Cops And Robbersons

1994, Movie, PG, 95 mins


Not nearly as bad as its critical reception suggested, COPS AND ROBBERSONS is a relatively smart dumb comedy that warns of the woes in store for those who mess with the nuclear family.

Norman Robberson (Chevy Chase) is only vaguely aware of the growing discontent in his family. His youngest son (Miko Hughes) sleeps in his toy box and thinks he's vampire. His older son (Jason James Richter), a mohawked leather-clad slacker in training, spends all his free time in his room smoking cigarettes and masturbating. His lethally nubile high-school age daughter (Fay Masterson) sleeps in the nude and complains of the womanly desires trapped inside her teenage body. "Everybody seems tense and nobody seems to like each other," complains Norman to his short-circuited wife Helen (Dianne Wiest). "Everything's fine," she replies tersely, before roaring off to school without their son.

Enter tough veteran cop Jake Stoner (Jack Palance) and his rookie partner Tony (David Barry Gray), who take over the Robbersons' lives and home to stake out a murderous counterfeiter (Robert Davi) living next door under an alias. Norman, a cop-show fanatic, insists on interfering with the investigation at every opportunity. The family takes to the cops, with the daughter taking a special interest in Tony after he stumbles into her bedroom; meanwhile, Norman's near-suicidal interference actually winds up helping the investigation. Nevertheless, the family begins to look upon Jake as a hero and Norman as a loser, a misconception Jake charitably clears up by alienating the family at every turn. During the final confrontation, it is the daughter who slips bullets to Tony, mouth-to-mouth during a French kiss, and Mom who holds the bad guys at bay with a shotgun after Norman distracts everybody by crashing through the window (on his third attempt). With the bad guys in jail and the illusion of order restored in the Robberson household, Tony courts and marries the daughter, and Jake becomes part of the family in an end-credit montage of photographs.

In his best domestic comedies, including SMILE, director Michael Ritchie (working here from a script by Bernie Somers) persuasively argues that family dysfunction, far from being a national affliction, may in fact be a source of national strength. Hence, ROBBERSONS is not one of those icky, sitcom-like therapeutic comedies in which all neuroses are miraculously cured and everybody has a good hug and cry at the end. Not unlike the Griswolds, Chevy Chase's other famous cinematic family, the Robbersons are strictly a scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners domestic unit held together by the sheer will power of Mom, and God help anyone who tries to put them asunder. A ragged film, ROBBERSONS gets less interesting as it goes along before rallying at its climax. Early on, however, Ritchie and Chase are intermittently at their best. With nothing but the demented conviction of his cop-show obsession, Robberson takes complete charge of Jake's and Tony's investigation. Each clumsy misstep leads to strokes of inspiration, to the point where the best the cops can do is sit back and watch. Even when Norman goes completely round the bend, using Jake's badge to "arrest" a surly coffee shop waiter who keeps screwing up his bagel order, he winds up nabbing a wanted felon and busting a car-theft ring. ROBBERSONS gets sidetracked into a dull subplot involving Jake's efforts to avoid displacing Norman as head of the household. However, it comes back to life for a nicely orchestrated ending in which the individual neuroses of each of the Robbersons combine to spring an inescapable trap--into which disappear not only the villains, but Jake and Tony as well. ROBBERSONS is frequently crude and charmless, but in its best moments, it partakes of that truly anarchic spirit that once made American movie comedies the envy of the world. (Nudity, profanity, violence.) leave a comment

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