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Hollywood Vice Squad
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by Jack Sommersby

"Hoary Crime Tale"
1 stars

If you've never heard of this irredeemable atrocity, count yourself lucky.

That excellent character actor Ronny Cox headlines the atrocious Hollywood Vice Squad, and he’s by far its greatest asset. Cox has been around the Hollywood scene since making his debut in John Boorman’s classic Deliverance, in 1972, and has never failed to impress; in fact, after fourteen years in the business, this marks his first starring role, though it’s fair to say he doesn’t exactly have more screen time than his co-stars, but he’s got top billing and lends this low-grade crime tale its only rooted moments. Cox is best remembered for his portrayal of the understanding lieutenant in Beverly Hills Cop, and he was Matthew Modine’s down-on-his-luck father in the teen drama Vision Quest; middle-aged and conveying an honest, Everyman quality, he effortlessly manages to get the audience on his side from the get-go -- it’s difficult for an actor to exude wholehearted “decency” without going all maudlin on us, but Cox, always starting from the inside of his characters and vivifying them just enough so they register on the screen, has that rare gift of never ringing false and being thoroughly believable. And when he was cast against-type as the nasty corporate executive in Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop, he was forceful and emanated so much in the way of quintessential sleaze you could practically see the slime trail when he exited a scene. (He was like a G.D. Spradlin with some range.) Cox doesn’t get the opportunity to make much of his square role in Hollywood Vice Squad, but because he’s been surrounded by such second-rate talents as Carrie Fisher and Leon Isaac Kennedy he can’t help but emerge the standout. He plays Hollywood police captain Jensen, who takes a visit from a concerned Midwest mother whose runaway teenage daughter ventured into town a few months ago and hasn’t been heard from since; Jensen gives the mother some hard truths, that thousands of young women come out to Hollywood every year in the hope of attaining stardom only to fail and find their way into prostitution to pay the bills and becoming addicted to drugs their pimps habitually supply to them to keep them in line. (If this sounds even remotely familiar, it’s what writer/director Paul Schrader similarly served up in his dreadful 1979 Hardcore.) This is one of the subplots, with the others concerning attempts to bring down the city’s most powerful pimp, along with busting a pornography-movie director who uses mostly underage girls in his productions; in the movie’s last section these story strands finally intersect, but the whole thing’s been so clunkily put together that any semblances of congruity remain to be seen.

During the opening credits we’re informed, “The Hollywood Vice Squad is one of the most unusual police organizations in the country. The stories you’re about to see are based on actual cases.” Actually, though we’re intended to regard the happenstances as the real thing, the movie, scene after scene after scene, has been rendered so totally unbelievable that we might as well be watching a parody of the genre; besides, since Miami Vice covered pretty much the same territory with a hell of a lot more style, we’re nonplussed at the pretense of all this supposed “novelty.” Then again, what else to expect from a screenwriter like James T. Docherty, whose far-from-illustrious resume consists of having penned just a single episode of television’s Blue Thunder and T.J. Hooker? Chock-full of cheap sensationalism and absent of organic coherence, Hollywood Vice Squad is wildly uneven, fragmentary -- it’s a mere eighty-eight minutes but feels a half-hour longer because the movie is like a rusted-over chassis held together by nothing but spare parts; it creaks forth in spurts with all the propulsion of a second-hand Edsel. There’s some humor incorporated into the proceedings, like when a Chinese-American cop is working undercover entrapping hookers disguised as a tourist, and later, dressed as none other than Santa Claus on Sunset Boulevard, he’s propositioned with, “Would you like to come down my chimney?” Har, har. It’s also this same cop who’s involved in the movie’s first scene, with him hanging on the door of a car speeding away from a bust, and it goes on so long and culminates so ludicrously you just know the moviemakers aren’t playing with a fresh deck. And because the director is Penelope Spheeris, who was responsible for the abominable trash Suburbia and The Boys Next Door, both of which were vacuous attempts at conveying the tragedy of moral nothingness by rendering everything bereft of psychological subtext (“There’s no there there, why, this translates into something profound!”) everything in the movie is ham-handed and amateurish. Though the movie is uncommonly clean-looking given it’s low budget, Spheeris hasn’t come up with a single expressive image, and because she’s an absolute zero when it comes to narrative drive, we’re constantly looking at our watches like we do during a commercial break. We’re forever in need of some cinematic stimulation. Hollywood Vice Squad lacks the raw vitality of the Los Angles-set Vice Squad, not to mention the virtues of James B. Harris’s underrated, beautifully-aligned/almost-Robert Altman-esque Boiling Point. It’s only the always-welcome Ronny Cox who walks away unscathed.

No DVD release as of yet, so all the whole two fan of this movie will be disappointed.

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originally posted: 03/15/15 14:03:23
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  28-Feb-1986 (R)



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