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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Cop' Makes for Arresting Detective-Thriller

February 05, 1988|KEVIN THOMAS, Times Staff Writer

"Cop" (opening Fri. Feb. 5 citywide) is as plain and direct as its title, a crackling good police procedural at once satisfyingly familiar in form yet fresh and challenging in its ideas and emotions. Sparked by stunning performances from James Woods and Lesley Ann Warren, "Cop" becomes the genre film at its best: Its makers know how to use a conventional but sturdy plot to trigger a tough-minded, fast-moving and thoroughly absorbing mystery.

Woods, who co-produced with writer-director James B. Harris, certainly knows what's good for him. In Harris' expert adaptation of James Ellroy's "Blood on the Moon," compulsive LAPD detective Sgt.Lloyd Hopkins becomes the perfect release for Wood's bristling intelligence and coiled-spring intensity.

Hopkins is a guy obsessed with his work, especially when murder victims are women. Investigating the particularly savage slaying of a pretty young West Hollywood woman, Hopkins becomes convinced that she is the victim of a serial killer. We gradually become aware that in his implacable determination Hopkins has the potential to explode--just as his unknown prey has. It's not that he's susceptible to mirroring the sexual kinkiness of his quarry, as Clint Eastwood's New Orleans cop was in "Tightrope," but that he's increasingly tempted to bend the law.

What "Cop" suggests so disturbingly is that it may take a man as dangerously driven, a man who's been enraged rather than numbed by all the horror he has witnessed over the years, to work up the tenacity and passion even to try to track down such a serial killer with almost nothing to go on.

In its depiction of Los Angeles "Cop," which was photographed with an appropriate lack of frills by Steve Dubin, has that fine sense of place that Raymond Chandler's classic Philip Marlowe novels have, but it echoes the late Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer mysteries in its shrewd deploying of coincidence to evoke a sense of the inescapability of the past.

The one person potentially capable of derailing him--and the character that gives the film its dimension--is a feminist poet riddled with complexities and contradictions whose every nuance is captured beautifully by Lesley Ann Warren. She doesn't appear until well into the film, but when she does she must convince us in her long first scene that her uptight Kathleen McCarthy undergoes a 360-degree change of heart. Later on, Kathleen experiences even more crucial shifts of feeling and perception, and Warren also makes them believable in a really splendid piece of acting. Warren's role is in its way more challenging than Woods,' for the implacable Hopkins is like a launched missile: the only question is when and where will he land.

"Cop" represents a career high for Harris, best known as Stanley Kubrick's early producer, who's directed infrequently but always provocatively over the years-- if not always with success. Contributing to "Cop's" crisp, understated style is a standout supporting cast headed by Charles Durning, Michel Colombier's ominous, plaintive score and Gene Rudolf's carefully detailed realistic production design. "Cop" (rated R for sex and strong language as well as violence) stirs up such a strong visceral appeal one can only hope that audiences will think about it after the lights go up.

'COP' An Atlantic Entertainment Group presentation of a Harris-Wood production. Executive producers Thomas Coleman, Michael Rosenblatt. Director James B. Harris. Screenplay Harris; based on the novel "Blood on the Moon" by James Ellroy. Camera Steve Dubin. Music Michel Colombier. Production designer Gene Rudolf. Associate producer Ann Kindberg. Costumes Gale Parker Smith. Police procedure/technical adviser John Petievich. Film editor Anthony Spano. With James Wood,, Lesley Ann Warren, Charles Durning, Charles Haid, Raymond J. Barry, Randi Brooks, Steven Lambert, Christopher Wynne, Jan McGill, Vicki Wauchope, Melinda Lynch, John Petievich, Dennis Stewart.

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

MPAA-rated: R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).

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