Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Super Cops (1974)


          To get a sense of how The Super Cops uses wiseass humor to satirize rampant police corruption, think Serpico with jokes. Directed by blaxploitation vet Gordon Parks and written by the witty Lorenzo Semple Jr. (from a book by L.H. Whitemore), The Super Cops depicts the early adventures of real-life New York City cops David Greenberg and Robert Hantz. Hungry to become detectives, the boys started making busts while they were still cadets, which put them in opposition with the corrupt cops pervading the NYPD in the days before the storied Knapp Commission cleaned house.
          At first, cadets Greenberg (Ron Leibman) and Hantz (David Selby) are mistaken for shady operators looking for payoffs, but when it becomes clear they’re genuine do-gooders, the folks profiting from the status quo target the eager newbies as threats. After graduating from the police academy, Greenberg and Hantz get assigned to a dangerous precinct in Brooklyn, where drug dealers hire gunsels to take out overzealous cops. Undaunted, Greenberg and Hantz make like cowboys by staging brazen busts. Their swaggering ways make waves in the district attorney’s office, so Greenberg and Hantz run into trouble getting convictions. Eventually, the resourceful heroes engineer a bold double-cross, framing crooked cops who are trying to frame them.
          All in all, the adventures of Greenberg and Hantz are thoroughly entertaining (although their characterizations were undoubtedly whitewashed for dramatic effect), and Semple’s playful dialogue gives the movie whimsical flair. Parks does well meshing the tough realism of his blaxploitation pictures with the pithiness of Semple’s approach, ensuring that the movie zooms along.
          That said, the story is episodic and the ending is anticlimactic. Furthermore, Leibman and Selby try hard to develop a buddy-movie dynamic, but their vibes are incompatible; Leibman is consistently cocky and overbearing, while Selby waffles between macho stoicism and streetwise sensitivity. The supporting cast is merely passable, with Sheila Frazier the standout as a world-weary hooker/informant and Dan Frazer providing amusing work as the boys’ skittish commanding officer (“Get me outta this meshugana precinct!”). Oddly, however, the weakest element of The Super Cops is probably its title, which suggests a broad comedy. Nonetheless, it’s easy to understand why the most likely alternative wasn’t a viable option: On the street, Greenberg and Hantz were known as “Batman and Robin.” (Available at WarnerArchive.com)

The Super Cops: GROOVY

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