A pretentiously titled police caper, ROOTS OF EVIL is a routine blood-and-sex story of little consequence save for a key plot device.
A serial killer is on the loose, going after prostitutes a la Jack the Ripper. Detective Jake Osbourne (Alex Cord) and his partner and lover, Sergeant Brenda Murphy (Jillian Kesner), take on the case with the help of their contacts in the Los Angeles underworld. Matters get complicated with the
murder of powerful drug lord Tony Fontana in his mansion, which they are also assigned to investigate. All clues point to sleazy pimp Johnny Malone (Randall Brady) as Fontana's killer, since he was seen leaving the mansion after the shooting. Osbourne and Murphy interrogate the drug lord's widow,
Marisa (Delia Sheppard), and Candy (Brinke Stevens), an exploitation movie actress who was Malone's ex-lover, about Malone's whereabouts.
Meanwhile, the serial killer is identified by Wanda (Jewel Sheppard)--one of Murphy's prostitute contacts--as Detective Collins (Charles Dierkop). A trap is set for Collins, who quickly bites the bait and is killed in a shootout. After surviving an attempt on his life, Osbourne discovers the
culprits in the Fontana case: none other than Marisa, who plotted with Candy to frame Malone and escape together to lesbian bliss. The film ends as violently as it began, with an assualt by a new serial killer.
Overall, ROOTS OF EVIL is quite ordinary as a crime story, with desperate murders, dedicated officers and enough violence to satisfy the average action-film aficionado. The sleazy underground locale makes for very lurid scenes, including a three-minute S&M dance followed by an unusually graphic
and long sex scene, meant as local color and atmosphere but needlessly stalling the narrative. The characters are strictly cardboard, from the tough-talking detective to the tough-but-sexy female partner, from the psycho serial killer (infatuated with his heartless mother, with whom he has two
senseless conversations) to hard-as-nails-but-vulnerable prostitutes. Typically, the female characters are presented as pathetic victims in need of male help; even Sgt. Murphy has to be rescued from the punk she battles with when we first see her by gallant Detective Osbourne.
Which leads to ROOTS OF EVIL's most intriguing point: the use of prostitutes as underworld contacts by the police department. When hooker Wanda is brought into police headquarters for booking, Brenda informs the arresting officer that Wanda is "very valuable to me. I need her on the street. Wanda
is one of the best snitches I have," and Brenda sees to it that she goes back on the street to perform her trade. One would think that the police force would rehabilitate those criminals who help them in their work. But instead of steering her to a better life, Brenda lets Wanda loose into the
prostitution ring, regardless of the obvious risks. The fact that it is a female officer who voices this policy makes for an interesting figure, woman as exploiter of woman. A serious filmmaker could have made a shattering comment on this unsavory aspect of crime fighting; in ROOTS OF EVIL, it is
an accepted fact, not criticized in the least.
Nothing highlights the third-rate quality of ROOTS OF EVIL like its cast, comprised of veteran third-rate actors who perform in a tired, lackadaisical way. As Detective Jake Osbourne, Alex Cord speaks in an affected "tough guy" voice which, matched with his frozen face, makes for a ludicrous
character. Jillian Kesner's only talent as Brenda Murphy is her amazing resemblance to Valerie Perrine. Charles Dierkopf overacts wildly as serial killer Collins. The rest of the cast goes through the motions, save for one very good actor who goes unbilled; his character, Detective Fred, appears
nowhere on the final credits, an unprofessional oversight on the filmmaker's part.
A little social conscience could have made ROOTS OF EVIL a flawed yet interesting film. Alas, we are given a predictable, unexceptional film, one among hundreds of cheaply made action movies for the video market. (Violence, nudity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: A pretentiously titled police caper, ROOTS OF EVIL is a routine blood-and-sex story of little consequence save for a key plot device. A serial killer is on the loose, going after prostitutes a la Jack the Ripper. Detective Jake Osbourne (Alex Cord) and hi… (more)