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IN SHORT: A new midnight movie is born.
Cranky sprouted his first zits watching Peggy Lipton's long blond hair waving to and fro as she ran towards the camera in the opening credits of teevee's The Mod Squad. There were two very cool things about that show. Julie was the first, the show's kickass title theme was the second. Julie is still hot. The theme is sorely missed. If you are old enough to remember the original, you're way to old for the "'90s with a '70s sensibility" version of The Mod Squad.
Problem is, the word "mod," as a serious indicator of anything, was defunct by the time the Summer of Love hit in 1967. The teevee show, which tried to bring "relevant topics" to staid police drama, was not-even-a-classic-in-its-own-time. When Claire Danes mentioned the project during an interview last year -- believe me gentlemen the camera doesn't begin to do the lady justice -- the first thought that popped in what's left of Cranky's brain was "what a stupid idea!"
The second thought that popped was, "Y'know, if they keep the character types and forget everything else, the idea of three dead-end kids getting one last chance could work."
That being said the characters are still the same -- one white, one black, one blond. Linc (Omar Epps) the arsonist, is the cool brother from the hood. He's also the smartest member of the bunch. Skinny, sexy Julie (Danes) has a problem with beating up people. She liberally drops 60s phrases like "right on" and "freaky" into her lingo, except when she's doing a 90s sensitive speak number ("Could you just hold me? Thanks for being here."). The third and final Squadder is Pete (Giovanni Ribisi). Pete likes to steal cars, probably as an expression of desperate need for attention from his Beverly Hills parents.
He is also a complete idiot.
I'm being kind. Pete's a moron but he smartens up a tad as the flick progresses.
TMSv.99 goes like this: Julie, Linc and Pete are still the bad kids given a last chance by Police Capt. Adam Greer (Dennis Farina). Being young, phat and dope, they go undercover to bust teenage prostitution rings and some other drug related things. Julie gets distracted by an old flame named Billy (Josh Brolin), now clean and two years on the wagon. Julie, we discover, is a year and a half sober. Linc sees other cops doing suspicious things. And Pete? Let's just say Giovanni Ribisi's work is hysterically funny and keeps this mess interesting.
Push comes to shove and the badgeless cops are suspect in the killing of another cop; set up to take the fall for the theft of drugs from a police evidence locker. On the run, with what little evidence they've gathered pointing to a Gathering of Five bad cops, two Squadders must save the third. It all comes down in an abandoned warehouse -- which must be some kind of gag relating to the television series because the script puts way too much emphasis of in the mouths of the characters. Lots of gunfire. Julie runs a lot. Status quo.
The Mod Squad doesn't work, probably, because the movie tries too hard to be reminiscent of what Aaron Spelling's television show was, at least to some people. Which means it looks like, and the script by Stephen Kay & (director) Scott Silver and Kate Lanier is written like, a television show. Spelling's TV shows were known for the ease of which they brought new viewers into the story before the title theme had ended - Charlie's Angels being a fine example. Well integrated into the title sequence of this movie is a concise summary who is who and what is what and then we blast full barrel into party scenes with rap songs and a police bust and character dialog that is well deserving of the "R" rating. It's a good start and it's all downhill from there.
Director Scott Silver (who got good notices for his debut drama about LA street hustlers, called johns) doesn't handle action sequences all that well. While the performances of actors Epps and Ribisi is consistent, Danes is hampered by the dialog thing I wrote of earlier. Other comedic touches are added by long time character actor Michael Lerner as a rock group manager, you'll recognize him immediately, and Eddie Griffin as the streetwise Sonny, whom Linc goes to for help.
That being written, there are reasons why midnight movies exist. The Mod Squad is one of them. It's so Bad that, taken as a comedy rather than a cop action thriller, it is almost Good. Had the makers realized how funny a flick they were turning out, the signature use of the name "The Mod Squad," saved for the end, could've been the funniest joke in the entire hundred minutes. But they didn't. To be very kind The Mod Squad is a movie that, even without making Cranky's usual after-the-screening inquiries, people were openly volunteering that they wouldn't have paid to see.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Mod Squad, he would have paid...
Rent. It's a dopey date flick, but perfectly twisted enough to work at midnight. Original rating was at the pay per view $4.00 level but I knocked off a buck 'cuz the music - both underscore and lack of original theme sucked. One positive aspect of the soundtrack is a cover of Steve Winwood's "Can't Find My Way Home" by Alana Davis. That was pretty darn good.
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