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Cop Land (1997)
Rated R

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, and Robert DeNiro

Rating:
***
out of
*****

Garrison, New Jersey is a town directly across the river from New York City. Finding a loophole in the clause that says that only transit officers can live outside of the city, NYPD officers looking for a place to raise their families have taken out low interest loans, bought up most of the housing in the town and moved in. Freddy Neflin (Sylvester Stallone) has been named sheriff because he is friendly with the NYPD cops but cannot become one himself because he is deaf in one ear.

Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel) is the ringleader of a number of corrupt cops who flagrantly run afoul of the law in Garrison. Sheriff Neflin, who is really not that interested in getting into trouble with them, looks the other way. Neflin's life has been a series of disappointments which started as a teenager when he rescued a young girl from a car accident, losing the hearing in one ear in the process. The girl, Liz Randone (Annabella Sciorra), owed her life to Neflin but because she was beautiful, she ended up marrying someone else. When Neflin tried to get on the NYPD, his partial deafness cost him the job. Settling for the sheriff's post was as close as he could get to doing what he wanted.

But, when Ray's nephew (Michael Rapaport), a hero cop nicknamed "Superboy," gets into a possibly scandalous situation involving the planting of evidence, Ray tries to cover it up and incurs the wrath of Internal Affairs investigator Moe Tilden (Robert DeNiro). Tilden tries to motivate Neflin into caring about what goes on in his town.

Frankly, I went to see this movie for one reason: curiousity. I had heard all of the hype about how Sylvester Stallone took a massive pay cut and gained 40 pounds to star in this film because he believed it was a great script. Stallone was going to try to do what Bruce Willis has been doing for years -- starring in less-than-megablockbuster films and gaining respect in the process.

I was skeptical about Stallone's ability to pull it off. I've enjoyed precious few of his most recent movies. (I am one of the few people who liked 1991's Oscar, so keep that in mind.) I really admire Stallone for taking risks and trying new things. He's failed miserably in the past with movies like Oscar and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot but with Cop Land, Stallone shows everyone -- including me -- that he's a bona-fide actor. He's the best part of this film.

Now, that's not being trite. This is a movie with heavyweight talent on the bill. Normally with stars like Harvey Keitel, Robert DeNiro, Ray Liotta, and Michael Rapaport onscreen with you, providing the best performance in a film is a major achievement. Unfortunately, the reason that happens is that only Stallone's character is given any meat to work with. Keitel's Ray Donlan is fairly cardboard-like. DeNiro's Moe Tilden doesn't get to do much than say the F-word and look frustrated at the lack of progress in the case. Liotta plays the psychotic parts of his character with gusto, but seems out of place otherwise. Rapaport's "Superboy" does little more than look like a deer caught in headlights.

Still, I have to recommend the movie for the beauty of Stallone's performance. For the first time since Rocky, I actually sympathized with his character as the result of his acting. I can only hope that Stallone doesn't get dissuaded from doing parts like this more often if Cop Land doesn't do well at the box office.

Trivia: Rapper Method Man plays a criminal in the movie. (Look for him on the rooftop with Peter Berg.) (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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