Saturday, July 23, 2011

New York Cop (1993)

Directed by: Toru Mukawara

After stopping a hip-hop mugger from robbing a pervert, a Japanese New York cop, Toshi (Toru Nakamura), receives a supposedly high-level assignment to infiltrate the illegal gun running circle overlorded by Italian mafioso Mr. C (Tony Sirico)and put an end to the recent killings of cops working undercover as vagrants. Captain Brodsky tabs Toshi as the best officer to pose as a homeless man based solely on his ethnicity, proudly affirming his brilliance by proclaiming that "no one will ever suspect a Japanese undercover cop!" If only Captain Brodsky wasn't a fictional character, we could have really used his expertise (and racism) in cracking those Jack the Ripper, Zodiac killer and Black Dahlia cases back in the day. Toshi seems to agree as he readily accepts the assignment and adamantly professes his martial arts training will keep him safe. Although, it's entirely possible Toshi didn't understand the words coming out of Brodsky's mouth. Toshi has the same constipated reaction when attempting to speak and comprehend English as I do when tackling trigonometry; a red-faced, sweat-dripping furrowed brow with pensively squinted eyes while muttering something indecipherable through clenched teeth.

Proving himself adept for this undercover work, Toshi hits the seedy streets in the best lookin' bum disguise I've ever seen; finely groomed peach fuzz, a super sheeny combed hairdo, a three-quarters length Men's Warehouse jacket, some polyester shirts and a Mentos white smile. Toshi looks like a metro-sexual interior designer. This homeless guise is so pathetic that a bunch of street toughs try to shake down Toshi for a few bills, to which he quickly hands over some crisp greenbacks right out of his pocket -- no money clip, no wallet -- looking as pristine as if steam-ironed five minutes ago. To me, this screams undercover cop. To the street thugs, not so much as they chase after Toshi, flailing their hands bombastically as though they're glory walkin' in an NWA rap video. In one of the worst fence-clming escapes ever put to celluloid, Toshi manages to narrowly escape into the car of a struggling artist named Maria (Mira Sorvino). There's no real reason why Maria opts to help Toshi out, but I can only assume that she has a soft-spot for recently mugged homeless dudes rocking business casual attire.

As Toshi and Maria bond over unintelligible accents, other undercover cops start getting picked off one-by-one as Mr. C sniffs them out and sics his laser-sighted gun wielding cab driving assassin after them. Yes, Mr. C employs a cab driver to carry out hits on undercover cops. And this assassin does the job, apparently, while on duty as he's always chasing them in his cab. I feel bad that cab drivers had it so rough in 1993 that they resorted to making ends meet by rubbing out cops. Trust me, I'll never look sideways at the fare per mile on vacation again.

Luckily, Toshi gets his opening to stop the killings when discovering that Maria's hard-ass biker-looking brother, Hawk (Chad McQueen), happens to be the head of a gun-running gang known as The Brotherhood. At first, Hawk despises Toshi for making the moves on his sister and generally assuming homeless people are worthless. However, Toshi easily overcomes Hawk's nay-saying by assertively telling him that he knows martial arts. Honestly, I had no idea that knowing martial arts was such a resume builder (if so I would've minored in Shudokhan in college), considering that through the course of the film that many a random thug sports karate from Mr. C's stringbean Italian goombas to Hawk's curly perm mulleted henchman. Granted, these martial artists throw some of the worst karate kicks in film history.

In order to forge a path to Mr. C, Toshi has to earn Hawk's trust by setting up deals and taking on some grunt work. The problem soon arises that Hawk's Brotherhood cronies somehow pick up on the possibility that Toshi may not be a crescent kick throwin' bum off the street. This places Toshi in high danger as he must carefully balance allegiances between his fellow officers, Hawk and his growing romance with Maria while simultaneously avoiding exposure en reoute to putting an end to Mr. C and this deadly cabbie's cop murdering ways.

Unfortunately, New York Cop is not bad movie fun despite numerous ludicrous elements highlighted in this review. As I suffered through the film and reflected upon it, it was hard to pinpoint why this isn't more entertainingly awful. If pressed, I would say it's a lack of commitment from the majority of the key contributors. In other words, they're phoning it in.

