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Nice Legs Shame About The Face

Jessica Ylvisaker and Tracie Broom in conversation about The Mod Squad

J: After a night of sleep decorated with sweet dreams of Claire Danes' lovely midriff, a question has occurred to me: over how many days did the action of The Mod Squad take place? It seems to me that the length of time one might think it would require for an old flame to be rekindled, developed, and snuffed, and for a huge dirty-cop drug deal to be set up, sniffed out, and thwarted, doesn't quite jibe with the fact that we got to see about 8 days out of the life of the M.S. And, timeline aside, how is it that despite the romance, drugs, and action, it didn't feel like anything actually happened in the movie? -- aside from the nice, if a bit overused, slo-mo shots of Claire stomping around sexily in tummy-baring tops.

T: You've got a good point there. I don't know what to say. When I think back on my time with The Mod Squad my brain goes to vapor -- like smog over the valley, like mist from the Pacific; I find it difficult to formulate, in descriptive terminology, exactly what made this film suck the way that it did. I have trouble even taking a second to collect comment on either the plot or the action of The Mod Squad for fear of losing brain cells. However, I like to talk about Claire's midriff, and, even more, I like to talk about Giovanni Ribisi's acting. He makes me smile inside.

J: Indeed. Ribisi's cinematic appearances just this year include Saving Private Ryan, The Other Sister, and The Mod Squad and I think he manages to be a dopey delight in everything. It's possible that he follows his scripted lines carefully, but, particularly in The Mod Squad, one gets the impression that the director (Scott Silver) let Ribisi run with his mouth and his character, the impetuous and addle-brained ex-thief Pete Cochrane. I just hope the common traits of his characters so far -- endearing but a few eggs short of a dozen -- get to transform into something a little more substantial and engaging.

T: Ribisi exudes a genuine sweetness while effortlessly and repeatedly demonstrating his character's inability to avoid screwing up. Many actors go for "angry" in their portrayal of the mixed-up youth. Ribisi, however, has a couple of really tender moments in the film; he does a great prodigal son act with the rich BH parents and maintains a lightly incestuous brother-sister connection with the rootless Julie Barnes, played ankle-deep by our old babysitting pal Claire Danes.

J: And as far as the third in the teen triumvirate goes -- Omar Epps as Linc -- well, he got to wear some nice Levi's outfits. And wear them well he did. And that's about all he did -- his steely-faced, suppressed-rage bit comes across more like a mute with lockjaw than an indignant youth hardened by experience.

T: Regarding the art direction: did you get that sandy, breezy-by-the-beach surfer stakeout feeling in the midst of so much working-the-club-grunge and runnin'-from-the-cops-sweatiness? What a great early-morning picture of L.A. this film paints. The kids are exhausted, depressed, well-dressed, and without one cruel intention to speak of.

J: Agreed. The problem is, that's all we get. A pretty picture. The characters don't go much beyond the very basic premise that they're kids who screwed up but have enough of a conscience -- or are sufficiently easily intimidated -- to have joined forces with the enemy. The movie's one-liners, half-hearted quips about the hackneyed nature of the cop conspiracy, bad guys are everywhere storyline (in my mind, a dangerous thing to joke about, since acknowledging how trite the plot is doesn't make it any better), are delivered almost apologetically by Danes, Ribisi and Epps as if they, too, know how un-funny they are. And the action is... low-key (read: boring).

T: Kind of a 'nice legs, shame about the face' movie.

J: You said it.

The Mod Squads
rated R
1 hour 34 minutes

Claire Danes
Omar Epps
Giovanni Ribisi
Dennis Farina
Josh Brolin