Director: Jerry London
USA - 1988
What do Danny Glover, Mel Gibson, Ted Danson, Steve Guttenberg, Tom Selleck, Jay Leno and Pat Morita have in common?
That’s right. They’re all great actors who have teamed up (in a variety of collaborations) to make great cop movies. Over the years, and through the seemingly endless slew of cop movies I’ve seen, only one thing has perplexed me: When will the inevitable team-up occur? Almost everyone imaginable has been in a cop movie - even to the point of incredibility. I mean, Tom Selleck as a cop? Please.
Finally, in 1988, destiny was no longer denied. Jerry London had a dream, and that dream united screen legend Burt Reynolds with the incomparable Liza Minnelli. And Jerry London had a name for his dream, and that name was Rent-a-Cop.
The Burt plays Church, a rough-around-the-edges cop with a knack for solving cases, cracking skulls, and irritating the perpetually-angry police chief. Church doesn’t play by the rules - he makes them! Unfortunately, Church’s sterling reputation is shattered when a routine drug bust at a posh hotel goes horribly wrong. As the police close in for the sting, a hired assassin by the name of Dancer suddenly crashes the party with flash grenades and automatic weapons. Both drug dealers and cops alike are ruthlessly mowed down in a hail of gunfire, not to mention several of the hotel’s expensive towels turn up missing.
Fortunately, Church survives the melee. Unfortunately, Church receives a Royal Ass-Chewing* upon his return to the precinct. The department’s aristocracy isn’t too pleased with the botched bust, nor are they happy with Burt’s rather gruff attitude. Church, of course, doesn’t take any of their crap. He’s a cop, dammit! And a good one! Many of his fellow officers - his friends - were killed in that fiasco! Good officers! Only two weeks from retirement! Church makes absolutely no bones about telling his supervisors where they can stick their precious rules and regulations. He then triumphantly tosses his badge and leaves the station with both his integrity and mustache intact.
Sadly, Church finds the job market not very accommodating to Rough-and-Ready-Cops Who-Don’t-Have-Time-for-the-Rules. He soon finds himself playing security in a Santa suit at the local mall. All this changes, however, when he’s approached by a Hooker with a Heart of Gold (Liza Minnelli, in the role she was born to play)*. Unbeknownst to almost everyone, she was the sole witness who saw Dancer’s face before the shooting, and now Dancer wants her dead. He injured her severely once. Who knows what he’ll do if afforded a second opportunity (we, the viewers, can only dream). The cops, of course, want nothing to do with helping a hooker. And Church, at first, wants nothing to do with her either. But his mall security gig isn’t really working out, and as I said before, Church is a good cop. He can’t turn anyone down in a time of need, even Liza Minnelli. Church reluctantly takes the job to protect the lady. What Burt doesn’t realize, however, is that Dancer is an assassin of the elite variety (at least in that particular county). He’s a true professional, despite having a stupid name.
For the first time, Church may have bitten off more than he can chew.
I’m kidding! We’re talking about Burt Reynolds, baby! It’ll be a cold day in Hell before some candy-ass named “Dancer” gets the best of a cop with a mustache like Burt Reynolds’!
Sadly, though Burt Reynolds eventually triumphs once again, Rent-a-Cop is not a good movie. The story is pretty cookie-cutter, the action is few and far between, and Burt looks like I felt watching the film: Bored. As a matter of fact, the only entertainment I got from Rent-a-Cop was watching it with my friend Jesse, who, it turns out, vehemently despises Liza Minnelli (and I think he’s not particularly fond of Burt Reynolds either). Every time Minnelli was onscreen doing her “I’m Obnoxious but Loveable” bit, Jesse threatened to jump through the roof and/or tear the eyes from his head. His fragile mind was finally pushed over the edge when Burt actually initiated some Hanky-Panky with his diminutive co-star. This particular act simply couldn’t be fathomed nor understood by Jesse’s weakened sense of reason and logic. It did not compute. His eyes immediately glassed over and he was reduced to mumbling incoherent rice recipes involving cheese and baked beans.
Personally, Liza Minnelli doesn’t bother me. Sure, she’s obnoxious, but she’s Liza Minnelli. Being obnoxious is her bread and butter. Taking away her obnoxiousness would be like denying Dave Coulier his affably wholesome comedic charm. On second thought, perhaps I’m starting to see things from Jesse’s perspective.
Burt Reynolds is, of course, Burt Reynolds. The man can play “Gruff Cop” while standing on one foot, half asleep (which he pretty much does in Rent-a-Cop). The same can be said for James Remar with his role as the Dancing Assassin. How many times has this guy played a psychotic villain? After fingers and toes I lose count. He’s almost up there with Jon Voight in terms of redundant cinematic villainy.
In short, Rent-a-Cop is for Burt Reynolds’ completists only (and so far, I think I’m the only one). It may be fun to torture Liza Minnelli haters with, but it’s really not worth your time. Get your Burt fix from superior films like Malone and Sharky’s Machine. They’re not great either, but they’re far more entertaining.
-- Copyright © 2004 by J. Bannerman
* Speaking of surreal casting, Dionne Warwick plays Minnelli’s Pimp with a Heart of Gold. At least the casting director was inspired by the material.