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118 minutes
action, comedy, crime

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This entry created 16 December 2020. Last revised on 16 December 2020.

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©1994-2024 Bill Armintrout
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The 87th Precinct series of police procedural novels were written by Evan Hunter, under the pseudonym Ed McBain. He wrote 55 of them in his lifetime; I'm a long-time fan, and currently I'm re-reading all of them, in publication order.

The concept of the series is that it's not about a single cop or detective, but about the entire squad (a unique idea at the time). Each novel typically has several plotlines running simultaneously, with different detectives working each case.

Fuzz was, in my opinion, one of the lesser novels in the series. It features the return of the 87th Precinct's recurring foe, The Deaf Man, who usually has some complex criminal scheme as well as a desire to make the cops look as stupid as possible.

There were a number of projects over the years to turn the 87th Precinct into movies or TV series, none of which came to much. The movie Fuzz arguably was one of the best attempts.

One of the things the movie got right was the sense that the movie is not about a single character, but a team of detectives. Burt Reynolds is relatively low key as detective Steve Carella; Tom Skerritt is energetic as the young detective Bert Kling; Jack Weston is funny but not over-the-top as detective Meyer Meyer; Raquel Welch shows she can act as she plays detective Eileen McHenry (changed from 'Eileen Burke' in the novels); James McEachin is solid as detective Arthur Brown; and there are a few more minor characters from the squad.

What the movie misses is any sense of suspense. The Deaf Man is back (played elegantly by Yul Brynner), and assassinating city officials! Yet the script fails to built much excitement, the special effects are forgettable, and the Deaf Man's intricate plan is barely revealed. You might recognize Peter Bonerz (Bob Newhart Show) as one of the Deaf Man's minions.

The 87th Precinct detectives are all male; Eileen Burke is on loan from another unit, and has to share a restroom with the other detectives. There's an odd scene where someone walks in unexpectedly as Eileen is changing clothes. In a later interview, Burt Reynolds claimed that the studio expected Raquel Welch to "show some skin"; she refused, she wears underwear in the scene, and Reynolds said the studio was disappointed.

If you're expecting a typical Burt Reynolds movie, this isn't it – the humor is grounded, he is not playing his usual type of character, he even has a sweet scene with his character's deaf wife Teddy.

Without giving too much away, the gimmick in the original novel is to have the subplots resolved via a major coincidence (which is supposed to be funny). The movie goes for the same ending, but the director does a poor job with the action sequence.

Another bit of trivia: One of the subplots involves someone setting homeless men on fire as they sleep. Sadly, the movie is said to have inspired copycat crimes.

Can you game it? Oh, probably not. But the ending scene poses an interesting tactical situation – a three-way gunfight with one side caught in the middle.

If you're a fan of the novels, you'll enjoy seeing the characters come to life in film. Otherwise, the movie is just sort of average, through no fault of an excellent cast.