Courtesy Photo
90 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, October 9, 1998
Directed by Bruno Barreto

Starring Stephen Baldwin, Chris Penn, Mike McGlone, Gina Gershon & Amy Irving


We see this kind of gritty urban cop drama on TV all the time ("NYPD Blue"), but this highly-fictionalized, cliche-riddled cop bio is more USA Network than it is Steven Bochco.

Fictionalized Brooklyn cop bio void of originality

When thick-neck Brooklynite Bo Dietl was a New York City plain-clothes policeman, his life was apparently an endless series of gritty cop cliches.

Dietl is a real guy, a retired badge who wrote a semi-autobiographical novel which has been turned into a movie, "One Tough Cop," starring Stephen Baldwin. But apparently the autobiographical elements of his life didn't make for good drama. A disclaimer precedes the closing credits that reads (I'm paraphrasing here), with the exception of the character of Bo Dietl, almost everything in this movie is fictitious.

Fictitious, overworked, recycled and shopworn.

In the picture, a beefed-up Baldwin (he gained 30 pounds, a few tattoos and an accent for the role) slogs through untold episodes seeming salvaged from the "Hill Street Blues" cutting room floor: Dietl is ordered off a case and investigates anyway. His partner (Chris Penn) is a drunk with huge gambling debts, but, of course, a noble cop nonetheless. His girlfriend was recently his best friend's girlfriend (insert "we gotta talk" scene here), and she says things like "Well, well, well, Dietl. I was wondering when you'd show up."

Naturally, Dietl's interrogation style is to bust up a suspect's apartment and push him violently back into his chair every time he jumps up saying "Hey, man, I don't know nuthin'!"

You get the idea.

That disclaimer about it all being made up came as quite a relief, but I wish it had been at the beginning of the movie, because it was hard not to smirk and roll my eyes while watching scenes lifted from a hundred B-grade cop movies being passed off as a true story.

Here's the stuff that is real: Dietl really did grow up with a guy who became a mob operative (played here by Mike McGlone from "The Brothers McMullen" and "She's The One"), and their continued friendship begot all kinds of trouble for Dietl, including an investigation by Internal Affairs and the FBI. Also, Dietl helped solve the brutal rape and murder of a nun. And, based on the way Baldwin plays him in the movie, I wouldn't be surprised if Dietl really did drive a gold Trans Am.

Pretty much everything else -- the opening sequence hostage situation that Dietl resolves single-handedly, the scene cradling the bullet-riddled body of his dead partner in an dark intersection (oops, did I let that slip?) -- was invented (or, more accurately, pilfered) by either Dietl the novelist or Jeremy Iacone, the screenwriter, and it's excruciatingly obvious.

And, by the way, what is with that title?

"One Tough Cop" shows promise when its focus is on the semi-factual. Baldwin and McGlone have an old-neighborhood chemistry that lends the cop-mob guy relationship some real chops and cogent conflict.

But the movie isn't about that relationship. It's not about the nun case either, although his determination to find the perps responsible stirs Baldwin's strongest and least pre-fabricated emotions. It's just about this one tough cop who is no more or less interesting than all the tough movie cops that have come before him.

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