Movie adaptation of ‘Mod Squad’ is formulaic but fun

There have been a slew of remakes lately, both of older movies and television shows. “Batman” was the beginning of this trend, and it has spread through numerous sequels, knockoffs and other assorted travesties.

The most recent example was “The Avengers,” which was a truly horrible film based on an already corny 1960’s TV show. The apparent lesson of all of this should have been “leave well enough alone.”

Apparently director Scott Silver thought he could do it better. The surprising thing is that his “The Mod Squad” actually does do it better. It is a far less hokey conceptualization than any of the other remakes in the last year.

Part of the credit goes to the actors. All three of the young leads do an excellent job, as does Dennis Farina, in his most engaging performance since “Get Shorty.” All of this in spite of a script that is both predictable and banal.

The story revolves around three young criminals. Julie (Claire Danes), has been arrested for assault and just recently managed to overcome a problem with drugs and alcohol. Linc (Omar Epps), was in for arson, and his troubled life has left him unable to trust or depend on others. Pete (Giovanni Ribisi), was busted for robbery, despite coming from a very wealthy family.

The three are sprung from the clink by LAPD Capt. Adam Greer (Dennis Farina), who is forming a special youth unit to crack tough cases requiring undercover work. Unarmed, they are sent to a local club to bust a drug and prostitution ring. Although they are making progress, things quickly go awry.

Greer is murdered, and his body is covered with cocaine stolen from a police evidence locker. It is clear to his Mod Squad that this is a set-up. But who can they turn to? The rest of the department dislikes them and what they represent. Because of their association with Greer they are targeted by Internal Affairs and the cops who set Greer up.

There are several running gags, such as the damage Pete inflicts upon Linc’s prized 1960 Lincoln convertible. This serves to break up the drama with some laughs. Julie is the witty source of numerous one-liners and Pete is spastically comic. The laughs will distract you from nagging questions about the plot, such as “What about police training?” and “How did the courts approve making young felons into street cops?”

Another important aspect of the film is the way that it manages to combine some interesting psychological commentary with a very straightforward thriller plot. The disillusionment, the vulnerability, of these characters seems remarkably real and very universal. They are making fundamental realizations about their simultaneous aloneness and interdependence that are common to most people.

It is an interesting evolution Danes has managed to make, from a teenage nobody on “My So Called Life” to the highly sexualized young adult she plays in “The Mod Squad.” She still seems troubled, and hurt, but the insecurity that seemed to be the heart of her persona has blossomed into a very mature confidence. Epps and Ribisi, though not hyped in the national media quite as much as Danes, are also excellent. One problem is a real lack of development of Ribisi’s character Pete. He is different, but why? The cursory scene of estrangement between parents and son is not very fulfilling. Just a few more minutes of background on each of the characters would have really fleshed the film out and made it far more engaging.

Overall this is a fun little flick. It clocks in under two hours, it has some action, a little suspense and interesting characters. You will not be disappointed as long as you are realistic about what type of movie this is: a formulaic thriller with some decent acting.

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