“If the police can’t protect us, then it’s our constitutional duty, under the Constitution of the United States, to protect ourselves!”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Indeed, the film is frustratingly skimpy on details about what exactly goes into the duties and responsibilities of a volunteer policeman. The two central protagonists and their cronies are shown simply basking in the glory and fun of police accoutrement — uniforms and weapons and vehicles with sirens — rather than undergoing any kind of serious training. And once they do start patrolling the streets, we’re only shown a few instances of the types of dilemmas and situations they might encounter (including one particularly annoying “running gag” involving a young man who insists on drawling “f*** you” to every authority figure he encounters; not funny or insightful at all).
Instead, the screenplay shifts its meandering focus onto the midlife crises of Borgnine and O’Connor, good friends who are both unhappy (to varying degrees) in their jobs. Borgnine is a hairdresser with a dwindling clientele and an obnoxious employee (Karen Black, giving a weird, ineffective caricature of a performance); O’Connor is a taxi driver who longs to own his own business, and feels deep regret over lost opportunities in the past. Yet for every scene that provides an authentic glimpse into these characters’ lives — i.e., O’Connor taking his wife to the diner he desperately hopes to purchase — there are countless others that feel either random or misguided.
One of the film’s most awkwardly handled moments, for instance, shows O’Connor’s teenage daughter (Leslie Ackerman) — who has just been “attacked” on the street — berated by O’Connor for wearing a sexy shirt; a group of women sitting around the table (presumably all neighbors; we’re never told) proceed to advise her to wear a bra so her breasts don’t start to sag. The next time we see this girl, she’s out on the street with her sleazy boyfriend (Lionel Pina), looking for all the world like a prostitute. What’s the connection here? We’re not told. It’s narrative flaws like this that eventually detract from what seems to be Passer’s primary (worthy) goal: a desire to portray the motivations, disappointments, and daily challenges of working class life in New York.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: