Kevin: In 1992 Clint Eastwood released what many consider to be his ultimate masterpiece, the bleak and uncompromising Western “Unforgiven,” which represented a landmark in the star’s career by earning him his first-ever Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. Two years earlier Clint directed and starred in “The Rookie,” in which he calls the Puerto Rican-born Raul Julia a kraut and gets raped by Sonia Braga. In many ways “The Rookie” represented the end of an era in that it was the last time Clint played a cop who usually shot first and didn’t even bother asking questions later, with the director/star soon going respectable and focusing on more “important” Oscar-worthy subject matter such as “American Sniper” and “Sully.”
But with his latest based-on-a-true-story film “The 15:17 to Paris” hitting theaters this weekend, what better time to go back to a day when Clint still just wanted to entertain audiences with police-sanctioned murder and horrible quips, as Mike and I take a look at his team-up with a partner even more wild and unpredictable than Clyde the Orangutan: Carlos Estevez, also known as Charlie Sheen, in 1990’s “The Rookie.”
Mike: So we begin this lighthearted buddy cop film by discovering that Charlie Sheen’s character David is regularly plagued with nightmarish visions of having killed his own brother by apparently goading him into jumping between buildings, where he lands short and falls to his death in an alley below. David lies in bed and complains to his girlfriend about how all of their friends have their lives “together,” while he’s just a loser cop. Sure, a “loser” with a hot-ass lawyer girlfriend (Lara Flynn Boyle), a full-time job with pension and benefits, a trust fund, and knowledge of every power player at his elite country club thanks to his silver spoon upbringing. I’m really not sure what more he wants out of life! By comparison, my existence is god awful and I’m 10 years older than him to boot.
Kevin: First of all, other than the fact that a lot of action heroes back then had to have some tragedy in their lives (“Lethal Weapon,” “Sudden Death,” “Cliffhanger,” etc.), what was the point of David’s whole brother-killing backstory? Apart from the occasional nightmare he seems to be fine, and it’s not like he did anything in the movie like save a different kid from falling off a roof that would have balanced it out. He just shoots Sonia Braga in the head at the end and helps take down some car theft ring, but all of a sudden life is great and he could piss on his brother’s grave now and feel no remorse.
Anyway, we are then introduced to his future partner, Clint Eastwood’s gruff, no-nonsense, rule-breaking cop Nick Pulovski, who is totally different from Eastwood’s gruff, no-nonsense, rule-breaking cop Harry Callahan because they have different names, obviously. We also quickly learn that Clint really wanted “Why the hell not?” to be his next big catchphrase. Also, apparently it is supposed to be hilarious that he is constantly annoyed that no one around him ever has a light for the giant cigars he’s always trying to smoke. Hey Nick, instead of being shocked by the 85th time that not everyone in 1990 carries a lighter at all times, how about you make an effort to remember to have some matches.
Oh and we’re barely five minutes in and we’ve already got an example of a character saying something like “That’s a real classic, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” except he’s totally talking about a woman rather than a car! Nick’s a lot like Dom from “The Fast and the Furious” in that way, except for being a cop instead of a criminal, and also not being secretly gay.
We also meet Nick’s partner, played by the dad from “227,” and this may be a spoiler but there is a reason you don’t see him prominently displayed on the poster for “The Rookie.” Clint and his partner also look like they have a combined 125 years on the police force. In real life it sure seems like cops want to retire as soon as they can, yet in the movies you have guys like Pacino and De Niro still working the beat in their 70’s because they are so dedicated to their jobs, which is right up there in terms of believability with the notion of cops solving cases through solid police work rather than some junkie getting high and confessing everything.
Mike: I don’t think the movie could make it any more obvious that Clint’s partner is going to catch a bullet:
1) He’s black.
2) He’s health-conscious.
3) He just wants to get the job done and go home.
4) He’s sitting next to Clint Eastwood.
5) He’s Clint Eastwood’s partner.
6) Did I mention he’s black?
Before that can happen though they race in to arrest the members of a car theft ring led by Raul Julia, with Nick firing a round through the back windshield of one of the stolen cars. With my luck that would be my car.
Although back up, I just realized two things: 1) This is an action movie where we’re really supposed to care about the heroes taking down some measly chop shop? And 2) Raul Julia (aka Gomez Adams) is playing a GERMAN!?
