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Review: 'One Tough Cop' full of bad attitude

Web posted on: Wednesday, October 14, 1998 3:03:06 PM

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- The big problem with genre pictures, especially new York City-based maverick cop movies, is that people forget that the fun behind another formula film is supposed to be the subtle twisting of that formula.

You want to see a writer or director bring something new to the table, rather than just marching out all the usual signifiers, then pretending that the movie is powerful because it looks and sounds like a truckload of powerful films that came before it. "One Tough Cop" is only the most recent example. It's powerfully obvious, but that's about it.

Theatrical preview for "One Tough Cop"

Windows Media: 28k or 56k
Real: 28k or 56k

Clip: "Bo gets even"

Video clip: 1.7Mb QuickTime

In the past week or so, I've had three different people offer me unsolicited hoots of derision over the hard-as- Hollywood-nails tone of "One Tough Cop"'s TV commercials. Well, let me tell you, the commercials have got nothing on the film itself. "One Tough Cop" is like a 1970's police movie compilation album. A better commercial would have the clichés scrolling down the screen, soul hits-style, while Stephen Baldwin pounds some uncooperative homeboy's head off the front of a secondhand Cadillac.

You know, something like --

If you act now, you'll get...

  • "Hostage Situations, Privacy Invasions"
  • "(Took Off My Shirt) To Prove I'm Not Packing"
  • "He Ain't My Police-Assigned Partner, He's My Brother"
  • "Just Give Me a Reason, Expletive Deleted"
  • "(You Know What They Do) To Sex Offenders in the Can"
  • "Damn Good Cop/Don't Follow the Rules"
  • "Run Out the Back and I'll Shoot Your Ass (Part I)"
  • "Men in Suits Ain't Tellin' Me What to Do" (duet with James Brown)

    ...and many, many more!

    Though director Bruno Barreto cuts everything together decently, and cinematographer Ron Fortunato gives it a very appealingly gritty look, the script doesn't even telegraph its own plot points. It telegraphs plot points and individual tough guy moments from 100 other movies, and maybe even a couple episodes of "Barreta," minus, of course, Fred the cockatoo (dead).

    The street feel is terribly overpronounced, with everybody one-upping each other in the brutal cop tradition. If someone belts you in the mouth, in other words, you better stand there and pretend that you're not going to retaliate for a couple of seconds before you start slappin' teeth across the sidewalk. Or wailing on someone's head with a garbage can lid.

    Rules made so these cops can break them

    Stephen Baldwin plays Bo Dietl, a real-life New York City cop who, on the evidence of the movie, wasn't much into shaving on a regular basis. Bo, if you couldn't guess, is an individualist, one of those guys who does his job better than anyone else on the force, but constantly gets into hot water with his superiors due to his colorful interpretations of police procedure. His partner (played by Chris Penn, probably best known for "Reservoir Dogs") is a loudmouthed troublemaker with a drinking/gambling problem.

    Bo loves him, though, like a brudder. They've been through a lot together, and call each other "partner" all the time. These guys live and breathe police work, chasing perps down fire escapes and into trash-covered alleys at the drop of a hat. They're also not averse to punctuating a salient point with a quick jab to the Adam's apple. To these guys, rules are made to be broken. They just want to do what's right, and clean up the streets for all the solid American citizens.

    Sheesh. The minute you find out that Bo's best buddy from childhood (played by Michael McGlone) is a Mafioso, you gotta figure his mob ties are gonna bring the Feds down on him. Because the Feds -- scornful spit -- wear suits (or smart business suits when they're women) and wanna play by the rules. Bo ain't got no time for dem guys. He even gets up in one superior's face and bumps chests with him moments after being told that he's on the verge of losing his badge. Man, that Bo is (drum roll, please) One Tough Cop.

    The filmmakers want you to feel like Bo's being unfairly pushed around just because of his loyalty to his old friend, but his fence-straddling does seem a little questionable. I would hope that Dietl's book (which I haven't read) gives you more information on exactly how he managed to be kissing mob guys on the cheek over spaghetti and clams while still maintaining his integrity as a police officer.

    "One Bad Cop" just expects you to accept that he can do it, because ... well, the guys in the suits and all that. They just don't understand because they're not out there on the cold street, drinking bad coffee and chasing guys through rubble-filled neighborhoods. Sidney Lumet alone has made this movie three times.

    Most of the suspect-chasing and -beating arises from an investigation into the brutal rape of a young nun. This was an actual case several years back, and Dietl evidently was never given the proper credit for breaking it open. He's got to be the most put upon policeman of all time, outside of Al Pacino in "Serpico," or maybe the Keystone Cop who always got drug behind the car during chase scenes. This isn't a worthless movie (Baldwin and Penn are both solid), but do yourself a big favor and rent "The French Connection." At least you know for sure that Gene Hackman's character is supposed to be half nuts.

    "One Tough Cop" is full of profanity, bloody shootings, and almost jingoistic face pulverizing. Gina Gershon is also on hand in the completely thankless role of a woman who's sleeping with Baldwin after breaking up with McGlone. When she was in "Bound" everybody said Gershon was a new actress to look for, and this is all they can give her to do?! Rated R. 100 minutes.

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