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Film / Short Time

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Getting killed isn't as easy as it looks.

Short Time is a 1990 comedy action film directed by Gregg Champion, starring Dabney Coleman, Matt Frewer, Teri Garr, Barry Corbin, and Joe Pantoliano.

Detective Burt Simpson (Coleman) is an extremely risk-conscious Seattle cop whose constant worrying about the future makes him unable to enjoy the present, which has strained his relationship with his wife Carolyn (Garr) and their young son. That all changes drastically when he goes to a routine check-up and a bus driver secretly swaps Burt's test results with his own in order to cover up his recent use of marijuana. Unfortunately, said bus driver turns out to have a terminal illness, which leads to Burt being told he only has two weeks to live. While Burt is obviously upset, his main concern is for his son, since Burt's dream is for him to go to Harvard and Burt discovers that his regular life insurance will only pay out a small amount. His police officer's insurance is much higher, though...

...unfortunately, said insurance only covers "professional damage", i.e. dying in the line of duty. Oh, and did we mention Burt only has a few days left until retirement? Hilarity Ensues as Burt becomes a reckless supercop, much to the confusion of those around him, especially his partner Ernie (Frewer).

This film contains examples of:

  • All for Nothing: The bus driver swaps the cards on his and Burt's samples so he won't lose his job for smoking marijuana. If what the doctor tells Burt's partner is anything to go by, he would not have told the bus driver's boss about the traces of weed due to the terminal illness that was discovered.
  • Angry Guard Dog: Burt encounters one of these outside the hospital after being informed that he's going to die in a couple of weeks. Distracted by his thoughts, he approaches a red vintage Mercedes 220 S sedan, thinking it's his Dodge due to the similar colour and shape. He puts his car key in the door's lock slot, cue an angry barking border collie!
  • Artistic License – Geography: The story takes place in Seattle but when we see the out-of-control bus being piloted by the now-blind driver, it's colors and paint scheme are that of BC Transit, a public transportation company that operates soley in British Columbia, Canada. This due to the film itself being shot in Vancouver. They did get the Washington state license plates right, though.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: An otherwise-healthy cop suddenly having a terminal illness with two weeks to live? Surely, someone would've consulted for a second opinion.
    • Not to mention the doctors would probably have warned any supervising authorities of the cop immediately about that detail, who would probably have suspended or immediately retired the cop on grounds of being a liability (absolute best case scenario they would have assigned the cop to desk duty for whatever time he's got left on the service), which probably would have led to a much shorter film.
    • Also, urine samples are never left unattended; upon being handed the sample, a nurse immediately puts it through a small door where a lab technician takes the sample and prepares it for testing.
    • Also also, autotoxia hemotosa is not a real disease; an immune system producing white blood cells that attack healthy red blood cells due to mistaking them for an invading virus is the result of autoimmune hemolytic anemia which can lead to sickle cell disease which is what actually causes the internal organs to start suffocating.
  • Badass Driver: Burt becomes one. Justified because he has got little to lose. Also, the driver of the car he chases.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The scene on a scaffold ends with Burt falling off and then cuts to the funeral of a man, "who served the city well" as the priest says. Half a minute later Burt is shown, telling his son the deceased is the bus driver.
  • Blatant Lies: While Burt is waiting to be called in for a urine test, a bus driver asks him and his partner if the joint he smoked a couple ago would show up since his company sprung the test on him. When Burt tells him yes, the bus driver asks how he knows that. Burt flashes his badge and the bus driver chuckles nervously and says "Of course, I didn't ACTUALLY smoke a joint a few days ago..."
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: If the bus driver hadn't been so drastic in hiding his use of marijuana, this movie would've ended right away.
  • Cowboy Cop: Burt goes to extreme lengths to try and get himself killed in the line of duty so his family gets a bigger insurance payout. His attempt at getting two gang members to kill him in a car chase comes across to them as him being such a crazed cop, who will stop at NOTHING to catch them, that they actually get scared at him. Even the film's Big Bad yells at him that he's crazy and to leave him alone.
  • Death Seeker: Because Burt realizes his life insurance policy will only guarantee a big payout if he dies in the line of duty, he takes on every dangerous call that comes his way in the hopes of getting killed.
  • Do Wrong, Right: The car chase ends with Burt intentionally parking his car in front off the gangsters' car in order to egg the driver into ramming into him at high speed. While he managed to accomplish that much, after their car crashes, Burt climbs out of his wreck and, annoyed he's still alive, yells "Can't you idiots do anything right?!"