Kevin: Yes Raul Julia’s German accent in this is Meryl Streep-worthy, I think his first line in the film is like “Vat, and mizz out on all ze fun?” But it points to the weird ethnic undercurrent that flows through “The Rookie.” Both Julia and Brazilian-born Sonia Braga are supposed to be German, which is absolutely absurd, yet I have to imagine the only reason why Clint didn’t change their nationality was because he explicitly plays a guy of Polish descent, and I guess he thought it was essential for Julia’s character Strom to throw out insults like “You dumb, stinking Polacks are always wrong,” and Nick to respond, “The only thing I hate more about you krauts is your taste in beer.”
Although someone needs to tell Clint that while there are a number of things you can say about Germans, criticizing the quality of their beer is not usually one of them. Also, Clint makes a big deal in “Grand Torino” about his character being Polish as well. What’s up with Clint and his love of those dumb, stinking Polacks?
Anyway, after a freeway chase in which Strom gets away and Michael Bay obviously got inspiration (i.e. ripped off) for his own freeway chase in “Bad Boys II,” Nick is told that the homicide division is taking over the case on account of a cop being killed. “The only way to get to Strom is by pinning him to these chop-shop operations; homicide is just going to …” We never hear him finish that sentence, but I imagine it would be “… convict him for a crime that would put him in prison for longer than 18 months.” Also am I the only one who finds it kind of weird that Clint consistently pronounces “homicides” as “homocides”?
Finally we get the meet-cute scene in which Nick is introduced to his new partner David, and Nick is incensed he is being paired up with some younger guy. Did he expect to be partnered up with another 60-year-old like before? Nick then drives them straight to a country club where he somehow knows Strom is having lunch. But why does David pull out his gun when they get to the club, and why does he not immediately mention that his family has a membership there?
Either way, the maitre d’ condescendingly asks Nick if he has a reservation, after which Nick pulls out his badge and is immediately seated. If it’s that easy then why don’t cops pull that shit at every country club all the time? After they sit down David orders oysters Rockefeller and prime rib and Nick says to add a bottle of that “fancy French champagne,” then immediately says to forget it and makes some veiled threats to Strom before leaving. As they are walking out the maitre d’ asks about their meal, and Nick says to give it to Strom’s table.
Or how about just canceling the whole order since it was never sent to the kitchen to begin with? Honestly I don’t know why this whole pointless sequence, especially the drama around the food order, really bothered me. Maybe it’s just that I have a weird anxiety about characters in movies ordering food and especially drinks and then leaving before settling up. Like in “A Few Good Men,” when Tom Cruise finds Kevin Bacon in a bar and orders a beer, then storms out as soon as it’s delivered without taking even a sip or apparently paying for it. Richard Gere does the same thing in “Primal Fear;” I couldn’t focus on the scene because I knew he was gonna leave before his drink even arrived at the table.
After this we find out that one of Strom’s men is named Loco Martinez, but even then I wasn’t sure if this character was supposed to be Mexican since he looks a lot closer in ethnicity to Strom, who let’s not forget is supposed to be GERMAN in the bizarro world of “The Rookie” (unless this was an early advertisement for 23andMe). The movie thankfully puts such questions to rest by having him call Nick a puto and then getting called a beaner by his own boss Strom in return, which means so far we have gotten ethnic slurs against Mexicans, Germans, and the Polish in this film. That’s what I call diversity.
Speaking of, when Nick and David arrive at a seedy Mexican biker bar, Nick says, “Watch your ass kid, because if you don’t someone else will.” Wait, is he implying this is a gay bar as well? Either way, Nick later brings down the house down with his joke about arresting everyone who doesn’t have auto insurance, although he actually could have made a lot of arrests since his partner just had the shit kicked out of him by several bikers. Then after Nick picks his severely beaten and concussed partner off the floor, he says, “I didn’t know you were into group sex kid.” Listen I know Shane Black couldn’t punch up every script back then, but my god “The Rookie” has some of the worst attempts at jokes/catchphrases of all time.
Mike: Although right before David gets his ass kicked by nine people and probably has a skull fracture from a broken bottle over the back of his head, he has his badge stolen by Loco, and Nick’s advice is to “fill out a report and get another one.” I’m not entirely sure it works like that. I think it’s actually a pretty big deal to lose your badge in the police force.
Either way, David and Nick start making some arrests and hurting Strom’s operations, which attracts the attention of the local news because apparently literally nothing else of note is going on in Los Angeles at the time. Nick on the news swearing up a storm was great, not only did it go out over the air, but it went out uncensored and Strom just happened to be watching daytime TV at that exact moment.
Kevin: Regarding that news report, why did some update about local chop-shop arrests need to go out live at what appears to be the middle of the afternoon, and as soon as Nick said the first of 20 curse words wouldn’t it have been taken off the air? And yeah, that was very fortunate that Strom just happened to be watching his 12-inch TV on that exact channel at that exact time.
