Co-produced and written by Larry Cohen
This review will contain spoilers for the first two films in the Maniac Cop series.
What a letdown.
The first Maniac Cop was hardly a great film, but it boasted an intriguing premise and a solid performance by genre favorite Tom Atkins. The series hit its high-water mark with Maniac Cop 2, a horror-action hybrid that introduced stronger characters, a pair of quite good performances from Robert Davi and Claudia Christian, and several impressive action set pieces that highlighted the single-minded violent tendencies of the titular villain. But Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence is a dud. The third and—to date—final film in the series, it was plagued by a troubled production that is painfully obvious in the finished film.
Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar), the undead villain of the series, is resurrected by Houngan (Julius Harris) in a voodoo sequence that seems to be made up of at least fifty percent recycled footage from Maniac Cop 2. Who is Houngan and why does he resurrect Cordell? I watched the film twice and I have no clue. I’m reasonably certain that no one involved in the production of the film knows any more than I do.
Meanwhile, Kate Sullivan (Gretchen Becker), a beat cop with a reputation for using excessive force, is gunned down in a shootout with Jessup (Jackie Earle Haley), a crazed junkie. While the news media runs with a fake story that Kate was a violent loose cannon, she is kept on life support while Jessup recovers from his injuries and plots revenge against the police.
It turns out that Kate is a surrogate little sister to McKinney (Davi), the heroic policeman from Maniac Cop 2 who cleared Cordell’s name. Grieving the fact that Kate is brain dead and angry that the prosecutors are going to cut Jessup a deal because of the unfavorable media coverage of the shootout, McKinney decides to open his own investigation into what actually happened.
How, you might ask, does Matt Cordell fit into this rather humdrum procedural story? The answer: not very well.
Cordell somehow discovers the truth about the shootout and is drawn to the hospital where Kate is being kept on life support. Falling in love with Kate (yes, I’m serious), Cordell decides to punish everyone who contributed to the falsification of the story to the callous hospital officials who want to remove her from life support to any bystanders who just happen to get in the way.
From this haphazard and lazy plot setup, the film listlessly stumbles from one disjointed scene to the next with no consistency of tone and barely the minimum of storytelling coherence.
As with the first two films in the series, William Lustig directed. But after some conflict with the producers this time around, he quit in the middle of production. The credits list him as the sole director with “additional scenes by Joel Soisson.” Soisson was one of the producers on the film and went on to have a fairly busy career as a producer of many of the films made and released under the Dimension Films banner in the ‘90s. But most of his subsequent directing work has been for DTV sequels to The Prophecy, Pulse, and Children of the Corn. Judging by the hodgepodge feel of the film and the constantly fluctuating tone from one scene to the next, Soisson’s directing career has gone about as well as it probably should have.
I did some research, but was not able to find out a definitive reason that Lustig became so disgruntled that he would walk off the set. The slicker stylistic choices he brought to the first two films in the series had as much impact on the tone and who the audience rooted for as where Cohen’s scripts took the story. Whatever the conflict, it must have been worse than anyone was willing to admit because Cohen also left the picture at the same time as Lustig.
I normally try to ignore whatever behind the scenes drama may have happened on a film and judge the finished movie on its own merits. But in the case of Maniac Cop 3, the problems during the production obviously hampered the film and turned it into a very disappointing final (so far) chapter in this little franchise.
This is especially a shame when the series was coming off such a high point with the second film. Granted, that entry was hardly more than a collection of action set pieces, but at least those scenes were exciting and Cordell seemed like a true threat. This time around, the action scenes feel cheap and thrown together at the last second. Even worse, the makeup used to make Cordell a hideous, burned, undead mess is pathetic. It looks like a mask was fashioned out of a paper bag and placed over Z’Dar’s head. Not only is the design inept, it completely hides the anger and menace that Z’Dar brought to the role in the first two films. In Maniac Cop 3, Cordell looks like he could be played by any hulking actor.
The film does have a few good moments; most of them courtesy of Davi giving his all, swinging from violent antihero to romantic leading man and back again. He nearly succeeds at holding together some of the more random scenes and tonal changes. But Cohen does him few favors as he takes McKinney from being a Dirty Harry clone to a raving right-wing nut job who encourages fellow cops to wait until a violent crime is in progress so they can then shoot and kill the perpetrator, instead of arresting them. It’s hard for the audience to have sympathy for the character, even as Lustig and Cohen intend for McKinney to be something of a satirical sendup of the type of brutal cop who views law enforcement as a street war to be fought dirty.
It could be argued that the Maniac Cop franchise was never unique or interesting enough to be maintained or encouraged. But there was a definite improvement from the first to second films that made me look forward to this third entry. It’s a shame to see it limp to such a weak conclusion.
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