February 05, 1990 12:00 PM

Forest Whitaker, Anthony Edwards

A buddy movie! A buddy movie about cops! A buddy movie about cops in which one is black and one white! Lethal cinema! Actually, redundancy not being all that much of a transgression in Hollywood, familiarity isn’t what should breed contempt for this movie: The problem is loss of energy.

Whitaker, the star of Bird, is a commanding presence. Edwards, while he seems cursed with a second-banana quality, is often ingratiating as a young white cop who ends up as Whitaker’s partner in a tough precinct in central Philadelphia.

It begins as a larky film, with Edwards being made a fool of by local street crooks. But events turn very stern when another cop’s throat is cut. And director Richard (My Stepmother Is an Alien) Benjamin loses all control at the end.

Most crucially, Whitaker disappears entirely during a final chase, leaving Edwards to flit about rounding up a big drug-smuggling gang almost single-handedly. (There is something racist about having a wimpy white cop move in and clean up a huge case in a black precinct.)

Benjamin and his writer, Nat (Night Court) Mauldin, make the ending even more foolish by staging the chase in particularly clumsy fashion—it’s neither remotely plausible nor amusing as a stunt.

They also cram three heart-to-heart scenes into a short span in the middle of the film—between Edwards and Whitaker, between Edwards and his girlfriend, between Whitaker and his wife (played effectively by Kimberly Scott). All of this seems ill-considered, and by the end, the bright early moments have soured. It’s easy to get distracted, start musing about the title and be wondering what ever happened to Petula Clark when you should be watching the bad guy get pulverized in the wood chipper. (R)

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