Mira Sorvino has never been worse, and she doesn't seem to care. I'm not suggesting that Sorvino is a great actress by any stretch, but she certainly has the most capability amongst the cast assembled to mine a decent performance from the weak material. She listlessly utters lines in an accent that I still cannot figure out; it sounds like an odd mix of Italian and Spanish, and sometimes vacillates between the two and then she throws in straight American for good measure. Sorvino treats her accent like an off-speed pro-baseball pitcher, showing us a lot of different pitches when all we really want is her fastball. I can picture the director crouched behind the camera flashing through two, three and four finger signals as she settles on a different verbal slant. I'd call her Greg Maddux, but there's no need to insult a hall of famer and give an impression that her work's at a comparable level. Let's go with Bob Tewksbury. Mira is the Bob Tewksbury of accents in this film.

The film further suffers by anchoring itself to Toru Nakamura as the leading man. Nakamura is a puzzling headliner choice. It's obvious from the get-go that Nakamura's not well-versed in English, concentrating so hard on line delivery that it permeates his character with a lack of confidence and stifles any penchant of charisma that may be hidden under the surface. The one dialogue snippet that Nakamura nails with bluster is "I know martial arts." Sadly, director Toru Murakawa never allows him to back this up, rarely allotting an opportunity for Nakamura to cut loose with an impressive exhibition of fighting skills that could have saved New York Cop. That said, it leaves one to question if perhaps Nakamura's martial arts background was not extensive and therefore unworthy of spotlighting. The most impressive combat comes from the hip-hop mugger at the film's opening, who unleashes a fiery pugilistic barrage of hooks and uppercuts on an unsuspecting and overmatched porn connoisseur like he's vying for the WBC Middleweight Championship. I wouldn't be surprised if Marvin Hagler was the mugger's on-set fight coordinator.

Murakawa helms the picture lazily with boxy compisitions and wide tableuas, which are presumably less a stylistic choice than one made to eliminate camera setups. This would be forgiveable if Murakawa emphasized the fun factor by relying on more action, campy performances or perhaps some intensified editing. Instead, he's content to simply capture the scene and move ahead. It's a film crapped out of the low budget movie assembly line. He wastes Tony Sirico. When Sirico appeared, my interest piqued in hopes that he'd channel his future work as Paulie Walnuts in The Sopranos. I can only dream of how entertaining a movie with the hilarious and maniacal Paulie Walnuts as the capo would've been. My excitement soon fizzeled, realizing that Sirico's screentime is limited because Murakawa would rather focus on Toshi's romance and boorish tension to remain covert.

Come on, Mr. Murakawa, you can't keep me giggling like an idiot for 90 minutes with a hitman who pursues his targets in a cab and an undercover cop posing as a bum that wears dry-cleaned threads from Nordstrom's Rack? Where's the scene of this cabbie assassin flipping his sign to "off duty" after gunning down another hobo-posing pig? Or how about a scene of extreme chance where Toshi hails a taxi that just so happens to be the same one driven by Mr. C's favorite laser-sighted fare-grasping stooge?

Make or Break scene - The scene that breaks the film is when Toshi encouters the street gang that tries to roll him. To this point, we're led to believe that Toshi doesn't need to carry a gun or weapon of any kind because his martial arts training is that strong. This is the moment of truth and Toshi fails miserably. In most low budget actioners, this would be the moment where Toshi pummels an onslaught of charging adversaries. After feebly defending himself, Toshi heads for the hills, opting to run for his life rather than stand his ground. Worse, Toshi's not given a chance to redeem himself later, not that any viewer would be apt to stick around for it.

MVT - Chad McQueen. He's the one exception amid the cast and filmmakers. McQueen solidly commits to his performance as Hawk, bringing ample energy to his part and much needed aggressiveness. It doesn't matter that I think McQueen probably should've portrayed Hawk as less of a biker and more of a Latino. He's offering something amid counterparts that serve up nothing. It's too bad that they didn't ditch the Asian cop angle and turned the film over to McQueen as the undercover cop (it'd fit the film's title better, too). If that choice was made, this film would have potential to be a fun-filled cheesy direct-to-video crime movie.

Score - 3.5/10

3 comments:

  1. Another great review, Chad.

    I remember seeing the trailer for "Death Ring" in college. "McQueen! Norris! Swayze!" They just didn't tell you it was Chad McQueen, Mike Norris, and Don Swayze. Sadly, I never saw the movie.

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  2. Thanks for reading, Todd! I think they call that a "bait and switch," haha.

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  3. The work is very versatile, with so many concentrations intermingling,
    Swords

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