  • Drives Like Crazy:
    • In a high speed chase, Burt overtakes all police cars during a regular chase, has his car rammed and riddled with bullets, rolls it over, still drives on in all-out kamikaze mode and finally "wins" the chase by having the gangsters T-bone his car at full throttle.
    • One of the latter scenes showcases that the man who is actually dying of the condition Burt was mistaken to have, who is a bus driver, was struck blind (one of the condition's symptoms) while he was doing his route. Meaning that he's swerving his bus like a complete maniac all over the street with the passengers holding on for dear life.
  • Flipping the Bird: Burt does the “double deuce” variation to egg on the gun runners during the chase.
  • Funeral Cut: Burt is shown losing his grip while hanging from a cleaning platform very high up on a skyscraper. Cut to funeral, but it turns out to be the funeral of the bus driver who had the disease Burt thought he had.
  • Imagine Spot: Not long after being told his days are numbered, Burt imagines his grown son being accepted to Harvard, only for his mother to tell him he can't go because they couldn't afford it on his nominal life insurance and pension. She consoles him by saying "There's always state college" which causes Burt to snap out of his reverie in a panic.
  • Impossible Insurance: Well, impossible for Burt. Most of the film's plot happens because it will only pay the complete amount if he is killed in the line of duty.
  • Last Day to Live: Between his attempts at suicide, Burt manages to reconnect with his family and fulfill his dream of getting a classic Mustang.
  • Lemming Cops: Burt's attempts to get killed result in him becoming this.
  • Mistaken for Badass: Burt wants to die in the line of duty, but luck keeping him constantly alive regardless of how insane his stunts become have him getting praise from his fellow officers as a devil-may-care Super Cop.
  • Mistaken for Dying: Because of a mix-up of a blood test, Burt believes he has only a few more days to live.
  • Pre-emptive Declaration: When visiting two of Starks' goons in the hospital, both of whom are in traction, Burt tries to get his location out of them. When they refuse, Burt pretends to give up, opting to instead write his phone number on one of the goons' leg cast.
    Burt: Can you read that number? [goon struggles to look] Oh, you can't see from there, can ya... [takes stock of the bed's pulley system] Oh, wait a minute... [yanks down on a rope, roughly pulling up the goon's leg]
    Goon: [yelps in pain]
    Burt: [casually]] That better?
  • Retirony: Deconstructed. After learning of his "condition," Burt is intentionally trying to invoke this, and ultimately fails. At the start of the movie, though, he's going out of his way to avoid danger precisely because he's so close to retirement.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Spoiler Cover: And how. The cover image is actually the photo shown at the very end of the film and spoils the "did he fall or not?!" semi-cliffhanger during the climax.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Burt constantly attempts to get killed by his reckless actions but keeps unexpectedly succeeding and getting commendations.
  • Stupid Crooks: A major reason why "getting killed isn't as easy as it looks" - the criminals Burt pursues are too incompetent to kill him.
  • Suicide by Cop: Inverted, since it's the cop trying to get himself killed in the line of duty.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: After being told that medical files are strictly confidential, Ernie tries to get Burt's medical files by flashing his badge and explaining that Burt is his partner, and the doctor rejects him and explains correctly that Ernie would still need a warrant signed by a judge or Burt's direct signature authorization to allow Ernie to look at Burt's records. It's only after Ernie starts throwing the doctor's files onto the floor, that the doctor relents and shows him Burt's file and explains it shows he's dying. The doctor then asks why Ernie didn't notice his partner was already deteriorating from the condition, this makes him realize the doctor misdiagnosed his partner.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Justified when Burt drives off without his snack in hot pursuit of some crooks. Ernie's reaction is perfect, though:
    "Burt! ...Your yogurt!!"
  • Unflinching Walk: Lampshaded and averted. After Burt successfully convinces the convenience store bomber to give up his hostages and surrender, Burt casually walks out of the convenience store. The captain asks where the bomb is. Cue Burt turning around to look at the store only to watch it explode. Next scene is the police captain presenting Burt with another commendation, with numerous small bandaids on both their faces, along with a shot of Burt's partner, with various uniformed and plain clothed police officers, clapping while having numerous small bandaids on THEIR faces! Indicating all the officers present during the incident were injured with flying glass from the explosion!
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Burt mistakenly believes he's got just two weeks to live, due to his check-up results being switched with those of another man.