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by Jack Sommersby

"Burt and Liza and Some Intended and Unintended Laughs"
3 stars

After Reynolds' supposed comeback film, 1987's "Heat", was met with chagrin by critics, he starred in a string of far-from-quality efforts shortly thereafter. This was one of the early ones.

Rent-A-Cop is the kind of trashy entertainment that has absolutely no right being as enjoyable as it is, but such is indeed the case. Burt Reynolds stars as Tony Church, a top Chicago cop who quits the department after a major sting operation goes bad -- seven cops are killed, and three keys of cocaine and two million dollars in cash are taken from the scene. Church's captain figures since he was the only one cop who walked away from the scene alive, Church must have been the one who set the whole thing up; so even after leaving the department, he's constantly though reluctantly tailed by his loyal ex-partner. Added to which, the only other witness to the bust was Della Reese (Liza Minnelli), a high-class call girl who saw the killer's face that night and is still being targeted by him -- she's recently been on the receiving end of his knife, and she's lucky to have survived. She tries to hire Church, who's been working a string of low-echelon jobs (the most recent, a department-store, shoplifting-deterring Santa), but he doesn't like her and finds her bad luck; yet he eventually gives in, and he soon finds himself going up against the city's number-one dope dealer and his army of ex-cops. This comedy-action film can't quite make up its mind if it's supposed to be a comedy first or second, so some of the scenes that are supposed to be thrilling or have emotional weight come off as hackneyed instead. The screenplay (co-written by Dennis Shryack, who co-wrote Chuck Norris' best film, Code of Silence, two years before) is a miasma of stock and stale cop cliches that should be bearing barcodes; and the direction by Jerry London, making his feature-film debut after twenty-three years of TV work, is generally incompetent and possesses little in the way of a valid film sense for what will and will not convincingly play on the silver screen, which results in a slew of unintentional laughs. We're supposed to be moved to teardrops when Della tells Church she's not used to caring, and he replies that he isn't either, but we're gagging instead. As for the gruesome Robby Benson as a greenhorn freshman detective, he bulges his eyes a lot when trying to look innocent and talks in a shopworn tough-guy tone when trying to impress, and we're left wondering why, say, Jay Leno couldn't have been cast instead as a more convincing cop. (Fittingly, the cop's name is "Pitts".) And anybody casting singer Dionne Warwick as Liza Minnelli's pimp is just asking for a week stay at the Betty Ford Clinic.

Still, as downright awful in spots that Rent-A-Cop is, when it's offering up intentional laughs and the like, it's quite fun; and it zips by with admittedly good pacing that's unexpected. Reynolds doesn't do anything he hasn't done before, but his laid-back performance has some innate appeal, and he can toss off one-liners like an old pro. Even Minnelli, who's almost always obnoxiously "on" all the time, kicks back and tosses off a few well-milked ones, too -- when Church remarks that the '60s were wonderful in that all you had to worry about was trying to get laid for the first time, Della quips, "Still trying?"; and when a man tries to pick her up in a bar by inviting her to have a threesome, she says, "Yeah? Then try the Yellow Pages, asshole." And who says small pleasures aren't bountiful when Reynolds does a dandy double-take when reacting to some super-hot mustard Dellas feeds him? James Remar, who was the psycho in 48 Hrs., is a psycho again here, only this time his name is Dancer, and that's appropriate, for when someone pays a visit on him at home, he's swinging his hips in front of his mirror; the only time he smiles is when he's putting some blade into someone or a gun up to his own head. So who says a bad film can't have cheery people populating it? See Santa punch a shoplifter and pull a gun on him in front of Christmas-shopping onlookers. See Richard Masur atrociously overact and profusely sweat as a fidgety friend of Church's who's in with the wrong crowd. See Della answer "Nothin'" when, while taking a bath, Church asks her what she's looking at near his crotch area. See some truly dank lighting by none other than Giuseppe Rotunno, an ex-cameraman of Federico Fellini's. See a killer dressed in bulletproof gear on the receiving end of a high-grade explosive placed in an area that makes his motorcycle helmet he wears an orphan. See Liza do a Little Red Riding Hood enactment in a hotel room with a john before he gets blown away. See Church's partner contemplate what sexual position Chruch and Della are engaged in in Church's place: Church hanging from the chandelier while Della paints her toenails. And see Church tell Della to not only jump, but to -- I kid you not -- jump higher. Better yet, just see Rent-A-Cop. The action's unmemorable, the dialogue's a scream, the plotting tired, and the laugh factor right up there, folks. Besides, how many films are you going to see where the angry hero picks up his sneering precinct commander and hangs him on a coat rack, with the commander bellowing "Get me off this thing!" in the distance as Church walks away? Exactly.

Several years ago Minnelli was asked in an interview what she thought her worst film was. Without hesitation, she replied, "I think Burt and I would both agree, Rent-A-Cop."

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originally posted: 06/13/06 05:22:15
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User Comments

8/20/07 mr.mike what Jack said 3 stars
11/23/06 Sugarfoot Rent anything but this... 1 stars
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  15-Jan-1988 (R)
  DVD: 23-May-2000



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