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Play Nice Reviews

Pump up your average TV cop show with foul language and sardonic wit and some not-ready-for-prime-time sleaze, and you approximate the experience of viewing PLAY NICE. Although the storyline is stuffed with enough red herrings to stock a cannery for years, and the acting is sometimes on a level with "Star Search," this direct-to-video release boasts a no-nonsense precinct mentality and flashes of caustic black humor. The tabloids have a field day as Rapunzel, a blonde-wigged babe, goes on a murder spree that gives coitus interruptus a whole new meaning. Burnt out by a recent divorce and separation from his daughter, and bugged by constant inquiries from internal affairs, Jack "Mouth" Penucci (Ed O'Ross) is the kind of shoot-from-the-hip lawman whose partners always request transfers. Saddled with a rookie, Dennis Crichnore (Michael Zand), Penucci pieces together a crime profile while staying one step ahead of a sleazy reporter, Harold Wiesen (Scott Burkholder), who is being fed official information from someone on the inside. During his investigation, Penucci springs back to life when he falls for obsequious Jill (Robey) who works for the Bureau of Social Services. As the killings continue, two facts stand out: the murdered men are fathers with a history of sexually abusing their daughters and mousy Jill is turning into a tigress. By the time reporter Wiesen is silenced, Penucci realizes that Jill has assumed someone else's identity in order to have access to closed files and to facilitate her vigilante tactics. Abused as a child, this Rapunzel relives her traumas with an unhappy ending for her "daddy" of the evening. Arriving at the scene of her latest fatal incest tableau, Penucci and Crichmore tail her to a hotel basement where she knocks Jack unconscious and blasts Crichmore several times before Penucci awakens and stops Rapunzel's one-woman incest clean-up campaign. If only PLAY NICE offered a few more viable murderess candidates and hadn't padded out its running time with reiterative exposition, this might have been a small-scale police classic. Unfortunately, the filmmakers' ambitions aren't matched by their abilities. While the Jack-and-Jill psycho-sexual battle is meant to reflect somehow upon the killer's crime of passion, the sense of dangerous passion and out-of-control emotions is more theoretical than palpable in this film. Too much energy goes into teasing the audience with Jill's probable guilt; it is too obvious and too early when the viewer catches on to her little brown wren charade. The screenwriters' sleight-of-hand is clumsy on this key point. And in the film's early scenes, awkward staging is quite evident. Director Teri Treas seems to gain confidence as the film goes along. In fact, the crescendo of violence in the hotel basement at the film's climax is a real nail-biter. As Rapunzel, the actress Robey lets her hair down nicely but doesn't shade her Plain Jane characterization effectively; she makes her character's hidden agenda apparent from the outset. A character actor in the Leo Rossi mold, Ed O'Ross is persuasive as the cop who's a little unhinged by passion himself. Given the screenplay's dexterity in working in the incest motivation, one wishes it had a firmer grasp on the mechanics of suspense. For all its limitations, PLAY NICE offers a good supply of jolts and surprises. Compelling throughout, it will satisfy armchair detectives even if they work out the killer's identity rather quickly. In this instance the unraveling of the motives is as fascinating as whodunit. (Violence, sexual situations.)