By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Cops on a mission.
Michael (Elliot Gould) and Patrick (Robert Blake) are two vice cops hauling in prostitutes and drug dealers only to find that are being let go without being charged. They eventually realize that local crime boss Carl Rizzo (Allen Garfield) has an inside influence with the police department allowing these criminals to get off. Michael and Patrick decide to turn-the-tables, but this proves dicey as Rizzo’s influence is strong and could cost the two not only their jobs, but also their lives.
The film has a gritty style that nicely captures the rugged street life of its characters. Director Peter Hyams uses his background as a news producer and documentary filmmaker to give the film an authentic quality. His tendency for natural lighting is perfect for this kind of material. The film lacks music at least at the beginning, which is effective as it gives you the feeling that you watching some sort of underground police video especially during the opening sequence. The pounding soundtrack during the chase scenes is okay, but what impressed me was the haunting melody used in some of the other parts that sounded like something you might hear in a thriller, or horror film, but it works because it is an unusual sound for a cop picture. The dialogue is great as it manages to be acerbic and insightful while still remaining realistic.
The first half is hampered by the two’s preoccupation with nabbing a prostitute. I remember watching the old ‘Cops’ TV-show where there would be many episodes detailing elaborate stings that the police would use to nab some otherwise harmless schmuck who was simply looking for a little action. Most who are arrested will go right back to doing it again after being given a light fine, or jail sentence, which to me always seemed wasteful both to the law enforcement’s time and the taxpayer’s money when there are far more serious crimes out there. When the Carl character mocks the two with the line ‘You arrest ten-dollar hookers and think you are Captain Marvel’ I had to laugh and agree. What is even worse is when Michael is off-duty he ends up paying for the services of a call-girl meaning I guess that when he is in the mood himself then it is alright.
The film improves during the second half and includes an exciting foot chase at night inside a sprawling inner-city fruit market. Hyams use of tracking camera shots helps build the tension and I found it interesting that an innocent bystander ends up getting shot and killed as I don’t think I’ve seen that happen in any other police movie. Another chase that happens at the end and involves two ambulances careening down city streets is equally well done.
The cat and mouse game that they play with the crime boss was intriguing enough to keep this viewer interested. Garfield plays the part with his usual hyper-style that makes the character both repellent and human at the same time. The best thing about the film though is that fact that it chooses a somber tone and then sticks with it. Too many times ‘statement movies’ with a downbeat message end up selling-out and become an audience pleaser at the most unlikely moment, but this film doesn’t. I’m not saying that it ends on a depressing note, but it does effectively hit home the fact that police are hampered by a lot of bureaucracy that limits their effectiveness. It also examines the boredom and monotony that can come with the job, which other police dramas rarely if ever touch on.
The film was controversial because of its over-reliance on gay stereotypes during a barroom scene. I was a bit surprised by this because the scene itself is short and the stereotypes shown weren’t too different from other films of the period dealing with the same topic. Michael does refer to them by using the derogatory ‘F-word’, but I am pretty sure that a lot of cops in 1974 used that very same word and since this film was intended to show how things were I was able to go with it. The two also get ganged up on and viciously beaten by the gay patrons that I found to be amusing.
I also have to mention Cornelia Sharpe a former model who had a brief 10 year film career in mostly grade B exploitation pictures. She looks her best here not only during a nude scene that she has with a doctor at his office where she pretends to be one of his patients while really being a prostitute, but also during her appearance in court where she wears a pink hat and dress. I also liked that despite being a hardened hooker she still gives a warm smile to a lonely child sitting in the waiting room.
My only real complaint with the film is that it features one of the tackiest make-up jobs in the history of movies and seriously affects the film’s realism. The scene I refer to is when Michael and Patrick get beat-up by some of Carl’s thugs. The ‘injuries’ to Patrick’s face clearly look like it was smeared on in two seconds with some light red paint.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: February 27, 1974
Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes
Director: Peter Hyams
Studio: United Artists