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Ritchie cleverly blends comedy, adventure in Cops

Cops and Robbersons

Directed by Michael Ritchie.

Starring Chevy Chase, Jack Palance.

Playing at Loews Cheri.

By Kamal Swamidoss

Chevy Chase and Jack Palance are back, in this comic film by Michael Ritchie. Chase plays Norman Robberson, a middle-aged office worker from Dullsville, Suburbia who gets an opportunity to live the adventure of his life. Jack Palance is Jake Stone, an ice-cold police detective on the trail of a counterfeiter who happens to live next door to the Robbersons. When Chase and Palance meet, the result is a good balance of comedy and adventure.

Early in the film we see what Norman really likes. When his co-worker asks him an obscure bit of trivia from a forgotten television police show, Norman gives him the correct answer before the man can even finish asking the question. Norman reads the penal code during lunch. At the video store, he tells the clerk that the last 11 seconds have been edited out of the police movie that he rented. Norman Robberson wants to be a cop.

He gets close to realizing his dream when Stone asks him if the police can use his house for a stake-out. Norman is at first hesitant, because he's worried about the safety of his family, but after a speech by Stone about lone men being the heroes who keep society from lawlessness (this speech tells a lot about both characters), he decides to let them use the house. Although he isn't supposed to get in their way, he manages to almost botch the whole operation.

To Stone's surprise, Norman schemes his way into the crook's house in search of clues. Once inside, he sneaks upstairs when the crook goes to answer the telephone. The film's director, Michael Ritchie, does a good job here of making shot transitions. First, the camera shows Norman snooping around in the bedroom. Next, we see his expression change when something catches his eye. The camera then focuses on the object of his intrigue: the mattress. The scene reveals its humor as Norman slices the mattress open in search of counterfeit bills, leaving seemingly unconcealable evidence that he was there. It's a funny scene and the direction helps communicate the humor.

A comparison between Jake Stone and Curly, Palance's character in City Slickers, is inevitable. In both films, Palance's characters are lone men who play a key role in changing the life of the main character. However, Stone evolves away from the solitary figure considerably more than Curly did. At the beginning of each film, the characters' temperaments are a lot alike, but gradually Stone grows closer to the Robberson family. In the process, he is a part of some very funny scenes, as well as some serious ones.

One of the funniest scenes in the film happens in the middle of the story. In a family meeting, during which Stone explains that family members should not sneak around in the crook's house, Stone's partner suggests that in order to seem like a part of the family, they should do some household chores. He even proposes that Stone mow the lawn. Stone looks up in surprise. During the scene, Mrs. Robberson has been busily going from person to person, making sure that everyone has enough home-made donuts. She isn't at all intimidated by Stone, and when she hears the suggestion, she tells Stone's partner plainly that Jake probably doesn't want to mow the lawn, and that even if he did, his pride is keeping him from saying so now, because it would sound like he's trying to not be boorish. Stone isn't going to let anyone make him look like a ninny; he walks over to Helen Robberson, leans down and looks her right in the eye, and states in the characteristically Palance style, "I don't have a lawn. I've never had a lawn, and if I did, I'd kill it." The next scene shows Palance mowing the lawn in the midday sun, looking like a farmer fighting to keep a pair of wild plowhorses on the field.

Chevy Chase's character may be reminiscent of his role in the National Lampoon's Vacation films, because Chase plays the father character in them, as well. However, that is the only comparison that holds. In each film, Chase plays a father trying to bring his family closer together, but the situations are so different, and the characters are so different, that it's hard to find anything else in common. With the home-making, no-nonsense wife, and the police comedy-adventure, this film presents a new occasion for Chase to dress in what may well be his best suit.

The film is almost purely a comedy-adventure; very few scenes are meant to be serious. The story progresses as Stone and Robberson try to catch the crooks, but the focus is on the comedy they create along the way. In the background, Norman's relationship with his family changes as a result of Stone's presence. The relationship between Stone and the family also changes, and he begins to be a part of their life. There are moments in which the drama enters suddenly and uncomfortably, but Chase is quick to say a funny word and bring back the comedy. He and Palance work together to make Cops and Robbersons a well-paced film with some very funny scenes.