Here's an idea. What if you got together Harvey Keitel, Sylvester Stallone, Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro, all in the same film? And then what if you added a couple of cool women, Annabella Sciorra, say, and maybe Janeane Garofalo? Sounds pretty interesting, right? But what if you forgot to pick up anything else along the way -- like a credible script? Then you'd have James Mangold's Cop Land, and that's where things stop being so interesting.
Not that the film is a flop, because it isn't; and the reason is a total surprise. The reason is Sylvester Stallone. He saves this picture. Half of it, anyhow: the first half, where the too-predictable script and his own bloated persona don't get in the way. He delivers the performance of his career, which isn't saying much, admittedly, but it's still a hell of a piece of acting he almost does.
Stallone is a small man, physically, and that's what he plays in Cop Land, with his size, for once, becoming a meaningful part of his performance (the good half, at least), instead of being the thing that the whole production is geared to conceal. Stallone plays Freddie Heflin, the chump sheriff of "Cop Land." That's how Robert De Niro mockingly refers to the little New Jersey town where lots of New York City policemen have stashed their families: "They made themselves a place where the shit couldn't touch them. That's what they thought anyway." Harvey Keitel is head of the rogue cops; De Niro plays a tough-guy investigator for NYPD internal affairs. The plot, what there is of it, turns into a kind of High Noon-on-the-Hudson, with Stallone in the Gary Cooper role, caught between the dirty cops who gave him his job and the holier-than-thou investigators who hang him out to dry.
No need to linger over the details, because there aren't many (including anything much for the women to do, or any interesting moments between De Niro and Keitel). But there is that half of a great performance by Stallone, who forgets about Rambo and Rocky just long enough (probably with a lot of prompting from Mangold) to make you wish he could keep it up for a whole picture.
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