Lee Majors Week: Keaton’s Cop (1990)

The ’80s were the comeback decade, for both William Shatner and Lee Majors returned to our small screens with T.J Hooker (1982 – 1986) and The Fall Guy (1981 – 1986)*, respectively. And both were shows good ol’ dad and I could enjoy together. And we were both equally perturbed when they were simultaneously cancelled.

Now you would think, with a second hit TV series, that Lee would have been back in mainstream Hollywood’s good graces and return to his stalled theatrical career from the early ’80s. But it seemed the contractual dust-up during the last year of The Six Million Dollar Man back in 1977 wasn’t forgotten. There’s two sides to the story: Majors either caught a case of the Tinseltown Flu to force Universal into accepting his Fawcett-Majors Productions as a series co-producer or he held out for a pay raise. Either way, the executive suites in la-la land don’t take kindly to their actors pulling a creative coup.

So after saddling up in the late ’80s as Mountain Dan alongside Dolly Parton (with Henry “The Fonz” Winkler directing!) in A Smoky Mountain Christmas and two Six Million Dollar Man-Bionic Woman telefilms, Majors made it back to the big screen . . . well, it was only a matter of time until Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus wrangled Lee Majors into one of their deadbeat, direct-to-video productions.

Granted, we love Cannon Films around the B&S About Movies offices, for their imprint was ’80s VHS-rental de rigueur, with all of the Death Wish sequels and Chuck Norris flicks, such as Invasion U.S.A. and The Delta Force series. And all of the Ninja-suffixed films. And all of our beloved Micheal Dudikoff flicks. In fact, by 1986, Cannon reached a production milestone of distributing 43 films in one year, as the studio broke away from their usual direct-to-videoesque potboilers to big-budgeted theatrical features such as (the less than stellar) Lifeforce and Masters of the Universe, (and the cheesily awesome) Cobra and Over the Top.

Sadly, by the time the Israeli cousins of the celluloid frontiers roped the services of Lee Majors, Cannon was in financial and creative ruins . . . and four years away from its inevitable demise. So, instead of putting Majors in a halfway decent flick sidekickin’ with Chuck Norris in something like Firewalker or slipping him into Roy Scheider’s role in (a pretty decent Elmore Leonard film adaptation) 52 Pick Up, our ex-Bionic stunt man ended up in Keaton’s Cop.

Huh?

You know, the 48 Hours Lethal Weapon buddy-cop rip-off film that paired Lee Majors with Don Rickles. Yes. You heard me right. Mr. Warmth from all of those The Johnny Carson Show reruns on Antenna TV. The guy who did all of those goofy “beach party” movies with Frankie and Annette back in the ’60s. The guy who you’ve seen many a-cable-replay times as casino manager Billy Sherbet in Martin Scorsese’s Casino. But the younger kiddies ’round these wilds of Allegheny country probably remember Don Rickles best as the acidic Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story. Oh, and if you’re a horror hound like most of B&S’s readers: Don was Manny Bergman in the (pretty cool) mobster-vamp hybrid Innocent Blood by John Landis.

But here’s ol’ Don . . . twenty-years later, following up his last big screen role in 1970’s Kelly Heroes with Clint Eastwood, in the Danny Glover role as Jake Barber: the aged detective sidekick paired with Mike Gable, a burnt-out, on-the-edge veteran cop with a penchant for throwing suspects out windows — and losing partners, via death. Oh, and speaking of Cobra . . . guess who their boss is . . . hey, it’s Art LaFleur rippin’ through a Xerox redux of his role from that Stallone flick. (Plot spoiler: we lose Don early in the movie, natch, and he’s not funny here; he plays it straight, as he did in Innocent Blood and Casino.) Oh, and speaking of Cobra, again: Remember the big “character development” scene when Marion Cobretti cut off a slice of three-day-old pizza with a pair of scissors? Well, Keaton’s Cop has one: Mike Gable brushes his teeth with beer. (Remember when Brian “Boz” Bosworth mixed that “health drink” in a blender during the “establishing scene” in Stone Cold (1991) and we wondered, “how can he drink that” . . . and it ended up being gruel for his bet iguana? Hey, all of these action flicks needed one of those “character development” moments, natch.)

So, I see you noticed the name of Abe Vigoda on the box. Yes, he from those endless AMC and TNT reruns of The Godfather and those old Barney Miller episodes you’ve Antenna TV-channel grazed as you surfed the couch after a long Saturday night of partying. Eh, maybe you remember Abe in The Cannonball Run II, The Stuff, or the oddest Christmas flick of them all, Prancer.

Anyway, Ol’ Abe is Louis Keaton, an aged-out mobster living his days incognito in a Galveston, Texas, nursing home. When Gable is dispatched to the nursing home to investigate a shooting, he comes to discover the intended target was Keaton and the shooter was a mob hitman. And since Barber and Vigoda go “way back,” Barber convinces the guff n’ grizzled Gable to take part of the action-comedy-romance (with a home nurse that is way too young for him) that ensues.

Truth be told: Even though this a pinch-o-rama rip off, Majors is solid here, the comedy is funny (both of the sometimes-intentional and non-intentional variety), and it’s nice to see a then 69-year-old Abe Vigoda digging in his heels and getting banged around with film’s promoted “hard-edged action.” But still. Lee Majors deserved better. Way better. Like the very similar Martin Brest-directed and Robert DeNiro-starring Midnight Run from 1988-better (which Majors’s old bosses, Universal, backed). But that’s how the dice in Hollywood roll across the green felts of fate.

No freebie streams? What the hell, You Tube uploaders? What gives, ye executives at Tubi TV? Ah, but we found a rental-stream on Amazon Prime. Keaton’s Cop has never been officially reissued on DVD, so watch out for those bogus-cum-defective grey market rips out there, kiddies.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

* Stock footage alert: Action scenes from our “Fast and Furious Week II” review of Flash and the Firecat ended up in The Fall Guy (the clip is included in the review).

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