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Man in Uniform Reviews

David Wellington's A MAN IN UNIFORM simultaneously explores the fetishism surrounding law enforcement and the psychic quirks--especially fractured identity and a peculiar form of sadism--that may be prerequisites for thespian talent. Modestly budgeted but visually stylish, this 1993 Canadian feature begins intriguingly but fails to deliver promised insights. Henry Adler (Tom McCamus) is a struggling actor who begins to take his Stanislavsky a little too seriously. When he sees a policeman shot in busy downtown Toronto, it apparently gives him just the sense memory his craft requires, and he scores a small role as a beat officer in a TV cop show called "Crime Wave." At his costume fitting, he meets actress Charlie Warner (Brigitte Bako), who's been cast as a prostitute in the series, and a mild flirtation develops. Henry's private life consists largely of a boring bank job and visits with his father, who is disintegrating in a hospital bed. He compensates by throwing himself into his work, first wearing his police uniform during off hours, then buying a police scanner and thrusting himself into crises on the street. When his bank is robbed by a gang of costume-wielding thugs, including a woman dressed as Marilyn Monroe in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, police detectives suspect him of being the inside man. The line between TV fantasy and reality begins to blur. In uniform, he passes another cop making a bust, and gets roped into offering the assist. Back at the bank, a problem customer pushes him into character, and he makes veiled threats in the hard-boiled lingo of television cops; he resigns after a confrontation with his supervisor. When he interrupts a street tough breaking into his apartment, he lets him off with a stern warning, but keeps his gun. Henry, now convinced that Charlie is his girlfriend, takes her to meet his dying father; afterwards, she tries to let him down easy, but it doesn't register. Things deteriorate further after his father dies. He responds to a domestic disturbance in character; threatens to issue a traffic citation until the violator calls his bluff; then wraps his final scene and walks off the set with his uniform. Tooling around one night, he comes across a cop getting serviced by a streetwalker in his patrol car. The cop's partner, Frank (Kevin Tighe), takes him next door for coffee and regales him with stories from the trenches. They hit it off, and the cop takes him along to shake down a Vietnamese drug dealer; when their victim proves insufficiently cooperative, Henry shoots him to death. By now, Henry is becoming a loose cannon, terrorizing his former co-star, extorting favors from hookers, and running his TV dialogue incessantly. Finally, he watches himself on "Crime Wave" and, as his character takes a bullet onscreen, blows his own head off. A MAN IN UNIFORM is most effective when it focuses on the fetishism surrounding police work--the swinging night sticks, creaking leather accessories, flashy Gestapo-like uniforms, and high-tech weaponry that law enforcement groupies find so fascinating. Both on television and in real life, the film suggests, the stylized gear and the ritualized behaviors of policemen partake of a fascist aesthetic, and cops exercise power on the street as much by exploiting their theatrical, sadomasochistic allure as by depending on citizens' respect for authority. Henry's psychic tailspin is less persuasively rendered, however--at best, he's a warmed-over Travis Bickle, and the inevitable violent climax is a letdown, especially in comparison to the unforgettable pyrotechnics of TAXI DRIVER's finale. (Violence, adult situations, substance abuse, profanity.)