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One Good Cop
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by Jack Sommersby

"One Decent Movie"
3 stars

Didn't exactly set the U.S. box office on fire, but it's involving and dramatically sound.

In the unremarkable but entertaining One Good Cop, the always-welcome Michael Keaton is typically excellent as Artie Lewis, a veteran New York City detective who finds himself forced to care for his slain partner’s three young daughters after a hostage standoff involving a drug-crazed gunman leaves their father, Stevie Diroma (Anthony LaPaglia), dead with a gunshot to the head. Initially, we get scenes of Artie and Stevie, who’ve been partners for eight years, on the job, and we see how their risky profession can leave their loved ones either orphans or widows. Stevie is a single father bringing up his kids, with the youngest one suffering from diabetes and requiring two insulin injections a day (his wife died of a terminal illness a couple of years ago); and Artie and his wife Rita (Rene Russo), who’s unable to bear children, are comfortable enough in their one-bedroom apartment and content with their careers. Most movies would just breeze over the Stevie character, but the writer/director, Heywood Gould, has written Stevie as three-dimensional as Artie and Rita, and the talented LaPaglia makes quite the indelible impression in his limited screen time -- you wouldn't mind an entire movie centered on his character. There’s a rampant drug epidemic going on in the area in the form of a new potent methamphetamine known as “ice,” and when Artie and Stevie are called to the apartment of a man they’ve given preferential treatment to in exchange for street information, they find him whacked out of his mind and holding his wife and two children hostage with an Uzi; Artie is a master negotiator, and he manages to get the two children freed, but when the man is on the verge of shooting his wife, Stevie recklessly charges in and winds up getting a bullet for his trouble. (In a particularly subtle touch, we don’t actually see Stevie get shot; we see the aftermath, and it’s much more powerful this way.) In his will Stevie has made Artie his children’s legal guardian, but with such a small abode Artie knows he needs a house, but with very little of a cash reserve he goes through the motions of putting the children up for adoption, and he’s told that there’s little chance of all three of them staying together with the same family, which is made even more challenging with one of them having a lifelong medical condition. All the while Artie has made it his mission to bust the South American drug kingpin, Beniamino (Tony Plana), who sits high up in his ritzy Fifth Avenue penthouse and traffics widespread distribution of ice -- taunting Artie, he takes his roll of hundred-dollar bills, wads one of them up, and tosses it on the sidewalk in front of Artie and then is driven away in his expensive red convertible by one of his four henchman who have itchy trigger fingers. So when Artie locates a four-bedroom house in the Bronx suburbs being sold by an ex-policeman who's asking a twenty-five-thousand-dollar deposit, Artie asks himself if it’s right that a criminal like Beniamino can afford several posh homes yet his altruistic self can’t even come up with the money for a modest one for the good of Stevie’s daughters who’ll be taken away by Social Services if suitable housing for them can't be found.

Some will complain that the movie doesn’t delve particularly deep into its subject matter, that it arrives at a fairly simple moralistic conclusion, but the way Gould lays out the variables a frustrated Artie is confronted with, I think most will forgive it for not being “deep.” It doesn’t take much “suspension of disbelief” to buy into a movie that hasn’t been engineered to function as a complex socioeconomic commentary -- it’s purely mainstream, and although it reaches a happy conclusion we shouldn’t necessarily mistake this for a cop-out. Besides, One Good Cop isn’t just a domestic melodrama, but a police drama with a good deal of action sequences, all of which Gould stages with finesse. A fight in an elevator inside a crime-ridden apartment building in the projects, that hostage standoff, a shootout in Beniamino’s penthouse, all of have expertly orchestrated by a director who clearly knows what he’s doing, and his assured professionalism gives the proceedings some girth. But Gould also gets a good deal of the small stuff right. He’s tactful when Artie calls the oldest of Stevie’s daughters aside and, after two or three hesitations, informs her that her daddy “had an accident,” and he needn’t explain more for the daughter to tearfully register the implication. Rather than shamelessly milking a funeral scene, Gould omits it. The daughters aren’t put in jeopardy by Beniamino. And the tone is never jarred by indulging in any “cutesy” stuff involving the daughters -- they never go precocious on us, thank God. Oh, the music score by David Foster occasionally veers into the maudlin, and the crime plot doesn’t really have the layers we’d like, but for the most part Gould’s instincts are sound, even if we can’t quite forgive him for such calculatingly formulaic screenwriting efforts as the boxing melodrama Streets of Gold and the Tom Cruise star vehicle Cocktail. (He also penned the uneven crime tale Fort Apache, The Bronx, and One Good Cop is decidedly devoid of the acid-rock texture of that affecting movie; then again, considering how contextually different they are, this is apples to oranges.) With its patchwork structure, One Good Cop really needs a solid star performance to hold things together, and Keaton more than delivers. Three years prior he garnered a National Society of Film Critics best-actor prize for his sensational work as the cocaine-addicted real-estate salesman in Clean and Sober, and even in his stardom-making role in the comedy Night Shift he had an affecting drunken monologue where he divulged a physically-abusive childhood that took his character to an unexpected dimension. As Artie, Keaton is completely convincing: he moves with a slithery grace when descending upon a crime scene, and we never doubt for a second that Keaton is on top of the role. He’s lightheartedly engaging early on when indulging in some verbal horseplay with Stevie and his captain, and he etches a much more interesting portrait than he managed in his starring role in the disappointing superhero extravaganza Batman. Keaton makes Artie’s moral confliction lucid yet never uncouthly milks unearned pathos from it; he’s an instinctive actor who knows how to sidestep trapdoors those inferior to him would carelessly fall into. If Keaton isn’t regarded as a virtuoso by now, moviegoers must be asleep at the wheel.

The DVD is devoid of special features, but the anamorphic transfer is solid.

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originally posted: 06/07/15 09:12:55
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  03-May-1991 (R)



Directed by
  Heywood Gould

Written by
  Heywood Gould

  Michael Keaton
  Rene Russo
  Anthony LaPaglia
  Kevin Conway
  Rachel Ticotin

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