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Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel
IN SHORT: Passable isn't enough if you've got monster expectations.
Put the star names in a line and read very quickly: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liota, Peter Berg, and up and comers Michael Rapaport, Ray Liotta. On the female supporting side add Annabella Sciorra, Janeane Garofalo and Cathy Moriarty. Now take a deep breath and flush all them expectations out the window. The movie is called Cop Land and, thankfully, it isn't another Sleepers.
For, as much as the press has made a big deal of Sylvester Stallone's 39 pound weight gain -- the press always seems to be more obsessed with weight than Hollywood stars are supposed to be -- it's something that works well for Sly. Playing Freddy Heflin, a small town sheriff in a town full of city cops, not being buff allows Stallone to concentrate on his acting ability. Lest we forget, he does have some of those and they kick thespian ass in this flick.
The problem is that there is very little for him to do. There are so many stories within stories in this effort from writer/ director James Mangold that the important one doesn't stand full front and center.
Central story is that of young cop Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport) who causes the death of a pair of crackheads on New York's George Washington Bridge. Pretty soon Babitch swan dives off the bridge -- maybe -- and the media has a field day reporting the death of a man who was once a hero cop. Internal Affairs (Robert De Niro) doesn't buy any of it for a second, because Babitch comes from a town in Jersey where all the resident cops are suspected of being corrupt. De Niro's detective wants to bring down the whole town.
Freddie doesn't buy it either, because he's seen Babitch, who is very much alive. But in a town where one hand washes the other, keeping silent could mean a uniform of blue and a job across the river. The NYPD uniform is what Freddie wants, but deafness in one ear has kept it from him and, to be honest, he's a bit too slow for the gig.
While setting speed traps and dealing with earth shaking matters like abandoned garbage and restless kids, Freddie is also stuck square in the middle of another officer's extra-marital indiscretion (involving Berg, Sciorra, Keitel and Moriarty). That leads to its own pair of stories branching off from the main. Freddie's best friend (Ray Liotta), also a cop, may be dealing drugs and has a pair of stories of his own. Topping it all off is the fact that Freddie ain't Mother Theresa. He steals quarters from parking meters to feed a pinball habit. No one is clean in this film.
Which is fine by Cranky. Stallone builds for himself a solid character, a man who is never going to make it on almost any level. When everything comes down, you feel for him. Which is what good acting is about.
The problem is that Cop Land features a high octane team burning low octane gas. There are too many miniscule details in an overwritten script to rock the house. Keitel, Rapaport and Liotta all deliver what they need to. Harvey Keitel is the top of the heap bad cop who, essentially, runs the town. He's done this type before and he does it again, very well. Rapaport's screwed up kid and Liotta's frazzled verge-of-breakdown characters are also stock for these actors. De Niro is way out of place as the IAD guy. What we expect, remembering his previous killer perfs doesn't materialize, because it never needs to.
Cop Land builds slowly and surely and fizzles. The endgame just doesn't pack the emotional wallop that you'd expect. I'm being kind. More than once, the viewers I spoke with after the preview used the same word to describe the flick . . .
Monster expectations can kill this sucker dead.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Cop Land, he would have paid . . .
Cop Land is interesting, but it's just OK.
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