1996, R, 94 min. Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson. Starring Damon Wayans, Adam Sandler, James Farentino, Kristen Wilson, Bill Nunn, James Caan.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 13, 1996
What's up with Ernest Dickerson? The formerly brilliant cinematographer for Spike Lee (Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, Do the Right Thing) has of late taken to directing sub-par actioners (Surviving the Game) and horror fare (Tales From the Crypt Presents Demon Knight) and now this mess. Essentially a retread of every buddy cop movie since Hollywood first hit on the formula, with a sizable chunk of 48HRS. tossed in for good measure, Dickerson's newest film is an embarrassment of near epic proportions. The once-funny Wayans has the straight(er) role here as Rock Keats, an undercover cop working alongside small-time crook Archie Moses (Sandler) in hopes of reeling in the drug kingpin played by James Caan. When the bust finally goes down, it goes down all wrong, resulting in Keats' near-death after a disbelieving Archie accidentally shoots him in the head. Months later, after a stunningly inconsequential rehabilitation sequence in which Keats not only learns to walk again but also falls in love with his gorgeous physical therapist (Wilson), Keats is assigned to escort Archie back to turn state's evidence against his former employer, a situation neither one is looking forward to. If it were just the sophomoric humor that grated on the nerves, that would be punishment enough, but Dickerson's film also suffers from what would appear to be some disastrous last-minute editing. You get the palpable sense that whole sections of expository scenes have been lopped out to make room for more bad jokes and terrifically uninspired gunplay. Even the big warehouse bust toward the beginning of the film is poorly choreographed, and that's lifted almost part and parcel from John Woo's Hard-Boiled. Cribbing from Woo is de rigueur these days, but cribbing from Woo and then dumbing it down has got to be a violation of some kind of 11th “Thou Shalt Not” commandment. For their parts, Wayans and Sandler are likable enough (if you can get past Sandler's ever-present Horshack braying and lowbrow Dustin Hoffman schtick and Wayans' unctuous panache). And Dickerson, who so gloriously set the senses reeling way back in Do the Right Thing, is all cheap flash here, tossing out maddeningly bad camera set-ups like fezzes at a Shriners' convention. Word to the wise, Ernest: Not every camera angle has to be skewed to the point of Lynch-ness. Although his directorial debut, Juice, was a powerful, tightly-wound little slice of urban tension, everything Dickerson has directed since has fallen far short of the mark he established as one of independent cinema's most maverick cinematographers. Here's hoping he can yet salvage that once-brilliant career.