This is a movie about goings-on at the 87th Precinct in Boston, with an ennsembly cast featuring Burt Reynolds as Burt Reynolds, and Racquel Welch as Cliffie. It’s based on some novel(s) by Ed McBain a.k.a. Evan Hunter.
Based on hearing Ed McBain described as a “crime fiction” writer, I thought this was going to be more of an action movie. If only it had been.
We start with the arrival of new detective Cliffie (Welch) at the station. And in a scene rather like the various bikini strolls in Fathom , her stunning hotness causes all work in her presence to grind to a halt. Even though (a) Ms. Welch is rather past her prime, (b) her hair is dull and unkempt, and (c) she’s wearing a long heavy winter coat. And in fact, we discover later that (d) she is wearing underwear so bulky that I’m surprised she even needs the coat to cope with Boston weather. I guess anyone who can bring a roomful of men to a halt smothered like that is indeed the epitome of hotness. While I have no doubt that this is an accurate depiction of the effect of the real life Cliffie, Welch can’t pull it off, and the movie just leaves you WTFing.
Then we start cruising around the cophouse floor encountering various eccentric characters and awkward situations, and unfunny patter dribbles on for minute after minute, and slowly the horrible truth starts to sink in... this movie is going to be nonstop komedy from start to finish. The one genuinely funny moment is when Burt Reynolds (Burt Reynolds) shows up in possibly the goofiest hat of his career.
Eventually, the main plot gets moving. The Big Bad Guy (Yul Brynner) calls the station and tells them that he’s going to start bumping off various city officials if they don’t pay him not to. He starts with small ransom amounts and works his way up as the targets get bigger and richer. And he tells them that he selected their precinct to receive the calls because they are “inept”. Inept! And... it turns out he’s exactly right. These guys are embarrassments to the noble profession of Hollywood police work. And I discover that it is really rather dismaying, not laugh-inducing, to watch incompetent people fuck up their jobs when it’s a matter of life and/or death. Like, at one point Cliffie goes trolling for a rapist, and barely avoids becoming a victim herself even though the perp is alone, unarmed, and has no surprise tricks to pull. Similarly, Burt Reynolds trolls for somebody who’s setting winos on fire and when the confrontation comes, he totally fails to catch the assailants and avoid getting scorched.
And meanwhile, they get into goofy arguments and play practical jokes on each other, and the camera hops around Altmanwise from one bunch of characters to another... hey wait, Altmanwise? That’s when it dawns on me: what they’re trying to do here is rip off M*A*S*H! And they ain’t succeeding. And it’s Cliffie who gets shoehorned into the Hotlips Houlihan role. So even though she’s probably the least clownish of the cop characters (or at least, played as the most humorless, Welch being a lousy actress and trying to compensate with Demi-Moore-like excess seriousness) we still end up with her entangled in public sex at a time when she and her fellow entanglee are supposed to be watching a ransom drop. It’s at this point that the movie irrevocably crosses the line from merely annoying to actively offensive.
We also see Detective Cliffie taking important case notes on a piece of paper that’s already covered with text, but I don’t think that was meant for a joke.
We don’t see the Big Bad Guy’s face until half an hour from the end. It turns out he’s got a mansion and a bimbo, who is trying to play his harpsichord. The bimbo is none other than Tamara Dobson, credited as just “Tamara”. And I find myself forcibly put in mind of how fashionwise, for black women in America, everything since the early seventies has been one long straightened downhill slide.
The evil plan is going off without a hitch, and because our lovable bunch of scruffy losers are indeed inept, they foil the dastardly deed only by dumb luck. I hope that’s not a spoiler.
In conclusion, this movie is, despite its solid mainstream production values, deeply bad.
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