Take one part Miami Vice (the part where the movie says it takes place in Miami and where the black guy wears terrible clothes), one part Dirty Harry (Rom Kristoff‘s Nick Carpenter doesn’t care how many times he gets chewed out by his superiors – he’s going to keep shooting bad guys!), a healthy dose of Rambo (right before throwing a knife in a guy’s back, Nam vet Nick mutters “first blood”), marinate it all in a cheap Filipino action movie and you have a tasty batch of Tough Cops!
Of course distilling a singular action experience like Tough Cops into a mere grocery list of earlier, better projects does it a grave injustice as its nonstop and rudimentarily
executed action and painfully primitive dialogue (Nick’s captured girlfriend shouts “fuck you and all your assholes!” at the evil Fat Cat who is holding her hostage) keeps you on the edge of your low expectations seat as Nick effortlessly moves from one brutal shootout to another all the while barely showing any interest in rescuing his girlfriend from Fat Cat until he and his partner Tubbs, I mean Pete, accidentally run into their source just after foiling a totally unrelated liquor store hold up.
Kristoff gives the performance you not only expect from the hunky and brooding grand dame of obscure 1980s Filipino and Italian trash action movies (see also Angel in the Dark, Warbus and Terror Force Commando for starters), but is required of a burn out Nam vet who expresses the same emotion (think bored robot) whether he’s water boarding a guy in a pond, shooting his TV because of a Nam Flashback of his days in Charlie’s tiger cage or betting a wounded perp $100 he’ll miss if he tries to shoot Nick. (Of course Nick is faster, kills the guy and the movie easily cements itself as “must see desensitizing experience” when Nick grimly announces “you lost” as he rifles through the dead man’s wallet to collect his winnings.)
Nick’s creepy gambling habits catch up with him as it turns out the drug deal he and his partner disrupted pisses off local villain Fat Cat. Fat Cat controls the area drug trade and maintains an island hideout staffed by his own private army of uniformed soldiers. Even scarier, Fat Cat bears an unsettling resemblance to music legend Mick Fleetwood!
Alas though the only singing that happens in the film is when Nick plays his cassette tape of an Elvis Presley impersonator singing “Jailhouse Rock”. But Nick is such a supercop he uses his inexplicably cheap musical tastes as a distraction so that all the regular cops don’t notice him and his partner sneaking into the abandoned cement factory to rescue a rich man’s grandson being held hostage by terrorists!
But surely I’m talking about a different Rom Kristoff rogue cop movie because this doesn’t seem to have anything to do with bringing down Fat Cat and rescuing his girlfriend! Nope. Same movie. Nick even has time to accidentally run over a purse snatcher and incur the wrath of a fellow cop when he kills the cop’s brother during a shootout at a bar! Ultimately Al the Informant (the same one Nick water boards) is blamed for it and Nick and the other cop team up to shoot a bunch more bad guys who suddenly appear during their showdown! And really, with all the mayhem Nick’s involved with, who can blame him if he doesn’t know exactly who he shot during one of his numerous gun battles!
Ultimately though in order to live up to Nick’s exasperated chief’s belief that Nick is “a natural born killing machine and a no good social worker” Nick has to show how clutch he is when it comes to the final showdown with Fat Cat. Do you really think the star of a movie called Tough Cops isn’t going to invade the island with just his partner?
And when he not only applies camouflage paint on his face but also puts his sunglasses back on afterward, you know hundreds of extras are about to die and warehouses are going to be blown up. But then Nick shockingly runs out of ammo just as he was trying to shoot FatCat before he escapes in his helicopter! Not so clutch now, is he? You’re kidding, right? This is what grenades are for!
Tough Cops is a treasure trove of unsophisticated foreign filmmaking trying desperately to not only rip off its American inspirations (right down to the Miami Vice-inspired synth soundtrack) but even smartly nods at its own dubious origins as Nick encounters a single ninja on the island and says “I’ve played this scene before” (in movies such as Ninja’s Force and Ninja Warriors) and simply guns the ninja down.
There is nothing terribly stylish or innovative about any of this (director Dominic Elmo Smith would only direct two other equally unknown movies in 1987 and 1988 and you can be forgiven if you thought Teddy Page or Cirio H. Santiago was behind the camera), but Nick’s nonstop crime busting is never boring and is often full of strange moments like when he just laughs about the liquor store hold up or when he and his partner periodically say “meow” to each other for no discernible reason. And in a truly awesome nod to the era’s pop culture, Nick’s partner is played by the brother of Todd Bridges from Diff’rent Strokes! What you talkin’ bout, Tough Cops!
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