Cop box art courtesy MGM
DVD Tuesday: Good Cop/Bad Cop/Psycho Cop - James Woods is all three in this pre-L.A. Confidential James Ellroy thriller.

I was reading James Ellroy's Hollywood Nocturnes over the weekend and wondering why the success of L.A. Confidential (1997) did nothing to raise the profile of Cop (1988), a brutal little thriller based on his Blood on the Moon. I couldn't come up with a theory, but this week I decided to do my bit.

Cop opened with no fanfare, but I was already a James Woods fan (I don't think I even knew who Ellroy was back then), so I took a flyer on it and I was hooked from the credits sequence: black screen, two voices, a 911 operator and a guy reporting a murder. And it's grimly hilarious, because the good citizen is trying to pussyfoot around the fact that he's a burglar, trying to do the right thing while not admitting that his knowledge of the crime he's reporting was acquired mid-B&E.

Woods, who coproduced the film with director James B. Harris, plays LAPD detective Lloyd Hopkins, whom Ellroy eventually featured in three novels (it preceded Because the Night and Suicide Hill). Hopkins is sleazy, selfish, self-destructive, vice-ridden, obsessive, a rotten husband and a pathological authority-hater - exactly the kind of character the feral Woods excels at playing - but he's also a terrific cop, a devoted (if unorthodox) father and has a real thing about sadistic sociopaths who take out their screwed-upness on women.

He's the guy who gets the 911 case, which involves the brutal murder of a young woman. He's also the guy who connects her killing to a string of murders dating back 15 years, and connects all of them to a feminist poet ( Lesley Ann Warren) who runs a small bookstore. I'll refrain from explaining more about the nature of the connection, but it's spectacularly twisted in the classic Ellroy way.

And Cop's abrupt, uncompromising ending is one of the all-time greats: I'll say only that, like the exploding-head sequence in David Cronenberg's Scanners (1981) - see my Shocking Grindhouse Double Bill! column - it stunned a Times Square audience into dead silence.

The dark sense of humor established in the credits sequence is evident throughout, as is Ellroy's scathing contempt for righteous hypocrites and authentic familiarity with L.A.'s swamp neon slime. Cop doesn't deserve to be gathering dust in obscurity - check it out.

Things to consider:

How anti can an antihero be before he's contemptible?

How much is an actor - even an extremely talented one - pigeonholed by his or her looks? Could you ever really believe James Woods as a thoroughly nice guy?

Send your movie questions to FlickChick.

Hear Maitland on the weekly podcast TV Guide Talk.

See Maitland McDonagh and Ken Fox review this week's new flicks on the Movie Talk vodcast.

Previously in DVD Tuesday:

All About Eve
Sweet Smell of Success
Daughters of Darkness
The Crazies
Blade Runner
A Simple Plan
Taxi Driver
Hot Fuzz
Ace in the Hole
Eyes Without a Face
Citizen Kane
La Jetée
Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
Bob le Flambeur
Near Dark
Perfect Blue
Pan's Labyrinth
Les Girls
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
The Queen
Expresso Bongo
I'm Not Scared
Shocking Grindhouse Double Bill! - Scanners and The Candy Snatchers
Don't Look Now
Casino Royale
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The Prestige
13 Tzameti
The Departed
Kiss and Make Up
Kiss Me Deadly
The Long Good Friday
What Alice Found
The Devil's Backbone
The Descent
The Devil Wears Prada
Pandora's Box
The Thief and the Cobbler
Panic in the Streets/Jack Palance Interview
The Pusher Trilogy
Sunset Blvd.
In Cold Blood