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'Mod Squad': Police Dog

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 1999

  Movie Critic

The Mod Squad
Claire Danes, Omar Epps and Giovanni Ribisi star as "The Mod Squad." (MGM-UA)

Scott Silver
Omar Epps;
Giovanni Ribisi;
Claire Danes;
Dennis Farina;
Josh Brolin;
Steve Harris;
Michael Lerner
Running Time:
1 hour, 34 minutes
Contains obscenity, violence, brief nudity and sexual situations
When you're stuck with a bad movie for two hours, you look for ways to enhance the involuntary experience. For the first part of "The Mod Squad," for instance, I actually considered the possibility that a great, artistic agenda lurked beneath the movie.

Maybe the movie's utter flatness, its slow-moving and obvious scenario about dirty cops, and the promiscuous lack of chemistry among Claire Danes, Omar Epps and Giovanni Ribisi amounted to subtle sabotage.

Yeah, that was it! Maybe director Scott Silver – right under executive producer Aaron Spelling's nose – was creating a celebrity-based, innocuous remake of a similarly innocuous 1970s TV series, but only on the surface!

This way, he could take cackle-worthy digs at the whole MTV culture and its mediocre leading lights whose greatest qualities are frequently their hairstyles, facial features or public liaisons with Brad Pitt.

Uh, not really. The movie attempts to retrofy the bell-bottom "cool" of Spelling's 1968-1973 show, which starred Peggy Lipton, Michael Cole and Clarence Williams III. But although it has Alana Davis updating Steve Winwood's "Can't Find My Way Home," and the "Car Wash" theme on the soundtrack, "The Mod Squad" doesn't have the hippie-countercultural, San Francisco spirit of the TV show, nor does it have the cast or conviction to contemporize or preserve it. Neither audience – the generation raised on the show and those who have never seen it but know the present cast – will enjoy the movie's moribund metabolism or a story that's even more obvious than an episode of "The Naked Gun."

Although we're not privy to the events that put them in this position, ex-junkie Julie Barnes (Danes), 'hood bro' Linc (Epps) and weirdo robber Pete Cochran (Ribisi) have been enlisted by Capt. Adam Greer (Dennis Farina) to infiltrate the seedy club-scape of Los Angeles and uncover the drugs and graft running rampant.

Most of the time, the Cool Trio seems utterly clueless about its crime-fighting responsibilities. Julie, playing an undercover waitress, hooks up again with an old flame (Josh Brolin), who's obviously a jerk. Pete gets physically involved with a woman right on the dance floor. And Linc spends most of the movie looking gaunt and pretty in strategically lit areas where everyone can see him.

I don't think the L.A. underworld has much to worry about.

Epps and Danes walk around in a sort of moody, deadpan haze, presumably trying to replicate the series' erstwhile coolness. But Epps is impossibly stoic, almost beatifically drugged; and Danes's laconic, emotionless performance suggests an unfortunate dalliance with Nembutal. She's the cutest little recovering heroin addict you could ever hope to see; one look at a real needle and she'd probably faint.

As for Ribisi, he goes the other way: His frenzied, pseudo-method acting antics suggest he swallowed a bottleful of diet pills. But when the hint of a romance comes up between Pete and Julie, and Ribisi casts doleful, village-idiot looks at her body, well, you start missing the antics.

The story moves so slowly and obviously, you don't even need to be in the theater very much (or your living room when the video comes out) to follow it. Still stuck for something to do, I tried to think of alternative titles. How about "The Nod Squad," given its propensity to induce slumber? Or "The Bod Squad," given Danes' many moments in designer underwear? Or "The Quad Squad," given the high-school presence of our three, supposedly rough-and-tumble heroes? Or "The Pod Squad," given the hypnotized, aliens-ate-my-brain performances of almost everyone? When I started thinking about a strategically protected Epps and Ribisi prancing around in a costume epic called "The Cod Squad," I knew it was time to get up and walk around. But luckily, the ending came and those wonderful doors to the outside world burst open again.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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