Sporting top-of-the-line production values and confident direction, TO PROTECT AND SERVE is a gritty, above average crime thriller that plays like TV's erstwhile "Hill Street Blues" on testosterone.
Will Egan (C. Thomas Howell) is a burned-out cop whose life is changed after witnessing fellow officers execute a Rodney King-type beating on a perpetrator. Apparently, this nightbreed of crooked policemen have been in operation since Howell's own dad was killed in the line of duty years before.
Although his former girlfriend Harriet (Lezlie Deane), a super cop, reluctantly partners Egan, she doesn't realize that he's working undercover for the internal affairs office. It seems they're after bigger game than the rogue cops, a group that includes Kazinski (Joe Cortese) and Aguilar (Rudy
As the investigation heats up, the grafting cops start meeting their maker one by one, starting with Franklin (Tim Colgert) who's slain during a kinky sex scene with a prostitute; she may be the only one who can identify the cop killer. When Egan won't play ball by killing Teddy B. (Jeffrey
Anderson Gunter), a drug-dealing informant, two of the choirboys do it for him but end up becoming homicide statistics themselves. By the time Egan acquires a shakedown diary from one of the surviving cops, Harriet suspects that he is the vigilante snuffing out crooked cops.
Lured by the whore who witnessed Franklin's killer running from the crime scene, Egan travels to a seedy section of town where he encounters the doubting Harriet disguised as the hooker. He is only slightly more surprised when their very own Captain Maloul (Richard Romanus), the chief of police,
steps out of the shadows and demands the incriminating diary. In the ensuing Wambaugh-ian turn of events, Egan saves Harriet, executes the scummy captain (who also killed Howell's father), and prepares to turn the diary over to internal affairs.
Where TO PROTECT AND SERVE falters is in juggling the who's-really-doing-it suspense aspects of the screenplay. Also, once the internal affairs element is added, our suspicions shift immediately to the captain no matter how hard the screenplay keeps spotlighting Howell's possible guilt. Although
amateur detectives may not be as easily led as the screenwriter hopes, the film's rogues gallery of rotten boys-in-blue is intriguing enough to hold one's interest.
Still feeling his way out of boyish roles, Howell (THE HITCHER, SOUL MAN) captures his character's angst without quite shaking off the aura of a juvenile lead trying to act more mature than he is. He lacks the heft for the role but it's a game try, and he's supported by a sterling contingent of
some of today's finest character actors.
Reservations aside, TO PROTECT AND SERVE is an engrossing urban nightmare that raises some disturbing issues about loyalty and violence among professionals sworn to serve the public. It is persuasively grim enough to make police recruitment boards shudder. (Violence, extreme profanity, adultsituations.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: R
- Review: Sporting top-of-the-line production values and confident direction, TO PROTECT AND SERVE is a gritty, above average crime thriller that plays like TV's erstwhile "Hill Street Blues" on testosterone. Will Egan (C. Thomas Howell) is a burned-out cop whose l… (more)