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Mod Squad, The

Olive Films // R // September 22, 2015
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted October 12, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The success rate of movie-to-TV adaptations has improved in the years since 1999 thanks to a handful of successful examples, most of which are action movies, comedies, or both (21 Jump Street, Charlie's Angels, Get Smart, The A-Team, and of course, Mission: Impossible, which has since become an enduring franchise), but for an example of how dire things could be, one need look no farther than The Mod Squad, an ill-fated non-starter that feels as if it generated such a negative reaction from critics and audiences that the reputation of the TV show has even suffered as a result. On almost every single creative level, the film is a mess: tonally jarring, narratively confusing, poorly-paced, and at least partially miscast.

The premise of The Mod Squad isn't that different from "21 Jump Street": a group of youths, in this case, former criminals, are recruited as a special branch of the police force that can go undercover in environments where police officers would be instantly spotted. The unit is led by Captain Greer (Dennis Farina), who has selected Julie Barnes (Claire Danes), Linc Hayes (Omar Epps), and Pete Cochran (Giovanni Ribisi) as his team. The group is investigating a prostitution ring being run out of a local nightclub when Greer turns up dead, and traces of cocaine stolen from the police evidence lock up is found at the scene. Without a member of the force the group can trust, they decide to work together to uncover who murdered their boss.

The Mod Squad feels like a movie that was meant to be two and a half hours long, then chopped down to the 90 minute range at the expense of nearly everything. The film makes the baffling choice to open with the gang already cops, in the middle of some sort of bust that is never fully explained. In theory, this would be an introductory scene, one that sets up the personality of each member of the team before they're set about on the mission the movie's actually about, but it plays more like ten minutes have already gone by and all of that detail was lost. As a result, their banter and relationship with each other is awkward, like we're watching three strangers pretend to be friends. Greer's death is startlingly unceremonious, and as the gang decides to leave the crime scene, there isn't a hint of tension. By the time the movie tries to introduce dramatic backstory for the characters, Pete in particular, it's far too late.

It doesn't help that two out of three members of the Mod Squad aren't particularly likable. Omar Epps is a fine actor and he's giving a decent performance, but it doesn't belong in the movie The Mod Squad wants to be. Saddled with the tired "don't scratch my car" bit as a startling amount of his character's arc, Epps may not smile once during the entire movie, completely avoiding the swaggery charm the script is calling for. As a result, Ribisi's sweaty attempts to be the film's comic relief fall even flatter than they might've had he not been flying solo. He's a twitchy ball of angry energy with nobody to rein him in, and the film's numerous scenes of Linc and Pete working together are among the movie's most interminable. Only Claire Danes manages to get some charm on the screen, playing someone both rebellious and believable as an amateur detective. Of course, in order to do this, her character ends up separated in an isolated plotline involving an old lover (Josh Brolin) that feels like it came from a different movie, and by the time the finale rolls around, she too is reduced to agonizing one-liners that try and wink at the audience.

The plot is a fairly straightforward corruption bid, but the way director Scott Silver presents it is so weighed down by unnecessary convolutions and detail that it becomes confusing, especially given the way the movie feels like it's jumping deleted scenes that would help clarify certain characters and their relationship to one another. Michael Lerner, playing a bizarre drug lord who loves dancing (a moment that feels as if it were ad-libbed by the actors to make up for the script's shortcomings), is entirely inconsequential, and none of the story developments, including Greer's death, really add to the tension in any meaningful way. At the beginning of the movie, the film defines the word "mod" on the screen, a last-ditch gamble to try and give the film some kind of identity. Even the film's attempt to set up a sequel feels like a shrug -- fitting for a film that works so hard in service of a completely undefined goal.

The Blu-ray
Olive has taken the long-standing DVD cover art for The Mod Squad and given it a semi-stylish upgrade, which is really well-designed but lacking a little something in terms of polish. I've also never seen a Blu-ray or DVD cover go as far as to highlight the cinematographer in the box copy. The single-disc release comes in a boxy Infiniti Blu-ray case, and there is a postcard inside for the Olive Films catalog.

The Video and Audio
Oof. Olive's 1.85:1 1080p AVC presentation of The Mod Squad leaves almost everything to be desired. The one positive to the image is that it does look reasonably sharp, providing what has to be a significant upgrade over the DVD. Unfortunately, this is one of the most drab, dim, and lifeless transfers I've seen on a Blu-ray. The film constantly looks like a gray filter has been placed over the image, a sea of pallid skin and desaturated-looking clothing. I didn't see The Mod Squad in theaters, so I have no idea how accurate this is, but it's hard to believe someone would intentionally make a film intended to be a blockbuster that isn't post-apocalyptic or dystopian with this kind of palette. Grain is also weak, indicative of an old master. Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that fares better than the image. Crowds inside nightclubs provide ample opportunity for the mix to show off a bit of surround effects, and an action finale is perfectly decent in terms of directional gunfire and excitement. Dialogue sounds adequate. Disappointingly, no subtitles or captions are included on the disc.

The Extras

When people cite bad TV-to-movie adaptations, The Mod Squad is what they mean whether they know it or not, a film which exists only for external reasons -- nostalgia, marketing, studio executives -- and no internal ones. Skip it.

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