Cinophile: THE ROOKIE

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Let’s not try and dress a turd here: The Rookie was for the most a bad idea.

Clint Eastwood’s only buddy cop piece in a directorial career spanning nearly forty movies, he took it on in exchange for Warner Bros backing a passion project. Back in the day that was a stain on his record. But in hindsight it’s pretty good.

Eastwood’s a genre director: he tells good stories in the confines of well-established tropes. At times and increasingly so later in his career, he would raise the bar for the whole genre. Unforgiven and American Sniper play on familiar turf, but still rewrite the rules and dare others to improve on it.

The Rookie isn’t one of those. It is an unfortunate mish-mash of buddy cop cliches.

This is a crowded genre, tracing the modern formula back at least as far as 48 Hours. Other luminaries include Lethal Weapon, Men in Black, Training Day, 21 Jump Street, The Other Guys, The Heat and many more. I’m sure countless film students attempted their thesis on this particular cinematic gene pool.

The Rookie adds absolutely nothing to the mix. But it is a fantastic crash course in all that is the buddy cop genre.

The script is a poorly conceived bag of everything you’d expect:

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Grizzled cynical veteran cop out to avenge his partner. Young, idealistic rookie cop out to prove himself. Crazy foreign crime overlord with a penchant for murder. Sadistic criminal sidekick. Tragic back stories. Dry one-liners. Extra-judicial law-breaking. Screaming precinct lieutenant. The whole package.

What saves it is a combination of Eastwood’s skill and a pretty decent cast.

Top of the pack is Eastwood himself, channeling Dirty Harry as if it’s his last chance. Charlie Sheen, who was already battling drug and alcohol problems, hobbles along as the straight, idealistic type, but explodes in the third act as a bad boy. Meanwhile the late and great Raul Julia puts his woefully underwritten role into a heavyweight class.

The Rookie fully deserved the flop in its day. It’s a movie that shouldn’t have been made. But Eastwood and his collaborators still managed to lift it out of the muck.

Back then it wasn’t so obvious, but today – particularly with the hindsight of Eastwood’s directing career – The Rookie is a surprisingly fun and competent piece of filmmaking.

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The Rookie was trying to get made for some time. It was set to be directed several years earlier by a different cast and crew, but an industry strike stopped production. Eastwood agreed to take on the stalled project in exchange for Warner Bros supporting his personal project – White Hunter, Black Heart. Eastwood briefly stopped production of The Rookie to attend the Cannes screening of his film.
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The two main villains, Strom and Liesl, are apparently German – even though they are portrayed by Raul Julia and Sonia Braga, respectively from Puerto Rico and Brazil. This curious bit of casting was never explained by Eastwood.
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Charlie Sheen, in true form, was battling alcohol and drug problems during the early stages of the movie. Eastwood tried to steer the younger actor back on the rails and became friends with him. He also helped with a family intervention over Sheen’s habits.
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The Rookie is the only ‘buddy cop’ film Eastwood ever made. It is also hailed as his most action-packed (after American Sniper) and used twice as many stunt actors as character actors – once a record.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: October 12, 2015

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it’s something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway – even video nasties need love…

  • Skyblue

    Enjoyed it for what it was back in the day but definitely not on my watch again list. I thought it straddled the line between serious and fun quite well, probably Eastwood’s directing as you stated.

  • cookiemonster

    I remember :”engineered like no other car in the world”……made mercedes a lot of money

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