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Classic Movie Review: 'Cops and Robbersons' Starring Chevy Chase

Cops and Robbersons is a master class on what not to do in a comedy.

By Sean PatrickPublished 23 days ago 6 min read

Cops and Robbersons (1994)

Directed by Michael Ritchie

Written by Bernie Somers

Starring Chevy Chase, Jack Palance

Release Date April 15th, 1994

Published May 28th, 2024

Cops and Robbersons is a terrible movie. That's probably why no one reading this review has any memory of it. So why are we talking about it today? Well, it's the subject of the latest edition of the I Hate Critics 1994 Podcast. And that's the only reason why I am bringing it up here today. I was forced to watch it by circumstance and I need to find some kind of value in the experience, aside from having mocked the movie on the podcast.

Thus, I want to illustrate the bankruptcy of comic ideas in Cops and Robbersons. Think of it as a warning for future filmmakers, don't make the mistakes that director Michael Ritchie made as he brought this comic abomination to life while dealing with the massive ego and drug problems of one of Hollywood's least liked figures, star Chevy Chase. If you don't know, a large portion of Hollywood hates Chevy Chase and he hates them right back. Bitter about not being treated like the star he believes he is, Chase has made a habit of ruining projects on a whim and that appears to be the energy he brought to this movie.

The premise is that a suburban family, the Robbersons, including Norman (Chase), his wife, Helen (Dianne Wiest), and their three kids have a new neighbor. The neighbor purports to be Horace Osborn (Robert Davi) but he's really a criminal hiding in the suburbs as he's in the midst of making a major score of some sort. The cops, headed up by detective Jacke Stone (Jack Palance), have caught on to Horace's plan and need a way to get close to him. Thus, Jake approaches Norman about using his home for a stakeout. Norman is over the moon with excitement. He's a big fan of TV detective shows and, once the cops arrive, Norman insinuates himself into the investigation and hilarity is supposed to ensue but it never arrives.

It's not a terrible premise but it fails right away in the hands of Michael Ritchie and Chevy Chase. A strong illustration of the failure of Cops and Robbersons arrives early in the movie. After asking Norman to use his home for a stakeout, Norman drives detective Stone and his partner, detective Tony Moore (David Gray Barry) to his home. He asks that the cops don't disturb his wife and children, claiming that he will explain what is going on in the morning. The cops begrudgingly agree though they, and we, can't understand the need to keep the operation under wraps.

You can assume from that set up what comes next is a series of slamming door comedy bits where Norman tries to hide the cops from his wife and kids in ever more absurd fashion. That was certainly what was intended. What we get instead is a series of woefully long bits of comic business that never provide a single laugh. First, Norman's garage door won't open. One detective and then the other get out of the car to try and open the garage. Norman opens and then closes the garage on one of the cops. Norman needs to go back out in the rain to get the car and bring it into the garage but the door keeps opening and closing. This goes on forever.

Once we are in the house, of course Norman's wife has been awakened by the unending bit about the failing garage door. She comes downstairs to ask why Norman is wet and when she calls out to him, Norman shoves the detectives into a closet to hide their presence. This makes a great deal of commotion which Norman blames on the cat but the cat is with his daughter who comes down the stairs next. So, Norman keeps lying, he keeps blaming the cat, he throws it into the closet with the detectives and the cat claws and hisses all while Norman keeps making up more and more elaborate lies as the scene dies death after death after death.

This section of the movie goes on for 10 to 12 minutes of screen time and it feels much longer than that. If you know anything about slamming doors comedy, it's all about timing. A character walks into a room with a purpose, forgets a thing and exits the room, the next person enters sees a thing, grabs it and takes it, first person re-enters, notices the missing thing and exits to see if they'd misplaced the missing thing. The second person re-enters has a new thing, leaves it in the room and exits to retrieve something else, the first person enters a third time, sees the new thing where there was nothing before and is baffled how it got there.

The timing of this kind of comedy is key. It needs to be fast and yet easy to follow. The stakes have to be established and they have to matter. What are the consequences of the two people in the scene discover each other? Cops and Robbersons fails for having no speed and no sensible consequences for when/if the ruse is uncovered. The scene rolls on as a deathless slog with nothing remotely funny happening. Ostensibly, we are supposed to be laughing at how silly it is for Chase to lie to his family in an increasingly absurd fashion but since he stands to loose nothing from the ruse being revealed, what's the point of the scene? Chase also isn't doing anything to heighten the tension. His voice is flat, his physicality is mostly relaxed, and Dianne Wiest is playing the scene the only way she can, confused over why her husband keeps blathering on about the closet and the cat.

Does it matter if the wife finds out that the Cops are in the closet? No, she takes the revelation in stride and insists on making them breakfast in the morning. The kids? They're ecstatic to have the cops in the house to break the suburban monotony. Well, the kids minus the youngest child who has his own dreadfully unfunny, inexplicable subplot in which he has convinced himself he is a vampire. He sleeps in his toy box, wears fake teeth, and the payoff is that he bites Jack Palance's neck. Why is this supposed to be funny? What is the joke and how does it add anything to the movie? I could perform an autopsy on every attempted joke in Cops and Robbersons and arrive at the same conclusion each time: why was this in this movie?

Cops and Robbersons is featured in the newest edition of the I Hate Critics 1994 Podcast, a spinoff of the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast. Each week, I force a Gen-Z'er, M.J, and a Gen-X'er, Amy, to watch a movie that came out 30 years ago on that same weekend. The goal is to examine how movies and popular culture have changed over a mere three decades. It's been a great deal of fun, we're in our second year and going strong. You can listen to the I Hate Critics 1994 Podcast on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast feed, wherever you listen to podcasts. Do us a favor, review the show on whatever app you use, it really helps people find the show if people are reviewing it positively.

Find my archive of more than 20 years and nearly 2000 movie reviews at SeanattheMovies.blogspot.com. Find my modern review archive on my Vocal Profile, linked here. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies. Listen to me talk about movies on the I Hate Critics Movie Review podcast. If you have enjoyed what you have read, consider subscribing to my writing on Vocal. If you'd like to support my writing, you can do so by making a monthly pledge or by leaving a one time tip. Thanks!

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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Comments (3)

  • Esala Gunathilake23 days ago

    A nice movie review!

  • angela hepworth23 days ago

    Sounds horrendous 😂

  • Carol Townend23 days ago

    I never got to grips with this movie, though I still end up watching it, even though it bores me!

Sean PatrickWritten by Sean Patrick

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