I Saw A Film!
Following on the success of Beverly Hills Cop, which used a wisecracking, street-smart Eddie Murphy as a kind of fantasy police officer, handling his investigation with kooky, potato-in-the-tailpipe aplomb, one can almost hear the producers clamoring for another similar franchise, recruiting Whoopi Goldberg and teaming her with a cast of white actors as diverse as the wig collection they have her adorn.
There’s much more inadvertent humor in this action-packed drug tale. The central terror is a load of poisoned party drug called Fatal Beauty (seems a bit of a heavy handed give away, but nothing about this story is subtle), printed right on the package–so you you don’t mistake it for the harmless beauty–which has found its way into the lives of our good kids and leaves them instantly dead with eyes wide open, piled on one another on the sofa.
What follows is a chain of such cringingly silly costumes and fisticuffs and point blank gun-fights that even Brad Dourif’s excellent creepy antagonist (looking a lot like Danny Bonnaducci here) can’t justify it. Whoopi beats up a lady at her richy-rich country club for passing around the deadly blow, and the usually terrific Sam Elliot (actually in the employ of the bad guys) has to drag her away. The Elliot/Goldberg romance feels totally ad hoc, their characters, hipster cowboy vs fearless urban trouble-maker don’t gel in the way an anime like Cowboy Bebop might have succeeded. Part of the problem is the willingness to give Whoopi’s Rizzoli character a lot of delight in the vulgar side of things. She handles a threatening ass with a knife in a bar with the disregard one might employ with an unruly kid at Walmart. Somehow she magically pick-pockets him, but because she’s supposed to be so street-hardened she’s wholly unconcerned about his attack. These are rather dangerous precedents because then we don’t know when to actually fear for Rizzoli.
It’s hard to shake the idea that this was written to appeal to twelve year old boys (which is probably true of too many movies). Rizzoli, in an effort to come across as invulnerably cool (again Eddie Murphy’s capacity a few years earlier), really winds up coming across as a sociopath. It could just be that cute young Whoopi brings forth a certain expectation of womanly charm that the film avoids providing her. She really does have an appealing cartoonish quality, almost ready-made for a kid’s show of smiles and pinchable cheeks. So when she’s making crude crotch jokes and the film includes a sequence of a black man being shot up (her East Asian partner, early on, trying to take on the massive tough) and walking through bloody hit after hit on his body, the thing just feels grotesque. Whoopi is cute and engaging, and then bam! We’re supposed to be appreciating unusual death scenes. Then back to her wigs and pink vintage mustang.
Back to the mushy-stuff. Whoopi is meant to be a black Italian American and Elliot is given a whole lot of moments of yelling “Rizzoli!” and remarking on the eyes of Italian women, but we’re never let in on the circumstances that produced the character, the Italian-lady eyes (or African-Italian eyes?), or anything else, but Rizzoli’s resolve to beat drugs (this was the Reagan 80s and drug scare is the essential national concern), and her one revealing sad story about drugs (motivating, and justifying her crushing of the various drug dealers) doesn’t make for a compelling film (at least not today). It also seems to be lacking the culminating romantic sequence that the film keeps promising us, there’s no Sam / Whoopi whoopi! I don’t need it.
Most true to life sequence happens when Rizzoli returns home to find her cat whining on the roof. Trouble! She knows her cat.
This is running free on Prime (usa) and is a good reminder of the crudeness of 80s cop drama and drug fears. Compared with the cute way coke is handle in things like Crocodile Dundee, and the uber professionalism of things like Law and Order, it’s interesting to keep track of the film evolution of the despised but permanent recreation.