Fact: In the 1950s, the Robbery-Homicide Detail of the Los Angeles Police Department fielded an elite squad of beefy thugs who dispensed justice without much attention to such niceties as the Constitution, Due Process, Fair Play or even Hitting Above the Belt. They did wear nice hats, though.
Fact: In the 1950s, the Atomic Energy Commission sponsored some A-bomb tests without adequate safety controls, and so, some innocent men were cooked to death by radiation or died from early, atypical cancer.
Fantasy: In the 1950s, the Hat Squad goes after the Atomic Energy Commission.
Poppycock: "Mulholland Falls," based on that idiotic premise.
A dreary "Chinatown" wannabe, "Mulholland Falls" tracks Papa Bear Nick Nolte, growly as a stomach disorder (Typical dialogue: "Urrrrrrrr. Grrrrrr! Rurrrrrrr!") as Lt. Max Hoover, the head hat.
He has a bunch of little bears in little hats (Chazz Palminteri, Michael Madsen and Chris Penn), and they putt about town in a Buick convertible, hats evidently Brylcreemed into place, and stop now and then to pound some poor suspect into road-kill pate.
Eventually, the plot-proper starts when they find a squashed girl in the sand of a San Fernando valley construction project and wonder how she got there. It turns out that she was a beautiful young prostitute who once had a fling with Nolte; you can tell he's all broken up about it because he goes: "Urrrrrrr- (gulp)-wahhhhhhh!-urrrrrrr."
They find out she's recently been seen in the company of a General Timms of the Atomic Energy Commission, a kind of combination Dr. Strangelove, Henry Kissinger, Herman Kahn, Leslie Groves and Dwight David Eisenhower, fonts of all '50s horror to the hyper-fervid ids that unleashed this film.
Blinking blandly like a Gila monster in the sun, he acknowledges "being" with her, but denies all knowledge of her death but since it's John Malkovich, he's got to be lying. Suddenly, the FBI starts dogging the Hat Squad.
The movie's just crummy. It ignores the two most interesting Hat Squaders, Madsen and Penn, for comic-sidekick Palminteri. It's full of boners, like military cops unaccountably missing a two-pound blackjack in Nolte's pocket when they search him. It's dreary, and the conspiracy it uncovers feels more like whispers and hints than a story.
But the film's most annoying error is the arrogant conceit of revisionism. It postulates a world that did not exist, because it exorcises the entwined concepts of communism and Cold War.
Removing those realities as the motive for the security excesses and denying the paranoia of the '50s, the fear of a universally perceived Red Menace, simply turns history and the movie into intellectual hash.
Moreover, I cannot begin to believe that the Hat Squad would have conceived its mission as oppositional to national policy; as a concept, such ideas didn't enter the culture until the late '60s.
Starring Nick Nolte, Chazz Palminteri
Directed by Lee Tamahori
Released by MGM
Rating R (violence and nudity)
Sun score **
Pub Date: 4/26/96