Sunday, March 20, 2016

Retro Review: COP (1988)

(US - 1988)

COP disappeared from theaters pretty quickly in the spring of 1988, but it's acquired a moderate cult following in the years since. Coming nearly a decade before Curtis Hanson's 1997 classic L.A. CONFIDENTIAL brought James Ellroy into the Hollywood mainsteam, COP was the first adaptation of an Ellroy work, in this case the 1984 novel Blood on the Moon. Written and directed by former Stanley Kubrick producing partner James B. Harris (THE KILLING, PATHS OF GLORY, LOLITA), COP is a retooling of Ellroy's novel (the first of a trilogy centered on L.A. cop Sgt. Lloyd Hopkins) to focus on the in-his-prime 1988 intensity of James Woods--two years after his SALVADOR Oscar nomination and a couple of decades before his discovery of Twitter and his metamorphosis into a frothing, conspiratorial loon--as obsessed, on-the-edge Hopkins, a man who has a habit of getting too into his work and pissing off everyone around him. Hopkins is convinced a string of brutal murders is the work of a serial killer, and of course, he's right, and of course, none of his superiors believe him. The killer seems to have an axe to grind against feminists, but it goes much deeper, involving, among other parties, a feminist poet bookstore owner (Lesley Ann Warren), a corrupt sheriff's deputy (HILL STREET BLUES' Charles Haid) who deals drugs and runs male prostitutes on the side, and a gang rape that took place at an area high school 14 years earlier.

Harris and Woods previously worked together on 1982's little-seen FAST-WALKING and produced COP together while working for scale for the soon-to-be-finished indie Atlantic, whose biggest hit was 1985's TEEN WOLF. A labor of love for both men, COP is really all about Woods at his most dynamic, electric, and fidgety, whether he's defying the orders of his buddy Dutch (Charles Durning) or the stick-up-his-ass captain (Raymond J. Barry), going way overboard with suspects, hot-dogging it on cases that aren't even in his jurisdiction, schtupping sexy witnesses, or telling inappropriate arrest stories to his impossibly cute young daughter. He leaves no cop cliche unchecked, whether he's wearing the same clothes for several days in a row, using an electric razor at his desk, or taking a swig out of a random coffee cup in the squad room. He's a classic conflicted Ellroy antihero all the way up to the unforgettable final shot, but not in the noir confines for which the author is best known (Blood on the Moon was one of Ellroy's early contemporary novels prior to his essential L.A. Noir quartet of The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz).  On Kino Lorber's recent Blu-ray release, the 87-year-old Harris, still sharp, chatty, and full of stories, is joined for a very enjoyable commentary track by cult film historian and documentary filmmaker Elijah Drenner. Recounting events like they just happened, Harris discusses the making of the film, working with the actors ("You didn't have to audition Charlie Durning"), the differences from Ellroy's novel and the reasons for those decisions, and the problems going on with Atlantic at the time. He also talks at length about his years with Kubrick, and has a great story about how wrong he was when he amicably parted ways with the legendary filmmaker during pre-production on 1964's DR. STRANGELOVE when Kubrick and co-writer Terry Southern decided to take the story in a satirical direction ("I said it was a terrible idea, and it ended up being my favorite Kubrick picture!" Harris says, laughing). Better known as a producer, Harris has only directed five films over his 60-year career, the most recent being the 1993 Wesley Snipes/Dennis Hopper crime drama BOILING POINT. (R, 111 mins)

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