Raymond Avilla (Andy Garcia) has just been promoted to Internal Affairs in the Los Angeles Police Department, which is not the most enviable of positions to hold since it is a department usually resented by most cops for interfering when they are trying to do their job. But some cops deserve this kind of attention, like Dennis Peck (Richard Gere), who in spite of his apparently not too enormous paycheque seems to have large reserves of cash hidden away not to mention a strange hold over the rest of the staff of his department. So when Avilla tries to investigate Peck's partner Van Stretch (William Baldwin) for possibly planting evidence, he finds he has the man himself to reckon with...
This was a thriller that won surprisingly good reactions on its initial release, and was considered Richard Gere's comeback movie in an acclaimed performance as a smooth villain, but naturally it has been well overshadowed since by his other comeback movie from 1990, a little surprise blockbuster detailing the sunny side of prostitution called Pretty Woman. He was doing his Prince Charming act in that, and to an extent was doing the same here, though this was perhaps more interesting as it hewed closer to the dark side of the persona that had served the star so well. His career ebbed and flowed more times since, but thanks to that twinkly way with winning over an audience he never really fell out of fashion.
Here he all he needed was a black cape, top hat and moustache to twirl and you would have a better idea of what Peck was supposed to represent, every law-abiding citizen's worst nightmare, a crooked lawman who has no qualms about breaking the law to suit his interests, and if you were in the way, prepare to be destroyed. Even if you were not in the way, he might destroy you for the hell of it, simply to exercise his power. The trouble with that was, Henry Bean's script may have started out as a mostly believable police drama, but by the halfway mark he found he had to up the ante so far that the film became rather absurd in its efforts to keep the audience on its toes and aghast at the bad guy's antics.
We were supposed to recognise Peck's methods of keeping his victims under his thumb as demonstrated on Stretch were now being inflicted on Avilla, pushing him to breaking point. Fair enough, he was new on the job, but it was too farfetched to believe that simply through goading him Peck could force the I.D.A. man into a mental breakdown as he became pathologically suspicious that Peck was having an affair with his wife Kathleen (Nancy Travis), when anyone could have realised on the evidence gathered thus far that this manipulation was precisely what Peck got up to as a matter of course. But then there would be no conflict, no dramatic irony, or at least neither of those things as applied to a plot that flirted with more intelligent themes yet fell back too readily on silliness.
Nevertheless, even in the silliest thriller there was entertainment to be had, and this was not too outrageous if you were prepared to swallow Peck's one-man corruption exponent - it seems there is nobody else in his department who gets up to anything dodgy, he takes care of all the subterfuge himself. Gere was amusing enough to watch, though in spite of being top billed it wasn't he who was awarded the protagonist status, it was then-rising star Garcia who was more convincing when he was teaming up with new partner Laurie Metcalf than when was going crackers with misplaced envy, with regulation making a scene in public, er, scenes. As often with this type of thriller, we looked to the treatment of the female characters to judge how awful the men were being, and there were plenty of slaps and abusive moments, even gunshot wounds, that were doled out to the actresses in the cast, including Faye Grant from TV sci-fi show V and Annabella Sciorra in an early role. All in all, director Mike Figgis (who contributed to the music) presented a rather more serious take on the material than it deserved, but that wasn't so bad in itself.