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.
- Shapiro-Glickenhaus Home Video
- 87 min
- William Lustig
- Larry Cohen
- Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, William Smith, Robert Z'Dar, Sheree North, Nina Arvesen
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