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'Mod Squad': Miss This Linc

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 26, 1999

  Movie Critic

The Mod Squad
Giovanni Ribisi (left), Claire Danes and Omar Epps (right) 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
Profanity and mild violence
Here's what I really like about "The Mod Squad": Nobody in it gives a damn.

It's a monument to the slacker sensibility. The actors don't care about each other or the story. The director doesn't care about the plot. The cinematographer doesn't care if it's in focus. The composer doesn't care if the music matches the emotions of the scenes, though that is at least comprehensible because the scenes have no emotions. The writer doesn't care about the words or if the story makes some kind – any kind! – of sense.

The only one affiliated with the project that could be said to be professional is the guy on the boom mike because – how's this for a blurb, folks? – not once does the boom mike dip into the shot!

Nominally drawn from the ABC series that ran in the late '60s and early '70s (and stank), this new movie also stinks. Claire Danes, fire your agent! Giovanni Ribisi, quit doing retarded schtick from "The Other Sister"! Omar Epps . . . Omar? Omar, wake up, for heaven's sake, you're in a movie! And if you do, possibly one of the other cast members will talk to you.

For idiotic reasons, the actors all wear the same names as their objective correlatives on TV – Julie, Pete and Linc, as all aging, pitiful baby boomers will know instantly – though, except for the requisite racial and gender correctness, they don't resemble them and appear to be at least 10 years younger. And Omar Epps, you are no Clarence Williams III, let me tell you. That man was scary. You are not.

The three are Los Angeles kids who've fallen through the cracks in systems of family, neighborhood and school until they hit bottom, though the movie invests no emotion in their circumstances. Now they've been recruited by a tough detective lieutenant – named Adam Greer, just like Tige Andrews in the original (played well enough by always professional Dennis Farina) – because they can get into places real cops can't. But are they really cops? They're really snitches, it seems to me. But does it matter? Not to them, not to anybody, so why should it to me? Anyway, Farina's Greer is wiped out at about Minute 4, so whatever focus or direction the movie had is completely destroyed.

What follows is a loopy spin through attitude, where each of the stars gets a chance to show a little edge and to proclaim utter independence from the script. Script? There's a writing credit on this one? It's more like they made it up anew each day on the set. (For the record: yes. Script by Stephen Kay "&" Scott Silver, who also directs, "and" Kate Lanier, and the arrangement of ampersand and conjunction conveys important technical information about writing partnerships and polish credit.)

Danes's Julie is being pursued by a slick piece of work (Josh Brolin) to whom she's attracted, though he turns out to be a pimp; Ribisi's Pete, meanwhile, is running around after some guy in leather pants, who's also connected to the central conspiracy, which, in any case, the movie never gets around to defining. By the way, who told this kid he was cute? He's not. Epps's Linc gets the least time of the three (who seldom, by the way, interact as a "squad" and are almost always on their own) but his main concern appears to be his Continental convertible, which keeps getting clobbered.

Nothing really fits together and just to make it worse, the movie is ugly. It's ugly because it's shot in the fabulous San Fernando Valley, which is ugly. All the buildings are ugly. The clothes are really ugly. Nearly everyone in it is ugly, except for Danes, who once played Juliet. You can almost imagine her plaintive lament: "Script? Script! Wherefore art thou, script?"

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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