Houston as a Movie Stand-In: The Top Five

Anyone who's endured summer in our fair city or spent 45 minutes trying to negotiate the I-610/US-59 exchange has probably, however briefly, contemplated getting the hell out.

Admit it, you've thought about abandoning Houston altogether in favor of a city with better traffic where you can spend the months of July through October inclusive doing something besides cowering in the air conditioning and watching the Astros' post All-Star break collapse.

Hollywood possesses a slightly different attitude regarding H-town; drawn by lower production costs, they've found a way to use our vast freeway system and slightly-less-impressive-than-Chicago skyline to fill in for other American metroplexes. The phenomenon isn't as commonplace as, say, substituting Toronto for New York City, or Baku, Azerbaijan for Dallas (because honestly, who can tell them apart?), but here are five significant examples.

1. RoboCop 2 (1990)

Although famously set in the Motor City, the first two RoboCop movies were filmed right here in the Lone Star State. Orion Pictures chose Dallas to portray decaying Old Detroit in the original, while the sequel was shot right here (the 4th Ward) and in Baytown. The finale, linked below,was filmed at the Wortham Center, which wouldn't see such robotic awkwardness again until ZZ Top accepted their Houston Hall of Fame honor in 2006:

2. The Chase (1994)

I don't remember much about this one, except that Charlie Sheen's character inadvertently kidnaps Kristy Swanson and the two make a run down I-5 from San Diego to Mexico. Great, except The Chase was shot primarily on the Hardy Toll Road and a then-unopened Sam Houston Tollway (one of the toll plazas stood in for the border crossing). Of course, in 1994, Charlie Sheen had just been publicly outed as one of Heidi Fleiss' most enthusiastic customers, and his acting choices (in Hot Shots! Part Deux and The Three Musketeers) were doing a fine job of erasing memories of Platoon. That said, this trailer - featuring Anthony Kiedis, Flea, and a horny Swanson - shows us a Sheen who had yet to plunge to the depths of 9-11 conspiracy theories and Two and a Half Men:

3. Futureworld (1976)

The lackluster sequel to 1973's Westworld is notable for two things: it's Yul "Don't Smoke" Brynner's last film, and a great many scenes were shot in NASA's Johnson Space Center (oh, and Blythe Danner has dream-sequence sex with a robot). From this prescient look at the computers of the World of Tomorrow, it becomes obvious where Prof. Frink came by his assertion that only the richest kings of Europe could afford them:

4. Arlington Road (1999)

Remember the 90s? When Hollywood convinced us (and itself) the biggest threat to America's security was from homegrown terrorists of the Timothy McVeigh variety and not the Muslim bogeymen they'd been parading before us since the 1970s? Good times. Paired with anybody else, Tim Robbins' creepy suburbanite would seem over the top, but alongside Jeff Bridges' deranged college professor, who can tell? Pearland serves as suburban DC in this uneven Hitchcock pastiche, while George Washington University, where Bridges teaches, is actually U of H:

5. Tin Cup (1996)

Few actors, the aforementioned Charlie Sheen included, were in as dire need of a career turnaround like post-Waterworld Kevin Costner. In a desperate attempt to redeem himself in the eyes of those who foolishly sat through one of the biggest box-office bombs in movie history, Costner re-teamed with Bull Durham writer/director Ron Shelton for the story of Roy McAvoy (Costner), a perennial fuck-off who decides the only way to earn the heart of his true love (Rene Russo) is by winning the U.S. Open in North Carolina, never mind that the Open scenes were filmed in Kingwood. And never mind that this relatively minor offense is meaningless in light of the film's greater crime, namely introducing Don Johnson and Cheech Marin, thereby making Nash Bridges a horrible reality.

-- Pete Vonder Haar

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