In our review of John Carpenter's Vampires, we complained about the miscasting of James Woods. Woods is a terrific actor who is often given the thankless task of making the audience like an unlikeable character, and we thought he deserved better than to be raked over the coals for this latest misstep. So, to wash the taste of Vampires from our collective cinema palate, we rented Cop.
Woods' character in Cop is, true to form, not a very nice guy. This guy, homicide detective Lloyd Hopkins, hits on the girlfriends of criminals he has just killed. He's not above roughing up a suspect or committing the occasional break-and-enter to gather evidence. But in a strangely touching scene, he relates the stories of cases he has solved to his daughter at bedtime. ("Tell me how you got the scumbag, Daddy!") His wife, meanwhile, has developed the idea that this isn't the kind of influence she wants on her daughter, and so she leaves him.
Hopkins isn't entirely weird, however. He helps other cops out with their cases, gently nudging them in the right direction, pointing out possible leads in what seem like hopeless cases. Even the hardnosed Captain Gaffney admits that Hopkins is a good homicide detective, despite his unorthodox methods and occasional wild hair. Hopkins, in turn, is partially under the wing of his former partner and now supervisor, Dutch.
"You brought a turkey into my movie?
What are you trying to say?"
The movie's story concerns a string of murders, loosely connected by the dates they occurred and the types of women who were killed. Hopkins links a new series of murders to some older, unsolved cases and figures he has a serial killer on his hands. Gaffney, not wanting to encourage a cop who already has a reputation as a maverick, refuses Hopkins' requests for extra resources. In typical "obsessed cop who just can't let it go" fashion, Hopkins continues to pursue the case, even when he's suspended from his job. Here is a man committed to doing what he thinks is right -- when he's not cheating on his wife.
Eventually, Hopkins tracks down Kathleen McCarthy (Lesley Ann Warren) as the woman with whom his serial killer is obsessed, and she's an extreme feminist to boot. Does this fact keep him from making a pass at her? Of course not! This guy makes a pass at everything in a skirt. And still, we manage to like him... sort of.
It would have been disappointing, though, if Woods played his character as anything other than what he is: a major league jerk. There's a great scene where Hopkins is talking to Kathleen, and she's pouring her soul out. And when she looks away for a second, Hopkins checks his watch. Hopkins is a more true-to-life version of the then-popular police icon Dirty Harry. Dirty Harry, and all his thematic spawn, broke rules and laws on the job to get results. So does Hopkins. But on a more realistic note, Hopkins can't stop breaking rules when he's off the job. What makes him so effective as a cop makes him an unpleasant person to be around. And it doesn¹t matter if you¹re a criminal or his wife.
Lloyd Hopkins: ladies' man.
Despite all of the good Woods can do with a movie, there's only so much that can be done for Cop. The actual mystery is a little too involved and circuitous -- perhaps it's a little too realistic. Half the fun in a mystery movie is to try and figure out who the killer is, but the bad guy in Cop is someone we've never even seen on screen -- and yet he's someone from Hopkins' past, as well. Once we've tolerated the eighth breaking-and-entering-to-find-clues scene, it's not much of a payoff for our invested viewing time.
Your enjoyment of Cop will be proportional to how much you like James Woods, and to how much you like James Woods playing a jerk. Cop has enough funny lines and neat performances to keep most viewers interested, even if the mystery is kind of lame. Don't let the fact that you've never heard of this movie keep you from renting it.