"Hollywood Vice Squad," which bears the same relation to "Miami Vice" that Julius La Rosa bears to Frank Sinatra, takes us inside the seamy underbelly of the glamor capital of the world. You've never seen people stoop to such depths for a little money.
But enough about the filmmakers.
"Hollywood Vice Squad" is "structured" as a me'lange of parallel stories. A girl comes to the glamor capital of the world in search of stardom but becomes a hooker instead, working for a panderer named Walsh (Frank Gorshin); her mother (Trish Van Devere) travels west and beseeches a good-hearted police captain (Ronny Cox) to find her. A thug named Lucchese runs several rackets from his limousine; the vice cops set a trap for him. A woman rookie cop (Carrie Fisher) yearns for acceptance from her male comrades. She, uh, finds it.
Gorshin has some fun with his role, flapping the flesh of his skeletal face, and he's got a delightful bit of business that involves sticking a cigarette into his mouth sideways. But when Frank Gorshin is the most interesting thing in a movie, you know you're in trouble. The script, with lines like "We've got him covered like stink on doo-doo," is not exactly vintage Noel Coward, and while I thoroughly enjoyed watching a car smash through several stacked cases of beer, most of the action sequences are clumsily staged and phony-looking.
What has happened to Penelope Spheeris? The director of such underground hits as "Suburbia" and "The Decline of Western Civilization," she's become a purveyor of exploitation filmmaking at its most dour and self-serious. "Hollywood Vice Squad" never loosens up, never plays with the genre in the way that, say, "The Terminator" did -- its idea of fun is to have an undercover cop dressed as Santa Claus get trampled (after a few lewd remarks about "chimneys") by a gang of harlots.
Ho ho ho.
Hollywood Vice Squad, at area theaters, is rated R and contains considerable violence, nudity, sexual themes and frequent profanity.