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A review of "No Code of Conduct" (1998)

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

I wish I could say that No Code of Conduct is just an average, schlocky cop movie with some fun action scenes and dumb explosions, but unfortunately, it tried to be a little bit more than that and ended up hitting a flat note.  So now it sits on a weird fence where it needs to be either a little bit smarter or a little bit dumber, and I wouldn't recommend it.

My Rating: 2.5 / 5

The Part Where I'm Blown Away by the Credits

Did you guys know this movie existed?  I had no idea.

It's a film written and directed by Bret Michaels (yes, that Bret Michaels) and starring Martin Sheen and Charlie Sheen as on-screen father and son cops who take on a heroin ring.  I know the Sheens have teamed up a few times before (and at least one time that worked), so it's not really surprising that they did it here... but to so little fanfare?  Was the world just so over the novelty of having two Sheens in a movie by 1998 that we shrugged this one off?

And when you look at it close-up, you do have to wonder why they starred in this one in the first place.  I know the late '90s were rough for Charlie (some would say everything post-Hot Shots has been rough), but the dude has been finding enough regular work for the last 30 years that you wonder why he'd bother with such a tiny generic action movie.  Surely there were better paying commercials he could have starred in that year.

Oh, well.  At least we have something invaluable for movie trivia fans.  Next time you want to win a bar bet, tell somebody about this one.  And once they start to think you're bullshitting ("Bret Michaels made a movie?  No way."), that's when you can mention that Mark Dacascos got third billing and you can really watch them flip their lid.

Bonus round: did you know Bret Michaels also directed a second movie featuring both Martin and Charlie Sheen in 1998?  He must have got them on a contract at one hell of a coke party.  Man, the '90s were a screwed up time, weren't they?

The Plot Summary

Jake Peterson (Charlie Sheen) is a tough, take-no-shit cop who's also kind of a screw up.  His dad, Bill (Martin Sheen), is nearing retirement.  They have a tense relationship since Bill is a high rank and wants to impress a sense of duty on all his officers, but Jake is kind of a goof.

Jake's big conflict for the first half of the movie is that he spends too much time with his partner, Paul (Mark Dacascos), and not enough time with his family.  His wife and daughter are upset with him for this. They bitch about it for awhile, and then eventually a cop friend gets killed during an undercover prostitution sting, and suddenly a plot breaks out.

The killers are part of a major heroin ring, you see.  They are getting ready for a $50 million heroin deal in Los Angeles, courtesy of a nebulous corporate backer and Bill's corrupt partner, played by Paul Gleason.  To their credit, Jake and Paul are actually pretty competent cops and uncover the heroin ring fairly quickly once they start digging - it's just that it takes them like 40 minutes of movie time before they decide to get involved.

Anyway, Paul Gleason and the corporate dude realize that Jake's onto them after he confiscates their van full of heroin, so they kidnap his wife and set up a trade: the drugs for his wife.  Jake, Paul, and Bill all team up to raid the villain's drug warehouse and in the process blow everything up and shoot a couple dozen people.

Paul Gleeson gets arrested and Bill retires.  The end.

The Part Where I Complain

My biggest gripe with NCoC is that it's got a distractingly inconsistent tone.  Whenever Jake's wife shows up, this weepy melodramatic score starts to play and the movie turns into a maudlin too-soft-for-Lifetime piece about a troubled cop's inability to find the right work/life balance.  And whenever Jake is away from his family, it turns into "rogue cop with 'tude takes on the world" action fluff.

It looks like two different movies were trying to get made, but they had to make so many concessions to each other that neither one wins.  You have this introspective, heady character piece and you have this dumb as balls cop flick.  The character piece never feels as intelligent, subtle, or captivating as it should because it's on the heels of dumb guys bro-ing out and being badasses.  And the action movie never feels fun or charming because it's hard to get into the spirit of dumb fun when you're busy thinking about Jake's miserable home life.

