Dennis Hopper’s fourth feature as a directorafter Easy Rider (1969), The Last Movie (1971), and Out of the Blue (1980)is the first in which he doesn’t appear as an actor. It’s also the first that doesn’t improve on its predecessor, except perhaps from a commercial standpoint. Sean Penn and Robert Duvall as a younger and older cop taking on the LA gangs is the hot subject, and all the elementsscript (Michael Schiffer), cinematography (Haskell Wexler), and score (Herbie Hancock)combine to provide a lively, authentic surface and an aggressively hip attack on the material. But narrative continuity and momentum have never been among Hopper’s strong points, and this time the choppiness of the storytelling diffuses the dramatic impact without offering a shapely mosaic effect (as in the previous films) to compensate for it. Too many thematic strandsthe contrast between Penn’s sadism and Duvall’s leniency, Penn’s courting of a Chicano waitress (Maria Conchita Alonso), the individual gang skirmishesget curtailed before they can bear much fruit, and too much of the energy gets lost or wasted in the patchwork editing. Considering how good so many of the pieces of this film areDuvall is especially fineit’s a pity they don’t add up to more (1988). (JR)

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