Before watching the movie:
I don’t recall who made them, but I think this has appeared at least close to the top of lists of the worst movies of all time, which has always attracted me to it. What does it take to make a movie that bad? I’m sure Stallone fans were really disappointed to see him being embarrassed by his mother instead of blowing away mooks with dual-wielded machine rifles. But is the whole problem that it wasn’t what audiences wanted, or is it really just a bad movie? I’ve always wanted to find out.
After watching the movie:
Sgt. Joe Bomowski is a hard-edged LA cop who is secretly dating his precinct’s lieutenant Gwen Harper. The day after a bust where his partner got injured, Gwen dumps him because he never called her to tell her he was all right but did have time to go out drinking with the other cops and spent most of the time trying to call somebody else in the middle of the night. Gwen refuses to believe he was trying to call his mother, but he really was. Every time she plans to come visit him from New Jersey, he calls her to say it’s not a good time, but this time she’s decided to just refuse to take the call. Joe’s mom Tutti immediately starts critiquing Joe’s cleaning habits and eating habits and sets out to fix them by cooking for him and cleaning his apartment, including a deep clean and bleach of his gun, which completely ruins it. Determined to make up for her mistake, Tutti goes to a gun shop to replace it, but when the shopkeeper tells her of the required two-week cooling period, she walks out and gets offered to buy a gun out of the back of a van with no waiting, and purchases a crazy illegal automatic pistol just before one of the men who sold it to her gets killed by the people they stole it from, which is how Tutti ends up at the police station as a drive-by shooting witness. Trying to use this as an opportunity to get Joe a promotion he’s not interested in, Tutti withholds information from the official interview so she can tell her son instead. Tutti actually has a shocking amount of detail to share along with the physical evidence of the hot gun, and while Joe tries to hand the information to the sergeant on the case, the guy is such a jerk about it to Tutti that Joe decides to investigate the case himself anyway. And Tutti won’t be made to stay behind.
Sylvester Stallone is known for tough guy action hero roles. While we may forget that early Rocky is a sad-sack loser who comes inspiringly close but still fails and that Rambo was originally a Vietnam vet fighting for his life after bully cops triggered a POW camp flashback, Stallone was, in the 80s and 90s, synonymous with machismo. In that context, I can see a lot of people feeling completely betrayed by him doing a movie where he’s second-fiddle to a Golden Gal and may consider the shot of him in a giant cloth diaper as a dethroning moment of suck. I honestly don’t mind the diaper gag since it’s in a nightmare Joe has about his mother barging into his life and embarrassing him. I have somewhat more beef with the entirely forced way the movie gets to dropping an already awkward title into the dialogue. Joe is in a firefight with a bad guy but he runs out of bullets. Tutti pulls out the pistol she found in Joe’s glove compartment and takes aim, and Joe announces the title of the movie with deep humiliation. And then Tutti can’t hit anything and no impact is made beyond getting a good clip for the trailer. I could really have done without that.
One of the most uncomfortable elements of this story is something I don’t think would have been as noticed in the early 90s. Joe’s big romantic interest is… his boss. It’s a secret workplace relationship of unequal power dynamics. And while it’s an open secret in the department, the movie is not really interested in getting into any of the professional issues it would actually cause to have your immediate superior be your romantic partner or to have a girlfriend who can order you to come into her office so she can break up with you, or the emotional strain of having to keep your relationship a secret because the consequences of being out in the open would be entirely justified, that still really bothered me. The movie is in fact, so uninterested with this issue outside of having a reason for Joe’s girlfriend to hang around the police station that she in no way comes off as a police lieutenant. I can’t recall a single time Gwen interacted with Joe in a professional capacity, or more than one time she talked to any other cop as their boss. Which just makes it even more frustrating that they opened this can of worms for seemingly no reason.
Now that that’s out of the way, I thought this movie was fine. I really don’t care that much how it stands next to the rest of Stallone’s acting career. He had to write and direct Rocky in order to get any acting work to begin with, and considering that’s the story he came up with for himself, it seems like a bit of an accident that he ended up being defined by Rambo III. This is just a cute little secondhand humiliation story that wound up casting Stallone as a subversion of his image (and because Arnold Schwarzenegger used their rivalry to trick him into taking it). The tone is pretty much always exactly what it’s going for, and that’s a bit cheesy, but movies are allowed to be cheesy on purpose sometimes. If one wants to indict this movie for being cheesy, they’d have to indict every other gimmick-based buddy cop movie, and most buddy cop movies of the 90s. I can’t fault this movie for being exactly what it wants to be.