifts and suddenly a sense of dread permeates every frame. The juxtaposition of the busy, interwoven plots and the icy POV of the killer keeps the viewer appropriately off-balance.

One of the most unique things about Two-Minute Warning is that it is so affecting stylistically whilst being devoid of any really likable characters. But Two-Minute Warning is a clever enough film to know that even an unlikable character, played well, can be sympathetic. So unlike The Towering Inferno (1974) or The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Two-Minute Warning utilizes its all-star cast to play actual characters rather than simply evoking specific types. Of course, not every character in Two-Minute Warning gets a lot of development, but Peerce’s direction and the work of the cast projects a sense of real character onto even the smallest parts. The best performances of this kind in Two-Minute Warning are those of Gena Rowlands, John Cassavetes, Jack Klugman and Brock Peters.

Despite how all of this sounds, Two-Minute Warning is a fun film. Movie nerds will no doubt chuckle when they spot Andy Sidaris or when IRA advocate and leading man Charlton Heston cautions against the use of deadly force. I mean, Two-Minute Warning is a blockbuster after all. Besides, I am hard pressed to think of any other American blockbuster from the seventies that is as effective as it is entertaining other than Two-Minute Warning. It’s definitely more fun than watching a football game.