Of the two, the one that has more merit is the action movie.  I appreciate that they tried to add some depth to Jake by showing us his home life and his struggles, but those sequences are poorly acted and feel like a made-for-TV movie.  By the end, Jake doesn't feel any more three-dimensional because of them - he just seems like he's getting pulled away from doing cool stuff, which he actually is.  Now that I'm writing this, I realize I'm not exaggerating when I say the movie actually interrupts its action scenes so that Jake's wife can yell at him for not hanging out with his daughter.  Can you imagine if Die Hard did that?

It's rare to see a movie that could be improved making it "dumber," but here it is.

One other gripe, and this one is not necessarily the movie's fault: why does it have to be about drugs? As a force of menace and a reason to hate the villains, "drugs" ranks low on the list for me.  Honestly, who the hell cares?  The part where the gang members are brutally slaughtering each other and innocents alike?  That part's scary.  But the part where they're introducing drugs into the community? ....who cares?  It's just drugs.  As far as vices go, it pales in comparison to the other horrendous shit humans do to each other on a daily basis.  It's not like they're human traffickers or anything.

Now, you show me the bad guys organizing a sex slave ring, and suddenly I want to see the good guy punch them to death.  That's why Taken works.

I can give '80s movies a pass when they focus on drugs because the '80s were, frankly, a time when everybody was stupid and had messed up priorities.  But by the late '90s, I think we all understood that "the drug trade" was a lame boogeyman.  Especially in a movie starring Charlie Sheen and directed by Bret Michaels.

One last gripe and then I'm moving on to some slightly greener pastures.  What's the deal with the title?  I'll file this in the same category as Let the Devil Wear Black.  It sounds like somebody wanted to go with a cliche cop-sounding title for the movie, but then they had a meeting with the producers and it didn't sound edgy enough.

"How about 'Code of Conduct?'"

"Naw, they're much too rogue for that.  Oh!  I know! 'No Code of Conduct.'  Perfect!"

It doesn't make any sense.  Is the title referring to the one cop that was corrupt?  Is it referring to Jake since he (sorta) plays by his own rules?  Is it referring to the gangsters?  The problem is that nobody is really all that much of a loose cannon - Jake isn't actually that much of a rogue, and the corrupt cop is the singular douchebag who isn't following the rules.  Why are you calling your movie "No Code of Conduct" when all the characters in it behave exactly like you expect them to?  Shouldn't it be called "Strict Code of Conduct?"

And if half your movie is about Jake's inability to pay attention to his family, shouldn't that be the focus of the title?  "No Time for Family Conduct?"

Or... you could just be generic and call it "Code of Conduct."  It's boring, sure, but it's no more boring than "No Code of Conduct" and it makes more sense.

The Part Where I Complain Slightly Less

Considering that my expectations for this movie were so low - what really could I expect from Bret Michaels? - this is actually not a poorly-made film.  It's kinda dumb and takes too long to get to the point, but once it gets cooking, it's breezy, punchy, and actually a bit of fun.

It's hard to say that I truly enjoyed the action scenes in this movie because I don't find them especially interesting.  But I'm watching NCoC after two years of low-budget films where action scenes are stilted and awkward, so I appreciate them so much more here.

Case in point: explosions.  NCoC has a good amount of them, particularly in the conclusion.

Now, I'm not saying that explosions alone make a good film.  Certainly not.  There needs to be a context and some kind of plot to make them truly pay off.  But they sure are fun, aren't they?

God, it's so refreshing to see a movie where the actors are standing around in a warehouse with no set dressing and acting like something terrible is about to happen, and then when they get outside, the warehouse actually explodes.  It reminds me that there are movies that can afford to show you true menace and stakes.  NCoC succeeds at a baseline level of tension, and although that may sound like faint praise, it's much appreciated arounds these parts.

It also reminds me that low budget productions that can't afford to do an explosion well shouldn't try to focus on big-budget, cliched action scenes in their movies.  It's no fun to watch something that's pretending to be a movie many leagues beyond its means.  I'm looking at you, Miami Beach Cops.  (Ironically, I'd recommend Miami Beach Cops over No Code of Conduct.  So maybe I should really be making fun of Street Vengeance.)

Where You Can Watch

No Code of Conduct is currently streaming on Netflix.

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