Vet Brazilian helmer Bruno Barreto stumbles with a crime actioner every bit as generic as its title. "Inspired" by real-life Big Apple detective Bo Dietl's career, "One Tough Cop" recycles hoary cliches so bluntly and cluelessly that it only needs a Leslie Nielsen cameo to achieve full self-parody. Fastest-paced aspect is likely to be pic's theatrical in-and-out; genre item should do OK in ancillary markets.
Attempting a more commercial project after recent English-language forays like the intimate “Carried Away” and political drama “Four Days in September,” vet Brazilian helmer Bruno Barreto stumbles with a crime actioner every bit as generic as its title. “Inspired” by real-life Big Apple detective Bo Dietl’s career, “One Tough Cop” recycles hoary cliches so bluntly and cluelessly that it only needs a Leslie Nielsen cameo to achieve full self-parody. Fastest-paced aspect is likely to be pic’s theatrical in-and-out; genre item should do OK in ancillary markets.
As portrayed here by Stephen Baldwin, Dietl was evidently a slug-first, due-process-later kinda cop (albeit one whose controversial methods led to retirement at age 35). He and hard-drinking, hot-tempered partner Duke (Chris Penn) routinely exasperate their NYPD superiors, but are nonetheless considered amongst the city’s best.
Saga begins as duo are interrupted amid a routine bust of some street thieves by a hostage situation at an ethnic market. Distraught Popi (Luis Guzman) has just killed his cheating wife and now threatens to off both himself and his young daughter. Bo talks him into releasing the latter, but can’t stop the man from putting gun to mouth.
This bummer is assuaged later by drinks at La Cassa, a plush night spot presided over by attractive Joey O’Hara (Gina Gershon) and inhabited by various Italian-American underworld types. One of them is owner Richie La Cassa (Mike McGlone), Bo’s friend since their childhood “in the neighborhood.” Joey had been carrying on an affair with married family man Richie, but she’s gotten fed up and called that off, much to his displeasure.
Soon afterward, in an incident based on a 1981 case, a nun is found raped, beaten and grotesquely mutilated at her Harlem convent school. Public shock creates a heated manhunt, and though they’re initially barred from investigating, Bo and Duke’s streetwise connections soon have them getting — or strong-arming — relevant leads.
The nun is never seen again post-ambulance (though camera makes a point of taking in her bloody panties on the floor), her fate barely discussed, and the perpetrator’s identity never particularly germane to the plot arc. But it does provide some chase segs, and a vehicle for the cop duo to get in hot water regarding their inappropriate social contacts with mob figures. Two cold-blooded FBI agents (Amy Irving and Victor Slezak) play this card to pressure Bo and Duke for federal investigative purposes.
Meanwhile, Bo drifts into greater intimacy with the available Joey, and Duke racks up serious gambling debts with some crime bosses. When latter’s days become numbered, Bo’s attempt to intervene (as well as his relationship with Joey) imperils that best-friendship with shady Richie.
It’s a testament to the hackneyed whassamattause tenor of Jeremy Iacone’s screenplay that the climactic confrontation between lifelong “good” and “bad” pals consists of: “F— you!” “No, f— you!” Other spurts of originality include “Read my lips”; Bo’s explanation that he became a cop “to make a difference”; and his boss’s earnest “Bo, you’re the best cop I ever had work for me, but I swear-ta-gawd you’re your own worst enemy!” Even the cursing is unimaginative. Ditto various racial stereotypes on display. Sole cliche MIA here is a strip-club sequence.
Pic vainly tries to recall the objectionable-yet-effective police character studies landmarked by “The French Connection” and “Bad Lieutenant,” but lacks former’s narrative punch and kinetic thrills as much as latter’s genuine shock value. Results are tired, humorless and so by-the-numbers that effect verges on unintentional humor. Credibility seldom flies high, either.
Trying to convey inner intensity as a rough yet essentially honorable man, Baldwin instead comes off as a stoned-looking Neanderthal. Penn has played variants on his role too many times already. McGlone (from Edward Burns’ first two features) makes little impression. When she’s given this little to work with, one can’t help notice that the talented Gershon should let her mouth hang open much less frequently. Among support players, a sharp-looking Irving gets no favors from spouse Barreto; badly miscast as a steely fed, she rings memories of Melanie Griffith’s tough-cookie NYPD “dick” turn in the camp classic “A Stranger Among Us.”
Shot in Toronto and N.Y., pic has a pro, if routine, tech package, with a drab look and mediocre scoring. As for story’s “real-life” basis, end credit notes, “Except for the character of Bo Dietl, all characters and situations portrayed in this film are fictional.” Gee, just like “Viva Knievel!”