DVD: Hollywood Vice Squad (1986)

October 30, 2017 | By

Film: Good

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: n/a

Label:  Image Entertainment

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  May 26, 2003

Genre:  Suspense / Action

Synopsis: The antics of a a Hollywood vice squad are counterbalanced with a sleazy escort service, and a police search for a missing teen.

Special Features:  (none)




After the success of Vice Squad (1983), executive produce / prolific schlockmeister Sandy Howard figured a lighter redo of Gary Sherman’s nasty, grungy drama was worth a try, maybe fashioning a new script that could be spun off into a theatrical franchise or TV series. James Docherty’s by-the-numbers script feels like a TV movie peppered with the minimum F-bombs to ensure an R-rating, but there’s no nudity, sadism, or edgy material per se.

Docherty didn’t have to do much research but Howard certainly tried to sell the film as a slick expose of the horrible things happening in the armpit of the Hollywood Hills (hence the bullshit docu-styled disclaimer at the film’s head). Contrasting the real locations which give the production some grit is a cast packed with recognizable faces from countless TV movies and series, plus some unusual choices which have elevated this otherwise average production into a cult film.

Borrowing a storyline from Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979), a parent ventures to California in search of her good little girl who’s disappeared and may have ended up with the wrong crowd. Pauline Stanton (Trish Van Devere, wife of Hardcore’s star George C. Scott) seeks help from Captain Jensen (Ronny Cox), and her initial pleas are about to be shooed away until she produces a letter from daughter Lori (Robin Wright in her film debut) mentioning a Mr. Walsh (Frank Gorshin), known to the vice division as an upscale pimp whose Pretty Girl enterprise lures young women with promises of legit work, but gets them hooked on heroine and turning tricks with the aide of enforcer Farber (Due South’s Beau Starr).

Jensen ultimately marshals his entire team to devise a sting, allowing for an introduction of wacky characters for what could’ve been a series of ongoing misadventures: there’s Chang (V’s Evan Kim), an Asian American whose parents were born in Italy, and long-suffering partner Stevens (Joey Travolta); human oak tree Tank (H.B. Haggerty) and timid Daley (Ben Frank); expert pimp impersonator Hawkins (Penitentiary’s Leon Isaac Kennedy) and faux hooker Judy (Cec Verrell); and buddies Chavez (Eloy Casados) and Miller (Exterminator’s super-creepy hotelier Tom Everett).

There’s several separate investigative storylines that never connect, including a bookie (inimitable Julius Harris) forced to fink on his mob boss Luchessi (Robert Miano); random hooker busts mandating daytime & nighttime car chases and busting creepy Johns; and a chance encounter with a potential S&M pederast ring, which introduces the film’s most unlikely character: Betty Melton (Carrie Fisher), a vice cop hungry for the kind of work given to her male colleagues.

It may be that director Penelope Spheeris had some influence on the script, lightening the tone where possible with broad comedic nuances (a ridiculous bus chase is filled with plenty of face mugging), and having Melton get her chance at working with Chavez and Miller who ultimately embrace her as an equal.

Docherty’s script ping-pongs between the differing investigative mini-dramas, causing many characters to disappear from the screen for long periods, and both the bookie and pederast investigations take time away from what’s supposed to be a tale of a young girl almost lost to drugs and prostitution. The pederast ring is introduced from an especially surreal sequence in which a morning jog in the hills sees Melton stopping by a fence where some kids are laughing. When she peers down to a large backyard, there’s a S&M porn shoot underway with a young boy. Because that case isn’t important to the lost teen storyline, the wrap-up is pure cartoon: the three detectives argue over procedure before tossing the idea of getting a warrant and busting into the house commando-style, where fists are tossed, bodies tumble, and the evil ringleader is apprehended by Melton.

Filming all of these scenes is prolific João Fernandes, a veteran cinematographer who under his own name and assorted pseudonyms shot TV, feature, and adult films, including Deep Throat (1972) and The Devil in Miss Jones (1973). Vice has a soft pastel colour palette, and the full frame DVD transfer suggests its theatrical exhibition may have been slightly matted – wide angle lenses have vignetting, and the mic boom pops into frame a couple of times. The interior sets have straightforward lighting, and look more believable than the chroma-boosted hooker drama Prettykill / Tomorrow’s Killer (1987), which Fernandes shot partly in Toronto.

The formal score by Michael Convertino (The Hidden, Children of a Lesser God) and Keith Leven features some rich Fairlight electronics that eases into kinetic action, tension, and dramatic material, whereas most of the core action scenes are scored with songs by Chris Spedding. Spheeris’ acumen for crafting music montages from concert films and music videos gives the action scenes solid momentum, and although the comedic material is pretty wan, it’s easy to see traces of her skill handling absurd humour, reaching a peak with Wayne’s World (1992).

Sandy Howard’s background in CanCon would also yield the TV movie Nightstick (1987) and First Blood rip-off Street Justice (1987), both written by Docherty.



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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