Garbage In, Garbage Out

If there's anything encouraging to be gleaned from Cops and Robbersons, the feeble new Chevy Chase vehicle costarring flinty old macho man Jack Palance, it's that contrary to popular belief, Hollywood takes care of its own. How else to explain hack director Michael Ritchie's enduring career? Or Chase's? We've all heard that old saw that a director or an actor is "only as good as his last picture." Michael Ritchie's recent "credits" include Wildcats, The Golden Child, and Diggstown. Chase's oeuvre boasts classics such as Oh Heavenly Dog, Nothing But Trouble, and Memoirs of an Invisible Man. It says a lot about an actor when The Three Amigos is one of his better films. Yet neither Chase nor Ritchie seems to be experiencing any difficulty finding work. Another adage bites the dust.

Then again, maybe I'm jumping the gun. Cops and Robbersons could prove the strongest test yet, as it's at least as bad as any of those losers. Everything you need to know about the movie is right there in the title A a trite, arbitrary play on words contrived to support the thinnest of gags. Why is Chase's character named Robberson? Why, so the title can make a play on the phrase "cops and robbers," of course. Yuk, yuk.

If Ritchie continues to garner employment in the wake of this debacle, the case could be made that second-rate movie directors enjoy better job security than government workers. Ritchie got his start in television, directing such intellectually challenging fare as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Maybe that explains why Cops and Robbersons has all the bite of an episode of Perfect Strangers.

Chase recycles his bumbling regular-guy shtick for the 10,000th time. His performance isn't exactly bad; it's just that he keeps playing the same part over and over. But we reviewers have to be careful not to criticize too harshly; none of us wants to be responsible for encouraging Chase to leave acting to host another talk show.

The Saturday Night Live alumnus plays Norman Robberson, a mild-mannered accountant and devoted father with one little quirk: He's addicted to TV cop shows and fantasizes about being a crime-buster himself. He gets his chance when a murderous mobster (Robert Davi A what a stretch!) moves into the house next door. Davi is being monitored by a gruff-but-lovable veteran cop portrayed by Jack Palance. (Apparently the filmmakers never saw Paddy Chayefsky's 1976 masterpiece, Network, in which the hapless production assistant played by Conchata Ferrell pitches hackneyed story idea after hackneyed story idea to jaded programmer Faye Dunaway, who rejects them because they all revolve around gruff-but-lovable protagonists.) Palance invests the part with all the subtlety you might expect from a man who would resort to grinding out one-armed pushups in the middle of an Academy Awards telecast to prove his virility. Ritchie has gone so far as to include a postscript whereby Palance gets a chance to reprise this dubious display of manliness.

Chase persuades Palance to move into Chase's house to better keep an eye on Davi. Against his better judgment, the cop agrees. The usual high jinks ensue. Chase nearly blows the stakeout by trying to infiltrate Davi's residence on his own. He succeeds only in raising the mobster's suspicions, which irritates the irascible tough guy, who responds by threatening to shoot Chase if he ever does anything that foolhardy again. The filmmakers resort to this "I'll shoot you myself if you ever do that again" joke more than once. It's a pathetic spectacle.

Davi's character is conveniently absent throughout the entire second act. Instead the story develops the relationship between Chase's kids and Palance. In a nutshell, the kids find the grouchy old cop a lot more fun to be around than dear old Dad. Chase watches despondently as his kids bond with the grizzled flatfoot. The script wallows in this story line for an excruciatingly long time before mercifully concocting a completely credulity-straining sequence of events that thrusts Chase into the role of -- surprise! A hero.

Not one character, one plot development, or one line of dialogue bears a shred of originality. It's quite a feat, really A an entire movie composed of scenes you've seen hundreds of times before. At one point an exasperated mobster associate of Davi's actually says, "Now I gotta whack an entire white middle-class suburban family. People are gonna notice this." They may notice, pal, but you can only hope they won't remember.

 
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