I will say that after Strom knocks over his TV in anger that the super-important live update interrupted “Judge Judy,” we get a glimpse of the view from his mansion and it’s not all that impressive compared to a lot of bad guy compounds in action movies back then. But then maybe this accurately reflects what a low-rent villain Strom is and the EXTREMELY low-stakes nature of the plot of “The Rookie,” which in case you’ve forgotten amid all the shootouts is still just about taking down one small-time car theft ring.
(I did like that we then cut to Sonia Braga and she is just nonchalantly loading bullets into a clip, as if this is her version of doing needlepoint to relax.)
But if the plight of L.A. douchebags getting their luxury cars stolen isn’t enough drama for you, “The Rookie” also delves into the difficulties David has faced in being the son of wealthy and loving parents. Toward that end, when David and his girlfriend Sarah show up at his family’s giant mansion, David doesn’t exactly get a lot of audience sympathy when he says, “When I die and go to hell, it’s gonna look exactly like my father’s house.” Uh, his father’s house looks awesome to me, but I guess I wasn’t used to growing up on Martin Sheen’s Malibu estate like Charlie.
While talking to David’s dad played by Tom Skerritt, Nick manages to say both his erstwhile catchphrases “Why the hell not?” and “Got a light?” back to back. Honestly I am getting angry at this point about this whole “needing a light” thing. BUY A FUCKING PACK OF MATCHES NICK!
Then when David’s dad offers Nick money to guarantee his son’s safety (not sure how that would be possible), Nick responds, “Mr. Ackerman, if you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.” I take back all my criticisms of the script for “The Rookie,” that’s just fantastic writing there. After this Nick gives the money his dad offered him to David, who angrily storms out and unsuccessfully tries to start his motorcycle. Was he just gonna ditch his girlfriend there? Also, after David throws the money on the ground and walks off, Nick picks it back up. Meanwhile, all this pointless drama was over a wad of cash that wouldn’t last more than 5 minutes at any decent strip club.
Raul Julia: “Between the cops and those fucking Italians …” Wait, we’re bringing Italians into this now, when did this happen? This movie is turning into a mix of “Gangs of New York” and “West Side Story” with all the ethnic hatred and rivalries going on. Either way, while staking out Strom’s place, Nick and David have a lovers’ quarrel over their doughnut preferences which soon turns more serious:
David: “Why do you want this guy so badly?”
Nick: “He killed my partner.”
David: “I know about that but I’m not buying it. There’s gotta be something else.”
Me: Uh, I don’t know, I think that’s probably good enough right there.
Mike: David is really some cop. I think a dead partner is the best reason in the world to want somebody. This movie is great because it has both dumb cops and dumb criminals. No one is smart. The whole movie is actually an allegory for wasted intelligence.
Kevin: Raul Julia again, after he and his crew break into a casino vault to steal some money they need to flee the country: “Listen paisan … I know you stupid wops keep over $2 million in zer.” Honestly at this point I think the Unitarians are the only group that are NOT going to be insulted by the end of “The Rookie.”
Although let me just say that it’s been more than 20 years since he died but I still miss Raul Julia. We have to pretend nowadays that every celebrity who dies is a tragedy, but oddly I only usually get upset when it’s a character actor who still had a lot to offer (see J.T. Walsh from “Breakdown” or Robert Ridgely, aka The Colonel from “Boogie Nights,” for examples of this). Raul Julia was great in everything he was in, especially stuff like “Presumed Innocent” or “Tequila Sunrise” where he wasn’t the star but instantly dominated every scene in which he appeared. He was tall, had a great voice, and was super charismatic, and I can only imagine how much better a lot of movies post-1995 would have been if he were around. Some people lament that his last movie was Van Damme’s “Street Fighter,” but even while dying of cancer he gave that movie his all and was fun as hell.
But back to “The Rookie.” After he overtakes Nick in the casino vault, for the first time in an action movie a bad guy does the smart thing when taking a hostage, in that rather than holding a gun in the vicinity of the hostage’s head, he puts the gun in his mouth instead. Although this also means we get a shot of something very long and hard being put in Clint Eastwood’s mouth, which based on the face he makes is as uncomfortable and weird for him to experience as it is for those of us in the audience to see.
