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‘Cops and Robbersons’

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 15, 1994


Michael Ritchie
Chevy Chase;
Jack Palance;
Dianne Wiest;
Robert Davi;
David Barry Gray;
Jason James Richter;
Fay Masterson;
Miko Hughes;
M. Emmet Walsh
Parental guidance suggested

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Chevy Chase is lucky "Cops and Robbersons" isn't a sitcom. If it were, it would be canceled as pronto as his talk show was. The fault is not just Chase's -- the plot in this "Stakeout" clone is a sack of woe -- but much of the responsibility is. Someone wrongly advised Chase that it's enough to be the lovably klutzy Chevy, that no acting or effort is necessary. As a result, Norman Robberson is another in a too-long list of overly sedated Chase characters that are nothing to laugh about, or at. That's a serious problem for a comedy.

The Robbersons are a genially dysfunctional family in dull old Pleasant Valley. There's Norman, reared on and addicted to classic cop shows. Mom Helen (Dianne Wiest) keeps up a positive "family values" front, though she's clearly fraying at the edges. Of three kids, the most interesting is the youngest, 5-year-old Billy (Miko Hughes) -- wearing a cape, sporting fangs and sleeping in his toy chest, Billy would clearly rather be an Addams than a Robberson.

Into this household come the cops, sent to stake out murderous mobster Osborn (Robert Davi), who has moved next door. In a slight variation on his "City Slickers" role, crusty Jack Palance plays crusty detective Jake Stone, "a man with the guts to stand up to the night and spit in its eye." Actually, that's Jake's mantra, one that obviously appeals to Norman. Jake's rugged persona and dangerous job also appeal to Norman's family, who quickly stake him out.

Norman blithely involves himself in the investigation, convinced that his television-honed detective skills can finally be put to good use. "He's an idiot," Jake complains to partner Tony (David Barry Gray) in what will soon become a new mantra. When the undercover cops are accidentally uncovered, the Robbersons pass them off as visiting Uncle Jake and the boyfriend of daughter Cindy (Fay Masterson). This is possible because Osborn is the stupidest crook ever to be found outside a Jimmy Breslin novel.

Even when Norman stumbles into an arrest at a nearby coffee shop, Jake reviles him. But events finally allow Norman to come to the rescue of both Jake and his family, and all that television watching ultimately gets validated. Call it a moral for the '90s.

Director Michael Ritchie, who did two "Fletch" films with Chase, doesn't have much to work with in Bernie Somers's script, which serves up only intermittent laughs. What's most strange, however, is the decision to film everything as if the action were taking place in a library. Everybody murmurs, and one must strain to catch much of the dialogue. Unfortunately, it's seldom worth the effort.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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