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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Under Cover' Earns 'B' Grade for 'B' Movie

December 04, 1987|LEONARD KLADY

"Under Cover" (citywide) harks back to an era when the studios made taut thrillers on minuscule budgets. These simple tales of good guys and bad guys were the training grounds for the freshest, untried film artists and technicians. On the most basic level, "Under Cover" is a solid "B" movie that suggests reel talent waiting for a breakthrough. It's an engaging yarn, even if its logic and execution periodically falter.

First-time director (and co-writer) John Stockwell concocts the now-familiar ruse of placing a rookie cop in high school to ferret out drug dealers. Sheff (David Neidorf), from the Baltimore police force, is relocated to Port Allen, Va., where his ex-partner was murdered enacting the same type of hoax. So, in addition to working in the line of duty, he harbors a need for revenge.

Naturally, being the new kid in class, he's viewed suspiciously. It doesn't help that he looks too old and seems too smart to be in high school. To his credit, he's a strong pitcher for the ailing baseball team and has a sexy undercover partner named La Rue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who's able to divert attention away from him when he makes teen-age social gaffs.

Neidorf projects a quiet authority in his role, facilitating our willing suspension of disbelief. Unquestionably, the film has an underlying verisimilitude that is a remarkable asset. Its keen sense of milieu, rather than clever plot twists, propels the action even when we know what to expect next.

"Under Cover" (MPAA-rated R: for violence, language and some nudity) telegraphs its intentions and still manages to entertain and engage. The fluid camera style of Alexander Gruszynski and Sharyn Ross's invisible editing add so much to the film that one is forced to admit this is one crime caper that pays off artistically.

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