Thursday, June 4, 2015

Hollywood Vice Squad (Penelope Spheeris, 1986)

Do you like pornography? What about gambling? You gotta love hookers, right? How 'bout drugs? Okay, I realize you probably get asked this everyday, but do transvestites with polio scratch you where you itch? Or maybe switchblade-wielding transvestites without polio are more your thing? I'm sorry, but it's hard to keep track of your likes and dislikes. Either way, like most non-mentally-ill people, you're probably a fan of all the stuff I just mentioned. Unfortunately, however, the members of the Hollywood vice squad, who, strangely enough, appear throughout Penelope Spheeris' Hollywood Vice Squad, think these things should be outlawed. I know, who in their right mind would want to outlaw hookers, or even transvestites with or without polio for that matter. But trust me, they're out there. And they, it would seem, have it in something fierce for everything fun in this universe. Don't believe me? Check out the amount of energy the cops in this film expel trying to curb vice, you'll be exhausted by the time the end credits begin to roll. And while it pained me to see leggy hookers, unruly pimps, shady pornographers, leggy junkie whores, harmless bookies, and leggy hookers who are also leggy junkie whores constantly being harassed by "The Man," they do sort of need one another.

Think about it. Take away the vice cop and their so-called "rules and regulations," and you pretty much take away the sense of danger. And these professions feed off danger. In fact, it's part of their innate appeal.

Besides, what would Robin Wright (in her film debut) be doing if she wasn't a heroin-addicted prostitute in Hollywood? Exactly, she would be going to the prom and having bland sexual intercourse with football players somewhere in the not-so wild wilds of Iowa. No offense to Iowa (okay, maybe a little), but I'd rather be murdered in a cheap motel just off the Sunset Strip by a jealous pimp, than have sex with Brad (the punter for the Urbandale J-Hawks) in the back of his 1970 Dodge Dart (don't get me wrong, it's a sweet ride, but the blisters on his scrotum cause the hairs on my lady taint to stand on edge).

If the thought of a pre-Sean Penn, pre-Princess Bride Robin Wright strutting around Hollywood wearing hooker clothes while high on drugs is getting you all excited, don't over do it. What I mean is, pace yourself. The film actually contains three subplots, and only one of them is worth a damn in terms of being good and junk.

Supposedly based on real cases investigated by the Hollywood vice squad, the film follows a group of detectives as they try to crack cases involving a teen runaway and her unruly pimp, a harmless bookie and the mob, and a shady pornographer.

The only thing worth noting about the gambling subplot is Julius Harris as a harmless bookie and Robert Miano as a mob boss. Why? It's simple, really, I like these guys. But other than that, it's nothing special.

The sames goes for the porn plot. Sure, it features, an at times, leggy Carrie Fisher as Betty, an ambitious vice cop eager to make a name for herself, but it's so sanctimonious (porn is evil, vote Reagan).

Tired of being overshadowed by her male co-workers, Betty decides to take on a porn ring she suspects of using underage actors in bondage films. And, I have to say, the way she stumbles upon this nugget of information is quite laughable (I wish I came across porno shoots while out jogging - all I ever come across are discarded scratch lottery tickets and the bodies of dead hobos).

Actually, the film has four subplots. There's a hooker subplot involving two vice cops played by scene stealer Evan Kim and non-scene stealer Joey Travolta. However, this subplot quickly converges with the film's main subplot. Which, of course, centers around Pauline Stanton (Trish Van Devere), who is looking for her daughter, Lori (Robin Wright), a teenage runaway who has gotten herself mixed up with Walsh (Frank Gorshin), an unruly pimp.

As you might expect, Mrs. Stanton doesn't believe Captain Jensen (Ronny Cox) when he tells her that she's probably selling her girl-crevice for dope (he puts it a tad more delicately), so she continues wandering around Hollywood in the hope that she might find and bring her daughter back to Iowa, or wherever. Fans of movies that feature characters wandering around Hollywood will no doubt recognize these streets, as they're the same ones wandered in Savage Streets, Vice Squad, Angel, Hardcore, Don't Answer the Phone! and Modern Girls.

All the movies I just listed, by the way, are vastly superior to Hollywood Vice Squad, so watch them first.

When word gets out that Lori works for Walsh, Captain Jensen teams Evan Kim and Joey Travolta with Hawkins (Leon Isaac Kennedy), who specializes in being a fake unruly pimp, and Judy (Cec Verrell, Hell Comes to Frogtown), who specializes in being a fake leggy whore.

Concocting an elaborate sting operation to nail Walsh for human trafficking, the four detectives need to hurry, because Lori is starting succumb to the adverse effects of semi-regular heroin use. How can I tell? That's easy, heroin-based face-touching. When she's not snorting blow or showing John's the tops of her stockings, Lori can usually be seen clawing at her face. If movies have thought me anything, it's that drug abusers get itchy nostrils when their cravings aren't properly satisfied.

Now, you might be looking over the words I just typed (or scanning the pics that I provided) and be wondering: Where are the punks? It's true, Penelope Spheeris does have a reputation for being a "punk director," but that reputation seemed to slowly melt away as the 1980s progressed. It does briefly resurface in Dudes. But if you remember, my biggest complaint about that movie was the fact that the soundtrack was mostly composed of heavy metal songs.

While the film is totally punk-free, it is transgender-friendly. Okay, maybe it's not exactly "friendly," but it does feature Sandy Crisp (a.k.a. Goddess Bunny) as Charlene, Walsh's cynical receptionist, and a cross-dressing hooker, who, for some reason, pulls a knife on Evan Kim, and that's at least something. Oh, and the holding cell at the Hollywood police station is filled with transvestite hookers. And by "filled," I mean, it boasts a couple of rough-looking queens.

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