Lately I’ve been spending my Christmas holiday time (a.k.a. “sparse employment”, a.k.a. “between contracts”, a.k.a. “freelancing”) working on personal projects such as The Precinct and watching inspirational films/TV. Aside from having bought season one of Columbo and The Shield on DVD, I’ve also bought up thirty or forty cop movies for a dollar each from a local store having an ex-rental sale.
These have so far ranged from student-film quality with no redeeming features to, actually, really good. Watching them helps solidify ideas and a general direction for The Precinct, as well as providing excellent cliches and signifiers to steal. And I enjoy seeing how a pile of films, each with essentially the same plot, characters and look, can vary widely in quality according to the competence of the director, cinematographer, scriptwriter and actors (yes, “duh”).
- Most Wanted — 1976 TV movie directed by Walter Grauman (later to direct many Murder, She Wrotes). Picked it up for its enticing box art featuring stars Robert Stack and Tom Selleck. Stack delivers his trademark Elliot Ness-isms in an otherwise tepid TV-quality murder mystery. Selleck stands around looking pretty.
- The Super Cops — 1974 adaptation of the story of real-life NYC cops David Greenberg and Robert Hantz, directed by Gordon Parks (Shaft). This is good! Maybe better than Shaft (not the music, no).
- SnakeEater — 1989 semi-exploitation silliness starring Lorenzo Lamas as “Soldier”, an ex-Marine cop whose sister is kidnapped by crazed, overacting hillbillies. Lamas conveys charm and intelligence at the outset but the idiocy that follows dampens his natural charisma. Reasonably amusing, but too long. Redeems itself somewhat with a fantastically shitty “love theme” over the end credits which suggests Soldier’s dark path ahead is lit only by the fire in his eyes.
- Reasonable marks also to the French My New Partner (Le Ripoux, 1984), Police Story (movie-length pilot episode of the ’70s cop series, starring Vic Morrow) and Cop Land, Sylvester Stallone’s worthwhile mid-’90s bid for a bit of acting challenge.
- Perhaps best not to discuss such “attempting-to-be-funny” star vehicles as Cops And Robbersons and Loose Cannons. I’ve so far avoided the movie version of Dragnet and plan to continue doing so for now.
Running Scared (1986, Billy Crystal & Gregory Hines), Downtown (1990, Anthony Edwards & Forest Whitaker) and Collision Course (1989, Pat Morita & Jay Leno)are the picks of the bunch as far as Precinct-style action.
Downtown in particular alternates between wit, silliness and actual, honest drama (thanks to the acting of its sensitive stars, and smart editing decisions) in an entertaining and instructional way. Crystal and Hines share what they call actual, real “chemistry” in Running Scared to great effect. And Collision Course is a predictable but fun “East meets West” romp which beats Rush Hour at its own game through the use of lovable Pat “Mr. Miyagi” Morita and Jay “amazingly, much less irritating than Chris Tucker” Leno.
Anybody got any suggestions for ’80s cop action to check out?