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MOVIE REVIEW : A Case of Arrested Development : 'Cop and a Half' pairs a tough cop with a cute kid. Sound familiar? It is.

April 02, 1993|MICHAEL WILMINGTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Many movies these days are about "wanna-bes": characters who want to be something they're not, and who, amazingly, get their wish.

Here's what we get in "Cop and a Half" (citywide). A tough Tampa cop (Burt Reynolds). A cute kid who wants to be a tough Tampa cop (Norman G. Golden II). A vicious gangster who wants to be a doo-wop idol (Ray Sharkey). An elementary school principal who wants to be Da King.

There's more: A lady police captain who acts like a social worker (Holland Taylor). Playground bullies who want to be gangsters. Thugs who want to be straight men. Cops who want to be clowns.

Almost everybody in this movie aspires to be somebody else, and it's no wonder. If you were stuck in something like "Cop and a Half," you'd probably be dreaming of greener pastures yourself. The movie itself is a sort of "Kindergarten Cop" wanna-be: Burt Reynold's character, a bash-your-head kind of cop named Nick McKenna, suggests Dirty Harry on his way to Mr. Rogers' neighborhood.

Put them all together; add another empty, marketing-hook script, by Arne Olsen; mix in the usual beefy, budget-flexing, rock-the-house production, and polish it off it with over-jolly direction by Henry Winkler--perhaps he wants to be Ron Howard--and you haven't got even half a movie.

"Cop and a Half" isn't a disaster, but it's something less entertaining: an elongated trailer full of posturing and puffery, obvious gags, programmed sentiment. In this shtick-a-thon, the basic hook is simple: Devon Butler (Golden), an imaginative Tampa tot who plays cop games, witnesses a gangland execution and then, with the police hot for his testimony, blackmails them into letting him ride, as a "partner," with the force's surliest, sloppiest, let-it-hang cop: Reynolds' McKenna.

When Devon joins Nick, wish fulfillment runs amok. Devon gets to ticket his principal for speeding. Devon lectures surly Nick on police procedure, with texts drawn from the VCR; later the two bond so tightly that they wind up living together, like Oscar and Felix in "The Odd Couple." Devon is chased into his playground, and his schoolmates confound the crooks by jumping up in waves and yelling "I'm Devon Butler!"--which may mean they all want to be in "Spartacus." Or "Malcolm X."

This is one of those movies that suggest that the world is a huge TV set, with 100 cable channels that people can program themselves into at will. The characters are all tube-drunk, and the movie seems primarily conceived for a TV-besotted, media-friendly audience. If you argued that nothing in it makes any sense, the filmmakers would probably argue right back that "Cop and a Half" isn't supposed to make sense; it's supposed to make money.

The actors, with the exception of Reynolds, who's lightly burlesquing his old '70s cop parts, all play "cute." That's why 8-year-old Golden has the big advantage. The cutest of the bunch, he doesn't have to try as hard.

Around them, we get cute cops and crooks, cute hairy-chested barroom bikers who get in cute barroom brawls--and Vinnie Fountain (Sharkey), the cute crime czar, a depraved egomaniac who call himself "D. DiMucci," after Dion, and keeps breaking into renditions of "Dream Lover" and "The Wanderer." (If he's such an aficionado, why doesn't he remember the words?) Cuteness is the movie's curse; it's as if everyone in it had been condemned to six months of hard whimsy.

Golden may steal much of "Cop and a Half" (rated PG), but it's only petty larceny. This movie's by-the-numbers story and strange mix of viciousness and coy "lovability"--the same ga-ga hybrid of sadistic schmaltz we got in "Kindergarten Cop" or "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!"--suggests a movie so commercially calculated it wants to be its own sequel: "Cop and a Half II." We should be that lucky.

'Cop and a Half' Burt Reynolds: Nick McKenna Norman D. Golden II: Devon Butler Ruby Dee: Rachel Ray Sharkey: Vinnie Fountain

An Imagine Films Entertainment presentation, released by Universal Pictures. Director Henry Winkler. Producer Paul Maslansky. Executive producer Tova Laiter. Screenplay by Arne Olsen. Cinematographer Bill Butler. Editors Daniel Hanley, Roger Tweeten. Costumes Lillian Pan. Music Alan Silvestri. Production design Maria Caso. Art director Allen Terry. Set designer Damon Medlen. Set decorator Cindy Coburn. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG.

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