The next time you're rolling around in a sea of Mountain Dew cans and Burger King wrappers bemoaning your own obscurity, remember, at least you're not Sylvester Stallone.
I've grown to love him, but there was a time--for a lot of us, I think--when having his name attached to a movie was a sure sign of something I ought to avoid like refried poison. But blind prejudice has its perks. Once you find out what you've been missing out on, you get to go back and discover all the things your past self rejected out of hand. Prime example, and this week's entry for Cop Month: 1997's Cop Land.
In the sleepy Jersey suburb where NYPD officer Harvey Keitel and many of his precinct live, sheriff Stallone is supposed to turn a blind eye to their local wrongdoing. But when a coverup for Keitel's nephew involves fake deaths, a visit from internal affairs officer Robert De Niro, and mob violence, Stallone finally prepares to take a stand.
It was a real shock to me when I watched Rocky for the first time a few years back and discovered Stallone doing something I'd never seen him try before: acting. In Cop Land, he's successfully cast against type as a pushover and a loser, a guy who couldn't win over Annabella Sciorra even after he saved her life, which a) I think is pretty disrespectful and b) means I should probably rethink my plans to find a wife by camping out under the 240 and littering the overpass with banana peels.
Then again, maybe Stallone just got into a crazy act-off with the rest of the cast. Cop Land's billing is as stacked as the Yankees lineup: along with De Niro and Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick, and Janeane Garofalo pitch in. Never thought I'd say this, but none of them quite match up to Stallone.
Better yet, writer/director James Mangold knows what to do with them, building a tangled world of big-city corruption around small-town relationships that carry the weight of years spent hanging around the same diners and bars together.
It makes for an air of quiet menace that reminds me of a lot of the great California noir. Then, like those, it boils over, dousing the town in hot steamy crime and driving Stallone on a lonely but triumphant crusade against it in an echo (or, since this happened first, a reverse echo) of Mangold's recent 3:10 to Yuma. Cop Land is one of the surprises of my movie-watching career, a piece I expected to be trash but which ended up a minor treasure.