Back at the station David is treated by the higher-ups as a pariah because “he took it in the back.” So, as we see later, excessive force is perfectly fine in this department, but getting shot three times in the back apparently is a bridge too far. Although right after this David looks at himself in the mirror and we get more of his flashback about his dead brother, and from what we see he not only urged him to make that dangerous jump, but he also just stood there while his bother cried for help. Honestly, you could easily re-edit these flashbacks with some more ominous music and young David here would look more like a budding, emotionless serial killer.
Also, does David just immediately flash back to his brother’s accidental death/intentional murder every time he has a setback in life? Like, when he’s at the country club and finds out they are out of oysters Rockefeller, does he just freeze up and hear “Jump Joey, jump!” in his head? Also, where were he and his brother when this happened? Apparently they grew up super rich in some mansion off the Pacific Coast, yet like most pampered rich kids their play time consisted of … jumping along rooftops in East L.A. I guess?
Either way, we get to what should be considered the legendary sequence where David commits about 127 civil rights violations, which by all rights should have gotten him kicked off the force, jailed and sued into bankruptcy, and made into a national symbol of police brutality. I don’t care what you think about “The Rookie,” this scene is so hilariously over-the-top and awesome it justifies the entire movie.
So David walks balk into that biker bar in which he got his ass kicked earlier, and out of an entire roomful of Mexicans he asks the bartender – the only white guy there – where a guy named Loco Martinez is. After the bartender tells him to go home and calls him a “faggot,” David gives an eloquent and heartfelt reply that such language only serves to divide humankind further, and reveals more about the person saying it than it does the target of such bigoted vitriol. Nah I’m just kidding, he grabs a lighter that’s on the bar (please keep that David for the next 100 times Nick asks for a light), takes a swig of cheap vodka, and then blows a flame into the bartender’s face.
Then he proceeds to beat the shit out of everyone in the bar, as well as killing two pit bulls, fires off multiple rounds from his gun, and then BURNS THE ENTIRE BAR DOWN (as he leaves we still hear people in there who possibly burned to death)! After this the same higher-ups who acted like him getting shot in the back was the worst thing a cop can do are all, “Ackerman did what? Okay someone go find him I guess because we may need to have a talk with him about his shenanigans.”
After being told that the city isn’t paying the ransom for Nick and that he’s already dead but “he doesn’t know it yet,” Nick’s overacting boss gets on the phone and asks to speak with him to make sure he’s alive. When Nick says that he’s on the phone, his boss immediately goes, “You damn fool, I told you to get off this case, but no, you had to be your stupid son-of-a-bitch self, and look where it got you.” Hey asshole, maybe if you’d shut up he could give you some clues on where he is, but either way, considering this may be the last time you talk to him, perhaps lay off a little bit on the guilt trip here.
Also, right after this we get another shot of Sonia Braga polishing an Uzi. Apparently all she does in her free time involves guns, and I have to say I find that attractive.
Mike: All I know is whoever plays the lieutenant is the worst actor of all time. You all probably remember him from “Scarface,” where he didn’t have a single line in English and was almost immediately dismembered with a chainsaw. But he does have the greatest line in the movie when he screams at two cops to find David, “IT’S NOT JUST A JOB, IT’S A FUCKING ADVENTURE!”
Kevin: Now a couple of thoughts about the incredibly bizarre scene where Sonia Braga rapes Clint Eastwood (yes you read that right):
1) At one point she shoves a bullet into his mouth. What is it about sticking things in Clint’s mouth in this movie?
2) Apparently as a man over the age of 60, Nick is able to get a rock-hard erection even under stressful circumstances like the threat of having his genitals cut off. So no man in his 20’s should ever complain about “whiskey dick” again.
3) I never thought I’d want to see Clint get one of his nipples licked, and having seen that I now know I was right.
After this Loco Martinez is at David’s place impersonating “Lt. Garcia,” and Sarah asks if he wants coffee and if decaf is okay because “David hates caffeine.” A) If you only have decaf, then don’t even bother offering coffee. B) I’m starting to dislike David more and more in this movie.
Mike: Lara Flynn Boyle is more badass than both Clint and Charlie, because she kills someone before either one of them in the movie. Actually I take that back, Clint killed one guy in the opening gunfight, but still “The Rookie” has an unforgivably low body count for an Eastwood action flick. If we tally the numbers, Nick kills three people, Sarah kills one, and David kills two if you count his little brother (or possibly up to 20 depending on how many perished in that bar).
Kevin: Speaking of, David berates his girlfriend for just killing the guy who almost strangled her to death a minute earlier, because he needed Loco Martinez alive in order to find Nick. Yet a few scenes later he apparently has found out where Nick is because … well you tell me because we never see than in the film. (I’ll just note that the actor who played Loco Martinez also had a brief appearance as a corner man in “Million Dollar Baby” 14 years later, so if nothing else Clint is loyal to his actors from even his worst movies.)
