Watching The Hand was a double whammy of nostalgia for me. It was one of the first R-rated movies I saw, and it was probably the first time I understood that a movie didn’t have to actually be good in order to be entertaining.
Michael Caine, in full-tilt go-for-the-money mode, plays a cartoonist whose life’s work is a Conan-esque strip called Mandro. (Lots of people trash Caine’s acting in this movie, but I think he gets points just for saying “Mandro” with a straight face.) Unfortunately, Caine loses his hand in an auto accident – learning the hard way that all those warnings not to stick your arm out the car window weren’t just bullshit.
Caine’s loss of his drawing hand tanks his career and more or less puts the kibosh on his already shaky marriage. Most unsettlingly, his hand has never been recovered, and as Caine’s inner rage grows, his severed hand starts scuttling about, frightening the cat, and eventually throttling people who’ve pissed Caine off.
What makes The Hand either mind-crushingly dull or giggle-inducing (depending on your mood) is the way everyone takes the proceedings so seriously. The bulk of the credit for this oh-so-serious tone goes to Oliver Stone (yes, that Oliver Stone) who wrote the screenplay and directed. I’ve never been able to discern a sense of humor in Stone’s work and The Hand is no exception. It doesn’t help that there isn’t a single likable character - Caine’s wife and a student he has a fling with are cheaters, and every other character screws Caine over somehow or is a brainless yokel. Caine himself is never particularly sympathetic, and when he’s attacked by his own severed hand it seems entirely appropriate.
Despite Stone’s refusal to mine the situation for comedy gold, there are quite a few laughs to be found in The Hand. There are the POV shots of the hand (apparently severed hands breathe heavily – who knew?), the numerous is-it-real-or-is-it-a-delusion scenes, the actors gamely thrashing about while being throttled, the faux-artsy cinematography changes from color to black-and-white, and last but certainly not least, Caine’s hair. It starts out nice and smooth at the beginning of the film, and as Caine goes batshit so does his hair, and in the last scene he looks like Gene Wilder after electroshock therapy.
Speaking of Caine, he gets a lot of flak for his performance in The Hand. And while it’s not what you’d call subtle, or even good, it’s still quite enjoyable to watch him walk the line between putting in a halfway serious performance and reveling in the inherent ridiculousness of the premise.
I can sense all the readers out there thinking, “Yes, that’s all well and good, but tell us – who would win in a fight? Caine’s hand or Bruce Campbell’s hand from Evil Dead 2?” It’s a tough decision. Caine’s hand does have freakish strength going for it, not to mention its ability to cover great time and distance. But Campbell’s hand has the Necronomicon on its side, not to mention that cool dagger. Campbell’s hand also has personality, and personality goes a long way. Caine’s hand is just a thug.
Extras include the theatrical trailer and a commentary by Stone (which I did not listen to – Stone is like Michael Moore in that he gets on my nerves even on the occasions I agree with him). Not bad for a film that most consider an embarrassment to those involved.