William Lustig’s Maniac Cop should’ve been the cult actioneer to end them all, what with the man behind the ruthless Maniac helming a quintessentially Noo Yawk script by Larry Cohen (whose reputation as a highbrow, lowbrow, anything-but-middlebrow genre-fusion artist is untouchable), starring Bruce “Ash” Campbell, Tom “that’s why God made fathers, babe” Atkins and Richard “shut your mouth” Roundtree. Unfortunately, Maniac Cop is the type of movie that you would want to watch through the slits in a sewer grate, only its execution sits perched well above its scummy aim, and the end result is that you feel guilty for wishing for something more perverted. The combination of Cohen and Lustig should have been a perfect convening; Cohen’s tendency to bury his satiric swipes would theoretically have given a nice roughing-up by Lustig’s bluntly violent touch. But somehow the two ended up impersonating each other during the making of the film. Cohen’s script opens during the waning years of Ed Koch’s New York City, and the first scene of the movie depicts a woman running away from an attempted rape. Though she screams her fool head off, a minority shopkeeper ducks his head into the sand. Cohen seems to be suggesting not so much inhumanity on the streets, but rather the oppressive force of the police state. By refusing to assist the woman, he’s doing everything within his power to avoid inadvertently being suspected of the crime. Cohen drives his pointed vision of the social pecking order home when the woman runs into the arms of a shadowy cop who silently and matter-of-factly chokes her to death. Maniac Cop, which eventually boils down to a bloodless face-off between Campbell (as Officer Nancy Drew) and a vigilante cop who was sent to jail over bureaucratic power players, mines intensely fertile territory but lays root to nothing. Cohen’s sense of humor is strong as ever, as when Campbell’s cuckolded wife first discovers her husband in his hotel room and finds two identical police uniforms crumpled on the floor, coyly twisting audience expectations about the gender behind the badge (note also that the only females on Cohen’s rotten force are either undercover prostitutes or haggard old maids). But it isn’t enough to overcome the sense that Lustig reigned in his worst (i.e. best) impulses. I’d be inclined to guess that he just didn’t have the cojones to go through with a feature-length piss-take on Big Apple cops, but for the fact that, nine years later, he and Cohen successfully cut down every last jingoistic jarhead with their superior Uncle Sam.
Lustig's cold, gray interpretation looks as clean as his direction is clean-minded, with very few artifacts but also very little in the way of color delineation. Given the source material, I imagine this is as good as it can get. The sound, on the other hand, is all over the map. With a DTS 6.1 track, a 5.1 surround mix and a stereo option, you'll hear every corny synthesizer riff in crystal clarity.
The transfer looks to be brand-new, but the commentary track from Lustig, Cohen, Campbell, and music composer Jay Chattaway drops the word "laserdisc" a few times. Which isn't to say it's not a great listen (Campbell tracks usually are), just don't make it a deal-breaker if you already own the film on laserdisc. The hulking maniac cop Robert Z'Dar gets a featurette to himself. There are a few deleted scenes that were only used in the Japanese version of the film and a collection of promotional materials.
Maniac Cop is only a petty misdemeanor to Uncle Sam's gross felony.