Rent-a-Cop (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Apr 10, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Rent-a-Cop (Blu-ray Review)


Jerry London

Release Date(s)

1988 (March 19, 2024)


Kings Road Entertainment (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B

Rent-a-Cop (Blu-ray)

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Rent-a-Cop is a variation on the buddy comedy that dominated movie screens in the 1980s. Instead of two male leads, however, the film teams a female hooker and a male former cop in a story that balances violence, and suspense with humor.

Tony Church (Burt Reynolds, The Longest Yard) is the head of a police team about to make a big drug bust in a hotel. Hooker Della (Liza Minnelli, Cabaret) is visiting a client in the same hotel and knocks by mistake at the door of the wrong room. As the cops burst in on the drug dealers, a man in full body armor, his face and head fully covered by a helmet, guns them all down and makes off with the cocaine and the cash. Only Church survives, but a clash with his commander (John P. Ryan, Runaway Train) infuriates him and he resigns.

Della got a look at the assassin when she blundered to the wrong room. An attempt has already been made on her life, and she’s scared. Tracking down Church, she offers to hire him as her bodyguard. Church doesn’t take her seriously but he’s out of work and her non-stop entreaties wear him down. On learning that she saw the killer’s face, Church shows her mug shots and she points to one who Church identifies as Dancer (James Remur, Fatal Instinct).

Church wants to find the killer of his friends. Della wants protection. Conveniently, their would-be nemeses are one and the same. Church and Della join forces, and the film transforms from crime drama to buddy picture with lots of witty repartee and a heavy helping of violence.

Reynolds easily fits the role of Church, a cop not afraid to buck his superiors when he lacks respect for them. With minimal dialogue and lots of action sequences, the role allows the actor to shine. Minnelli, chattering constantly, teetering in tall, shiny heels and short, sequined skirts, is a perfect foil for Reynolds’ taciturn ex-cop. Both outliers of society, Church and Della form a bond. He regards her as a nuisance at first, but comes to appreciate that she’s genuinely frightened and takes pity on her. She’s independent but realizes that she needs help and can’t get it from law enforcement because of her profession as a sex worker.

This was Minnelli’s first film in five years and she looks great. Trim and attractively made up, she’s costumed in red sparkly dresses and a white boa or a bulky fur coat, the flashy attire required of a call girl. She nicely swings between humor or dead seriousness, as the scene requires, and is convincing at both. Constantly in motion, always talking, her Della seems to have limitless energy. In contrast, Reynolds’ Church is cautious and reserved, and observes Della as a curiosity.

Dancer is an intriguing madman and Remur plays the role with chilling hardness and narcissism. Church’s former partner, played by Bernie Casey, is standard sidekick issue, and we’ve seen iterations of Robbie Benson’s young cop character in many other films. Dionne Warwick, as Della’s madam and best friend, has only two scenes.

Rent-a-Cop works on several levels. It’s a solid action picture. It’s also a story of two unlikely buddies with clashing personalities. It features first-class chemistry between its stars, and the dialogue is sharp and clever. Director Jerry London, mostly known for TV movies, is very good with pacing. The film moves along briskly with hardly any padding. Action scenes are staged excitingly in fairly small spaces, and he’s elicited strong performances from supporting cast members Warwick, Bernie Casey, Richard Masur, and Robbie Benson.

The screenplay by Dennis Shryack and Michael Blodgett provides a good showcase for both Reynolds and Minnelli. They infuse life into characters that might otherwise come off as cliche. Reynolds got top billing but Minnelli dominates in the showier role.

Director of photography Giuseppe Rotunno shot Rent-a-Cop on 35 mm film with spherical lenses in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The Blu-ray features a new HD master from a 4K scan of the original camera negative. Clarity and contrast are excellent. Details are well-delineated, particularly in billowing cigarette smoke, glitzy costumes in the disco scene, stone masonry in a tunnel, glistening knife blade, Della’s loud costumes, objects in Church’s apartment, Dancer’s weapons, and a hotel lobby. Under the opening credits, nighttime aerial shots over the Chicago River of high-rise buildings with their illuminated windows create a peaceful view. Chicago locations in winter avoid a studio-bound look.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Sound effects include machine gun and hand gun fire, small explosions, bodies being pummeled, grunts, and music and ambient noise in a disco. Jerry Goldsmith’s music over the opening credits promises an action picture to follow, and later scenes with Reynolds and Minnelli tend to be underscored by quiet, romantic music.

Bonus materials on the Region A Blu-ray release from Kino-Lorber include the following:

  • Audio Commentary by Lee Gambin with Richard Masur
  • Trailer (2:16)
  • Fuzz Trailer (2:59)
  • White Lightning Trailer (2:26)
  • Hustle Trailer (3:14)
  • Gator Trailer (1:09)
  • Stick Trailer (1:21)
  • Heat Trailer (2:34)
  • Malone Trailer (2:10)
  • Breaking In Trailer (2:04)

Audio Commentary – Film historian and critic Lee Gambin refers to Rent-a-Cop as the “perfect example of oddball buddy movies of the 80s.” Composer Jerry Goldsmith was very busy at the time. His score for Rent-a-Cop is playful and reminiscent of the whimsy of Arthur. The film offers great action and violence in what is essentially a comedy film. Della is unapologetic about being a sex worker. She oozes confidence and is proud. Liza Minnelli can make you laugh and cry. Director Jerry London is expert at juxtaposing comedy with violence, often jarring the viewer. He has the “knack of pulling off hard-boiled action with off-the-wall high-stung comedy.” The original script, a “straight up thriller," was tweaked once Reynolds and Minnelli were cast, in order to accommodate the strengths of the stars. Minnelli’s hyper-activity is warm and engaging and filled with heart. As a straight man, Reynolds is just as engaging, “letting Liza do the heavy lifting.” The street cop is portrayed as honorable, while cops in high places are not to be trusted. Prince of the City is cited as an excellent film about cops becoming corrupt. Actor Richard Masur provides anecdotes and reminiscences about making Rent-a-Cop. At one point, he was in demand for made-for-TV movies. For feature films, he had to audition. He thinks Burt Reynolds, who had worked with him previously, had a lot to do with his casting in Rent-a-Cop. Much of the film was shot in Italy because of liberal tax breaks, even though the film was set entirely in Chicago. Masur asks himself five questions before taking a role: Is it a role I’m interested in? Is it a project I’m interested in? Are the people involved people I’d like to work with? Is the money good? Where is it being shot? Masur recalls Minnelli as being funny, a bit jittery, energetic, and sweet. Reynolds loved to have fun when he was working, and had a self-deprecating sense of humor. The dynamic between Reynolds and Minnelli is the best thing in the film. The same year that Reynolds made Rent-a-Cop, he was also in Switching Channels. Because it contains many diverse elements, Rent-a-Cop cannot be pigeonholed into a single genre.

Rent-a-Cop is a routine police crime drama enlivened tremendously by the presence of Liza Minnelli, who adds her unique blend of ditziness and focused energy. She’s a first-rate screen partner for the laconic Reynolds. It’s by no means a perfect film, but it’s definitely entertaining. The violence might be shocking, since it’s intense and is initially not expected. Though not particularly bloody, these scenes do pack a powerful punch.

- Dennis Seuling