Old Movies, Cop Shorts, and “The Lebow Line”

From time to time when there’s nothing on television, even though my wife and I are both occupied by other pursuits, the idea of powering down the T.V. is still too repugnant a notion to be entertained. That’s when we partake of some less-than-Oscar-worthy movies from the free section of On Demand or Netflix. During this weekend’s “Background Noise Theatre,” we selected 1993’s Striking Distance, featuring Bruce Willis and Sarah Jessica Parker as… river police. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s every bit as riveting as it sounds. Here’s a brief sample scene*:

Captain Brucezillatron Maximo IV (I’m pretty sure that was his character’s name) patrols the river vigilantly from the helm of his proud vessel, while Miss Ess Jaypea (or whatever they called her) stands stoically by his side, brow furrowed with justice-lust as she scans the shoreline for signs of misdeeds in progress, while trying to appear aloof and indifferent to the Captain’s animal magnetism. Suddenly, he catches sight of a shadowy, nefarious silhouette dumping a rug into the river from a bridge (which, I gather, is not the proper way to dispose of a rug). He gasps in shock, then summons his growliest growly face. “Not tonight, punk,” he rasps through furious teeth, “I’m gonna dump you… into a concrete cell.”

He hits the siren with a (dramatic close up of a) flick of a switch and a smirk (bustin’ punks is a natural euphoric). The perp, horrified at being caught in the act of litterbuggery, dives into the open door of his car and burns rubber down the road. Too bad for him, the road runs right along the river. Bruce-yphus whips the boat around and the camera follows the tidal wave left in the boat’s wake as the wave hungrily pulses and throbs down the river until it slams into a hooded teen almost two miles down shore just as he’s about to throw a rock at a baby duck. The duckling rides the crest of the wave up the shore, across a street, and comes to a gentle rest right in front of an upscale 24 hour pet store, where she is taken in and given a warm bed. As the camera zooms in on the contented duckling’s face, we realize what a magical and wonderful river cop the Bruce-aphone really is.

Then, BAM! Like getting a sudden punch to the back of the thigh from a small British child while talking on the phone to grandma**, we cut to the chase in progress! The Willis-phonic-spree deftly aims the ship-mounted spotlight and his hand-cannon at the fleeing vehicle, while bringing the loudspeaker microphone to his (permanently five-o’-clock-shadowed) face, as he booms “Drop and give me twenty, scum-guzzler!” His partner levels a quizzical expression at him.

"I can feel you staring at me. Cut that shit out."

"You heard me."

At this point, we see her inner conflict, the true duality of her character, as she engages in an anguishing mental debate. Does she tell him what she thinks of his attempt at wit, or does she continue not being savagely beaten with the butt end of a police-issue revolver. She apparently decides to go with the latter of the two, and says nothing of her partner’s verbal excretions.

Jump cut back to Bru-manchu as he empties his revolver into the fleeing automobile. Remembering that the only way to take down a mid-eighties sedan is to hit its explosive rear windshield with a flare, he flings open the storage bin on deck, and begins rummaging for the flare gun case. Finally, he sees the bright red lettering “In case of suspect in unexploded car on water-adjacent access road,” gleaming across the front of the waterproof box, in the soft moonlight and harsh rhythmic flashes of orange and blue from the boat’s lights. He cracks open the case, and pumps flare after flare at the fleeing perpetrator’s car, leaving untold scores of grass fires behind them. After what seems like an eternity, he makes a ridiculous face (which is supposed to convey that he’s really, really thinking about hitting what he’s aiming at), and shoots the suspect’s vehicle dead center in the rear windshield, which, of course, bursts into flames, causing the car to flip over. “Heh,” he says, and his eyes light up with reflected flames, “Big badda-BOOM!” He begins clapping enthusiastically. Sarah Jessica Parker frowns and calls her agent.

Pew-pew-pew! Booom! Fwoosh! Aaaaahhhhh!!! Yay!

Not pictured: insurance.

By now, backup has arrived, and the team of divers has revealed that the rug dumped in the water… was a rug. This amuses the other police greatly, and they begin pointing and laughing at poor Brucie-poo. He looks to his partner for assistance, but she’s having none of his shit. “OH, it looked like a body,” she exclaims in her most mocking tone, then begins pantomiming rubbing her eyes with closed fists while boo-hooing. He is visibly confused by all of this behavior; why isn’t anyone congratulating him? He knew exactly what was being dropped into the water before he started chasing the perp, who, despite being shot at and having his car exploded for the crime of rug-dumpery, is never mentioned again for the duration of the film.

Oh, and later, pirates (or some such) hijack a barge.

At any rate, my point is this: throughout the entire movie, all the river cops wear shorts. I realize they’re on water, and the prevailing school of thought is that shorts are easier to swim in, but really, what’s an extra foot and a half of department issue poly-blend fabric going to do, besides make people take you just a little more seriously? Seriously, though, I do get it. You jump into the water to swim over to a barge being taken over by pirates, and when you climb up onto the deck, your pants legs are wet, heavy, floppy, and ungainly. How about some zip-off pants legs, then? Velcro? Space-age rapid-drying polymer? Just saying.

Same goes for bike cops, while we’re on the subject. You’re telling me that you’re an agent of law enforcement, whose sworn solemn duty it is to be the first line of defense between civilization and utter anarchy, but you can’t ride a bike while wearing pants? What it really boils down to is that, in life, you’ve got a choice to make. You can be:

  • An authority figure, who is to be taken seriously and shown the utmost respect at all times.

or

  • Someone who wears shorts to work.

They’re mutually exclusive groups. I made a Venn diagram, but it was just two circles that didn’t fucking touch, so I deleted it and made a graph. It’s way more science-y, anyway.

Turning to Figure. 1A, we see that full length pants do not diminish the appearance of authority. Very quickly, however, we reach the no-man’s land between “high-waters” and “cholo shorts” (which are represented at 50% length on the graph: due to sagging, the length is still the same). There, we see a bit of a spike. No one wants to mess with cholo shorts, but other, less authoritative groups wear the same length shorts (at their waistline), skewing the curve substantially. From there, it’s back down to zero, until an odd phenomenon occurs. Once you pass the mark of ‘short shorts,’ perception of authority soars to 100%. This is believed to be due to the inherent fear that can very easily be instilled by a person sans pants.

Because he wears shorts regularly, and would be terrifying in public without them.

Scientists call the point, at which the phenomenon manifests, "The Lebow Line."

*…and by “brief sample scene,” what I really mean is, “only a few minuscule parts of what I’m about to say actually occurred in the movie, and I’m going to go on, and on, and on, and on. Then, just when you think I’ll never be done, that’s when I’ll come at you with the point I originally set out to make before I realized how much fun it was to poke fun at old movies by ‘punching up’ the script with nonsense.” Besides, in all fairness, when, on this blargh, have I ever even been within walking distance of briefness? If you see brevity, terseness or conciseness, or any other synonym of “not rambling clean-the-hell on,” chances are good that I’m about a transcontinental journey away from it. Any further from it, and I’m coming back around and getting closer to it. No move I make can take me further away: I can only move laterally, maintaining the same distance… from… something. Shit, what was I on about, again? Oh, right. Rambling. I’m prone to it. Makes Twittering a very… neurotic experience.

**Because that would come as a surprise.

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~ by tazehim on May 5, 2009.

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