'Cop' suffers from case of arrested development

April 02, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

"Cop and a Half" ought to be called "The Cutie and the Beast."

More a concept than an actual story, it features a gruff and sweaty Burt Reynolds as a blowhard macho police detective ordered to fill in as dad to an ultra-adorable 8-year-old who's witnessed a crime. The youth, played by Norman Golden II, has all the good lines; Reynolds merely snorts and growls at the edge of the frame, models his toupee, and eventually is called upon to melt a little.

Young Golden is a find. One of those kids seemingly unaffected by the presence of film cameras, screaming assistant directors, a worried producer and the Fonz himself (Henry Winkler, the director), he comes through with utter naturalism, even when the script requires that he act most unnaturally.

He's conceived, too cutely, as a "police buff," attracted to the cop lifestyle and given to elaborate games with a Beretta water pistol as he tracks his pals who play "scumbags." But if you think the point of the film is to play off the child's absurd cop fantasy against the gritty reality of the streets, think again; the authentic cop stuff is just as fantastic as the games the boy plays.

The villain of the piece is played by Ray Starkey, under a rug that outshines (or should I say, out-thatches) Reynolds' by several degrees. It would have been truly amusing if in a few scenes the two men had switched hairpieces, but no such luck. Rather, Starkey is an ex-'60s rock and roller who's just as apt to break into bad song as to do bad things. He and his gang that can't shoot straight are pure fantasy items.

For a movie that's essentially about a gang of cutthroats attempting to murder a child, this one isn't terribly frightening. Winkler labors hard to make the touchy-feely as important as the bang bang, and there's lots of hugging and "coming to terms" with emotions. It seems Reynolds' character "lost a partner" and he hasn't been able to "give" since. Meanwhile, Golden doesn't have a father and needs one. The movie is richer in violins than violence.

In fact, the police homicide unit is conceived as a kind of nuclear family, with a new and very convincing actress named Holland Taylor as the squad captain. She's more like the mommy we all wish we had than any kind of cop you'd see on "Homicide," I'll tell you that.

It's about on the level of one of the less impressive "After School Specials."

"Cop and a Half" 8&

Starring Burt Reynolds and Norman

Golden II.

Directed by Henry Winkler.

Released by Universal.

Rated PG.

... **

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