'Keeper of City' is a formula police story


January 25, 1992|By Steve McKerrow

A television dream: Someday, someone will make a film about a policeman who is not a righteous rebel with a soft, soft heart hidden deep under layers of cynical toughness.

Unfortunately, "Keeper of the City" is not it. Showtime's new movie with the usually engaging Louis Gossett Jr., premiering at 9 tonight, is formula all the way in the genre writers call "police procedural."

It is based, in fact, on screenwriter Gerald DiPego's novel of the same title. And it also has the distinct feel of a possible TV pilot. But we've seen most of it many times before.

It has some good actors, including Mr. Gossett, Peter Coyote, Anthony LaPaglia and Rene Soutendijk, and boasts an interesting "hook" of an idea.

But it also has multiple killings, the threat of extreme violence to a child and, because it is on cable, lots of bad language.

The plot is basically the sadly familiar serial-killer-at-large scenario that raises the perpetual question: Why does our culture seem so fascinated by murder?

But the twist here is that the victims are all mobsters. So is their violent demise really a crime or is it a public service?

Mr. LaPaglia ("Betsy's Wedding") plays an unbalanced family man who once vowed to his grandmother he would write a book exposing his father's mob connections, telling all about "the men with dry hearts" he remembered from his childhood.

Ms. Soutendijk is his wife, who can't bring herself to believe her husband is capable of killing.

For like many a would-be writer, he sits at the keyboard and can't produce a word. So to fulfill his pledge, he saws the barrel off his 12-gauge shotgun and begins to pop the aging criminals. So much for writer's block!

Mr. Coyote is a newspaper columnist to whom the killer sends notes asserting, "organized crime is dying," each with the name of a victim.

"This is bigger than Bernhard Goetz!" exclaims the columnist when Detective Jim Dela (Mr. Gossett) asks for some media restraint while he hunts the killer.

The issue is something like that of "Death Wish" and all its sequels, as voiced by the newspaperman who says "the nation is fed up" with crime.

But the vigilante idea soon slips away as the killer moves on from mobsters to one of his co-workers and, finally, to abducting and threatening to kill his own son.

It is not giving away too much to say the detective relentlessly pursues the case, eventually against the wishes of his superiors who apparently don't mind the mobsters being eliminated, and even finds some solace from his personal, never well-explained loneliness.

That's the formula, right?

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