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  Busting Twice The Vice
Year: 1974
Director: Peter Hyams
Stars: Elliott Gould, Robert Blake, Allen Garfield, Antonio Fargas, Michael Lerner, Sid Haig, Ivor Francis, William Sylvester, Logan Ramsey, Richard X. Slattery, Margo Winkler, John Lawrence, Frank Farmer, Cornelia Sharpe, Erin O'Reilly, Danny Goldman
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: These two cops, Keneely (Elliott Gould) and Farrel (Robert Blake) work for the Vice Squad, but they are both finding their occupations deeply unsatisfying. Take their latest arrest, for example, they had tracked a hooker, Jackie (Cornelia Sharpe), who was visiting one of her regular clients, a dentist for whom she would pose as a patient, then once in the surgery take all her clothes off and allow him to have sex with her in the chair, all for a fee of course. Even though the cops caught him with his trousers down, their superior officer refused to charge either him or Jackie in spite of the cops grabbing her contact book, and once again their efforts come to naught...

Either Busting was an exposé of the lengths police corruption had gone to in modern, nineteen-seventies America, or it was a rollicking comedy thriller where the lead lawmen capered around the streets of Los Angeles getting into various action setpieces. But director Peter Hyams, who had penned the script for his first feature here, apparently was wondering why it couldn't be both at once which left not a Serpico-influenced cop drama but something more akin to something Gould had been in four years before, Robert Altman's MASH, a mixture of the sincere and the irreverent, so in spite of arriving early in the buddy movie cycle the results felt derivative, without really establishing its own identity.

At least that was how it seemed back in 1974, but watch Busting now and you had the sort of time capsule that for all its missteps and overdoing it in many scenes was far more redolent of the era than some examples, especially when a thriller in this decade meant loosening censorship guided its makers to more extreme material than had been the norm. Much of that brought it into controversy, and in this case the depiction of the gay bar Keneely and Farrel end up being sent to and trying to bust for after hours vice led the film into complaints for its supposed stereotypes and idiotic prejudices. With Antonio Fargas as one of the homosexuals who starts a fight with the duo, the resulting brawl at least showed they could be tough, but it's a deliberately farcical scene really.

That bit is early on as their boss insists on sending them on assignments which are intended to distract them from securing proper arrests, and in this case the Mr Big they are after is Carl Rizzo, played with splendidly cocky sleaze by Allen Garfield, who makes no bones about his continual upper hand when it comes to the law, which he knows inside out, and even if he didn't, police corruption ensures that he will get away scot free. Nevertheless, Keneely and Farrel are intent on catching him out, and after a long opening act which doesn't seem to be going anywhere in particular except to throw obstructions in the heroes' way a plot begins to make itself clear: can they finally arrest Rizzo, or will he escape justice precisely as he has done for years?

This being the decade where the downbeat ending was fast becoming a cliché, you might be able to anticipate how that will turn out, but before all that there were at least a couple of very decent action sequences as the vice cops chase down the bad guys, not learning their lesson that the harder they try the more they will be disappointed. There's a tense shoot-out in a market which displays Hyams' growing confidence in such kinetic scenes, though with the bullets flying it does make the protagonists look seriously irresponsible, and the climactic pursuit between the stolen ambulances was impressively handled, as you would expect with Hal Needham in charge of the stunts. If you wanted a compact primer for every box in the seventies cop movie checklist then go no further than Busting as it was all here, the buddies (though Gould and Blake don't have much rapport), the quips, the hookers, the drugs, the hitmen, the chases, and so on, possibly making this not the best, but the most typical of its kind. The funky score by Billy Goldenberg would slot into that category, as well.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Peter Hyams  (1943 - )

American director, writer and cinematographer, mostly of standard genre movies: action, sci-fi, thriller, etc. After a career as a TV newsman (he was a Vietnam War reporter) he moved into films, writing and producing T.R. Baskin. A couple of TV movies later, on the big screen he made Busting, Capricorn One, Hanover Street, Outland, 2010, The Presidio, a remake of Narrow Margin, Stay Tuned, Timecop, Sudden Death, The Relic, End of Days, The Musketeer and A Sound of Thunder.

 
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