Cop (1988)
Cop (1988)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: March 11th, 1988 MPAA Rating: R

Director: James B. Harris Actors: James Woods, Lesley Ann Warren, Charles Durning, Charles Haid, Raymond J. Barry, Randi Brooks, Jan McGill, Vicki Wauchope, Melinda Lynch

 


 

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roublemaking Detective Sergeant Lloyd Hopkins (James Woods) isn’t a particularly scrupulous cop, especially when he sleeps with witnesses and prostitutes or openly badmouths his superiors – but he’s definitely dedicated to catching crooks. He has a little girl, Penny (Vicki Wauchope), who begs him to regale her not with fairy tales or traditional bedtime stories, but with gritty details about various crimes Lloyd has solved. His wife, Jan (Jan McGill), naturally disapproves of such talk, but the no-nonsense policeman wants to disillusion his child about the merciless, nasty world in which they live (fearing that she’ll grow up to be confined to a shrink’s chair before committing suicide).

To take his mind off of his familial problems, Lloyd teams up with partner Dutch Peltz (Charles Durning) to tail hoodlums in the middle of the night. But what he really wants to get to the bottom of is a potential serial killer spree, brought to his attention during the investigation of a crime scene in a Hollywood apartment, where a woman named Julia Lynn Niemeyer was brutally murdered – slashed with a knife and strung up from a ceiling fan. Straightforward Captain Frederick W. Gaffney (Raymond J. Barry) has faith in Hopkins’ detective work, but isn’t keen on giving him extra men or resources to create a media frenzy and public panic.

Lloyd looks into a sex ad taken out by Julia and failed-actress-turned-hooker Joanie Pratt (Randi Brooks), who admits that Julia was writing a book about sexuality and wanted to research a professional. He also discovers a poem written in human blood, with a line that insinuates other victims will turn up. On the prowl for links to multiple slayings, he probes feminist literature advocate and published poet Kathleen McCarthy (Lesley Ann Warren) and suspicious officer Delbert ‘Whitey’ Haines (Charles Haid), who headed the investigations on a few suicide cases involving young women – who might have been murdered instead.

The film opens with an amusing title sequence in which a man attempts to report a murder but is quickly running out of change to complete his 9-1-1 phone call – all while credits flash over a solid black screen. Despite a quirky start, the pacing suffers marginally as the film progresses, deviating from the tension-filled sequences of sleuthing to the filling in of backstories for supporting roles – namely Kathleen, whose part serves as a mild love interest for Lloyd. While the attention gives insight into her persona and contrast to the pragmatic flatfoot’s beliefs (and, after some time, a shocking clue to the culprit), it makes the entire film move slower than it should.

To ratchet up the suspense, over-the-shoulder camerawork and blurred imagery in the backgrounds are clear signs of inspired cinematography and framing, further evoking a continual sense of spontaneous action – even when nothing happens. Foreboding music similarly pops up at times to remind audiences of the severity of the crimes, the enforcer getting closer to unraveling the case, or the introduction of noteworthy evidence. Based on the James Ellroy novel “Blood on the Moon” (adapted for the screen by director James B. Harris), the plot is full of seedy characters, paranoia, corruption, violence, a lawman who rubs people the wrong way (chiefly when it comes to his bosses), an aggravatingly idiotic victim, and a cold-blooded terminator whose identity is secreted until the very end. Although the movie is patterned like a police procedural that doesn’t follow modern rules of policing, James Woods is the perfect actor to portray a shady cop; the revelation of the killer is unique (yet arguably flawed); and the climax strangely doubles for the parting cut-to-black shot (while providing a startling lack of resolution). Oddly, the finale is so unresolved that the film practically insists that the important aspect is the journey, not the outcome.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10