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The Mod Squad

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 26 March 1999

  Directed by Scott Silver.

Starring Claire Danes, Giovanni Ribisi,
Omar Epps, Dennis Farina, Josh Brolin,
Steve Harris, and Michael Lerner.

Screenplay by Stephen T. Kay, Scott Silver, and Kate Lanier,
based on characters created by Buddy Ruskin.

The Mod Squad is:

  1. Sexy.
  2. Cool.
  3. Mod.
  4. None of the above.
  5. And then some!

It’s time to hire a lawyer and sue MGM ("75 Years…A Legacy of Excellence") for this felony of a film. Frankly, after three quarters of a century, 94 minutes of this stiff is enough to neuter Leo the Lion. Heck, the beast is dead; I was asking for battle pay after suffering through this counterculture flop. Webster’s Dictionary and entire audiences will be rewriting the definition of "turkey" based on a viewing of this fowl-feathered television police drama retread, yet another in the dismal string of old TV series recycled to the big screen (following last month’s disastrous My Favorite Martian and the forthcoming Charlie’s Angels). The curse of Aaron Spelling is upon us (and you thought "actress"-daughter Tori was bad enough). Run! Hide! Call the police! Write your Congressman! But most of all, do not even think of buying a ticket to this moronic attempt to revive the Seventies mentality in a 1999 shell.

Claire Danes, Giovanni Ribisi, and Omar Epps fill the shoes of Peggy Lipton, Michael Cole, and Clarence Williams III as the eponymous trio Julie, Pete, and Linc. The originals aired on ABC from 1968 through 1973 and this latest theatrical effort is actually the second ruse to pump new life into the old series, the first being the made-for-television The Return of Mod Squad in 1979. Neither revival succeeded, thank goodness, but the new version is attempting to drag you into multiplexes everywhere under the marketing spell of a shameless studio.

Several years ago I was blessed to attend the San Sebastian (Spain) Film Festival and catch director Scott Silver’s feature directorial debut with the little seen johns, a bleak story of Los Angeles street hustlers featuring Lukas Haas and David Arquette, which won over audiences and captured one of the festival’s awards. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it "Midnight Cowboy for the ‘90s," harking on the John Schlesinger classic released a half-year after three "hippie cops" invaded America’s living rooms. Wish as I may that there was as nice a corollary for Silver’s second film, but this one just brings to mind "1999’s answer to The Avengers." No, it’s not pretty. Not pretty at all. Silver mentions in the press material that "we wanted to make it timeless," but if you’re unfortunate enough to see this tiresome update, you’ll probably remember for all eternity how bad it really is. But anyone who calls Aaron Spelling a genius, as Silver does, deserves to be caught up in this cinematic sinkhole.

This bomb of seismic proportions (if the disjointed script and awful direction don’t kill you, the over-produced, brassy soundtrack will, at the least, make you deaf) has us believe that the L.A.P.D., under one Captain Adam Greer (Dennis Farina, lately of Spelling’s retro Buddy Faro series), has recruited three small-time criminals with an attitude problem, and given them a dubious, undercover position within the force, despite the growling of the real cops. Danes, now a college freshman at Yale, should be spending more time with her studies than playing a gullible, recovering alcoholic half-wit, while Ribisi still seems caught up in his The Other Sister role as the mentally-challenged, formerly middle-class, Danny McMahon, even to the point of barking early on in his role here as a ridiculous, over-sexed crash dummy. Poor Omar Epps is the token underused black icon (although The Practice’s Steve Harris adds a few minutes of screen time), generally crouching in the shadows watching the bad guys. And there are plenty of crooks, most of which you can guess from reel one, but also including Michael Lerner in an unintentionally hilarious and uneasy role as Howard, a shady, fey, gold-chained gangster with a predilection for an impromptu dance.

The Mod Squad conjures up the best work of Ed Wood (or the worst of Aaron Spelling). The cocky threesome talk about "playing cop" at one point in the film. Unfortunately, they play cops badly. Any gunplay in the movie should be redirected at the people responsible for this offense. In my scrawl of notes I underlined one sentence several times: This is a mess! Enough said.

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