The scene where Nick and David drive a car out of the fourth floor of an exploding building epitomizes the best and worst of a lot of action back in those days. The actual stunt is awesomely ridiculous, but for some reason they kind of had to ruin it with yet another stupid gag right in the middle, this time of Nick nonchalantly telling David to fasten his seatbelt as they are plunging to their possible deaths amid a giant fireball.
Mike: After this I’d be ready to call it a night, but they decide to go after Strom and keep him from leaving the country with the $2 million ransom. But at the end of the day how helpful is $2 million going to be for Strom? Between the private jet, the creation of totally new identities, and splitting it up with his team, he’ll be lucky to have a few hundred grand to throw around.
Maybe Strom is sharing my concerns as well, which is why he guns down one of his men as soon as he takes the money. Now as he is walking to the plane Nick could have just shot him in the back and this movie would be over, but of course he has to make some stupid quip like “Here’s the interest” before firing his gun, and of course this allows Strom to make a break for the airport on foot.
I slapped my forehead so hard at this that I thought I imagined a scene where Xander Berkley tries to run them over with a jet, but nope it turned out that actually happened in the film. This plane is like the Gulfstream version of Michael Meyers, David and Nick don’t notice it barreling down on them until it is like five feet away, and it takes forever before it occurs to them to shoot their guns at it.
Either way, this movie ends exactly as it should, with Clint Eastwood shooting an unarmed and wounded man in the head.
Kevin: Originally “The Rookie” was going to end with Nick dying, until they remembered this was a B-level action movie, not some serious depiction of life on the force. So instead Nick gets promoted to lieutenant because of his great work … getting kidnapped I guess, while the $27 million in civil judgments that David has cost the department so far is not an issue, as he gets a new female partner. The movie ends on a crowd-pleasing note with her being sexually harassed by her male coworkers, because it was a simpler and much better time, when Clint made movies like this and before the words “Charlie Sheen” and “tiger blood” were ever uttered in the same sentence.
Mike: So everyone in the movie gets a promotion!? Nick becomes lieutenant, so I guess the lieutenant becomes a captain?! They all screwed up so badly! Look, Nick is already drinking on the job on his first day!
Actually the more I think about this movie the more I’ve decided that it’s one of the most underrated gems of all time. It’s so insane in its handling of EVERYTHING that I’m actually awestruck. It’s as if the writers wrote a regular movie, and then went back and changed every single logical decision each character makes just to see where it would lead them:
Screenwriter Scott Spiegel: “Okay so then Clint is fired.”
Co-screenwriter Boaz Yakin: “NO, he’s promoted!”
In unison: “YES!”
Boaz Yakin: “David has daddy issues because his father was never there for him.”
Scott Spiegel: “Wait, what if his father was always there for him! Giving him money, pulling strings so that he gets a cushy job, loving him unconditionally, etc. What if David just hates him because he’s a whiny unlikable douche?!”
In unison: “YES!”
Scott Spiegel: “Okay, so Nick is like this big-time homicide detective and everyone in the force knows him and he’s super smart and a great cop.”
Boaz Yakin: “Wait, I have a better idea … he’s in auto-theft, the one unit no one ever expects any results from, AND he thinks car thievery is more important than drugs, murder, or terrorism!
In unison: “YES!”
Kevin: I’ll conclude by noting that some of the chapter titles for the DVD of “The Rookie” seem even weirder out of context: “Lunch aftertaste.” “Something’s gonna happen.” “Junkyard persuasion.” “Morales goes for a ride.” “Go with a bang.” “Taken at the cleaners.” “Biting Lisel’s bullet.” “Next time the kneecaps.” “Terminal terror.” “End credits.” Oh wait, that last one was actually just the end credits.
And yes, I am not ashamed to admit that I own a DVD of “The Rookie,” just as I am not ashamed to admit that I have watched it probably more times than any other film in Clint’s catalog. It may have not gotten the acclaim of some of his later movies, but as far as I’m concerned it’s better than “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Changeling” combined. Unfortunately when it was released in December 1990, audiences decided they’d rather watch Macaulay Culkin shoot Joe Pesci in the nuts with a B.B. gun than watch Clint shoot Raul Julia in the head with a Smith & Wesson.
But before he moved on to almost exclusively making Oscar-bait critics darlings, at least Clint went out with a bang, while his on-screen partner has also had a stable and fulfilling life since then. Of course I am talking about this guy: