May 07, 1990 12:00 PM

Nick Nolte, Timothy Hutton

Sidney Lumet, director of this film, has given us some of the best American movies of the last 35 years—Twelve Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Pawnbroker. Let’s remember him for those achievements, not this hyperviolent, disjointedly unlikely New York City police drama.

Q & A has one effective early scene when Nolte, as a rugged street cop suspected of unjustifiably shooting a suspect, delivers a buddy-buddy talk to some fellow cops about his life behind the badge. He’s profane: he’s brutal; he’s racist; he’s believable.

Soon, however, Lumet is tracking the pursuit of Nolte by Hutton, an ex-cop turned assistant D.A. Hutton is as naive as Nolte is cynical, which is to say off the charts. Nolte is soon revealed to be corrupt, with vaguely explained ties to organized crime; he also has no life at all in this movie, except to threaten and mangle people.

Hutton, meanwhile, acts dazed in dealing with Patrick O’Neal, his politically ambitious, sleazy boss, who turns out to have a laughably unlikely relationship with a much younger Cuban drug dealer, Armand Assante. Assante has a silly relationship with Hutton’s old sweetie, played by the barely competent Jennifer Lumet (Hmmm, might she be somebody’s relative?).

Assante is effective; Luis (Black Rain) Guzman and Charles Dutton (who spent 7½ years in prison for manslaughter and other crimes before turning to acting in 1977) lend substance as Nolte’s partners.

Lumet, though, wastes the notion of examining multidimensional racism—white against black, black against white, everybody against Latino and vice versa. This movie, which Lumet adapted from a novel by New York Judge Edwin Torres, is so foolish that not even the most flagrant bigotry has any impact. (R)

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