"60 Minutes" could be considered the best cop show on television. On tomorrow night's edition, it includes a report that is virtually a pilot for another one. "ROP," produced and shot by the hard-working team of Paul and Holly Fine, chronicles the very telegenic exploits of Washington's Repeat Offender Project, a select unit of undercover cops who try to shorten the re'sume's of career criminals.
The report includes footage of actual busts -- one a foiled fur robbery at Neiman-Marcus -- and a visit to a District "shooting gallery" for junkies. This is good, tough urban footage, but the overall portrait of the unit as a ragtag band of Belkers and Hawkeyes suggests that film and TV fictionalized treatments are simply inevitable -- a cross between "Hill Street Blues" and "M*A*S*H," with fortunes to be made from the result. Perhaps the ROP unit will eventually be able to pay its own way just on residuals.
They seem, or are made to seem, a shaggy, if dogged, lot. They're not all perfect physical specimens, as the camera and correspondent Ed Bradley note; a few are lucky that bulletproof vests come in extra large. One of the operative philosophies, explains Inspector Ed Spurlock, head of the unit, is that the best busts are accomplished with the largest possible horde of cops, so when they descend on a house, armed with shotguns, they're an awesome display of high-profile collective kinetics.
To say this kind of footage is sure-fire is to slight the resourcefulness, guts and creative cunning that the Fines put into their work. But in profiling the ROP unit, the Fines and Bradley may have been a touch too uncritical of it. Obviously they need a great deal of police cooperation to be invited along on raids and busts; are they, in return, a little softer on their subjects than they might be? The arrest of a fence who is tricked into buying goods he thinks are stolen seems borderline entrapment, but Bradley doesn't really hold Spurlock accountable in their little patrol-car chats.
From Miami, where he had just arrived from a film shoot in Ecuador, Paul Fine said yesterday he was sure the police did not alter their style or behavior because his camera was trained on them but conceded he grew very fond of the ROP gang during his three weeks with them. "They try to have fun," Fine said. "They work ridiculous hours. But they get to be real cops, including the John Wayne part."
Asked if a TV series isn't inevitable (the D.C. police department's "sting" operation inspired a movie or two a few years ago), Fine said he'd already received inquiries from three producers and that the department had also been contacted. "Actually, they didn't remind me of a cop show so much as they reminded me of '60 Minutes,' " Fine said. "They send cops out on busts, '60 Minutes' sends out producers to do stories."
And there you are -- full circle. Or something. The bottom line, if there needs to be one: "ROP" is another outstanding segment of a persistently terrific TV show. 'Streets of Justice'
Vigilantism is one of the preoccupations of the current television season. What CBS is trying to do with a little class on "The Equalizer," NBC, more determinedly tawdry, tries to do with a touch of sleaze on "Streets of Justice," the Sunday night movie at 9 on Channel 4 that is also the pilot for a projected series about a citizen avenger. Don't we have enough criminals roaming the airwaves as it is?
This avenger owes a great deal to Charles Bronson and the "Death Wish" pictures. Bronson's vigilante architect was driven to violence when his wife was murdered and his daughter raped by urban terrorists. In "Justice," a factory worker takes to the streets after his wife is raped and murdered and his son killed by a vile tribe of coke-snorting, pill-popping bikers.
These guys are mean. One of them eats live mice.
Writer-director Christopher Crowe could have fashioned a simple rip-off vigilante thriller out of this but NBC's standards and practices department would not allow gunplay and mayhem on a Bronsonesque scale. So the hero metes out his version of justice rather meekly. He is unarmed through most of the film, which only adds to its patent implausibility.
Naturally the evil bikers exploit our corrupt judicial system and end up with tiny prison sentences, then are set free on yet another of those nuisance technicalities. That's when the angered widower meets them on their own turf and threatens them with . . . his wife's camera! He says he'll take pictures of them making dope deals. They let him walk blithely out of the bar. What is supposed to be a rabble-rouser has by this point become a ludicrous farce.
As the hero, John Laughlin sulks like Richard Gere and makes with the wounded eyebrows of, say, Timothy Bottoms -- a lethal combination, perhaps, but not in any way that could help the picture. Bikers have been given names like Zero, Road Rodent and Stink. An evil liberal lawyer, played by Paul Shenar, is described by the district attorney as "an aging whore." But naturally he gets his way in court; he wants publicity, it is stated, but would any lawyer really benefit from publicity about his having helped to free the murderer of a child?
Crowe includes some high-sounding discussions about the morality of taking the law into one's own hands, but none about TV movies that endorse such behavior. "If you want to get mad at somebody, get mad at the Supreme Court," a police detective played by the faultlessly reliable Robert Loggia is told. This film seems to have been made to appeal primarily to Edwin Meese.