Serving as Christian Slater's transition between teenage heartthrob and action hero, Kuffs tries to be an innovative combination of genres but is too obviously trapped in the 1980's to actually do anything original. Very much built upon plagiarism coming from every direction, Kuffs has nothing clever to boast. The central formula of the story seems very heavily borrowed from Beverly Hills Cop (1984) while the protagonist seems to be based on the titular character from Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) in his wisecracking nature and insistence on breaking the fourth wall. While both these elements are comedic, the story is focused on how protagonist George Kuffs is on a quest to avenge the murder of his brother. This lighthearted comedy is essentially driven by an extremely dramatic and gritty plot point, and the tone of this scene drops in and out of the film at the random moments that it decides to be more action driven. Though predominantly a comedy, Kuffs has some oddly gritty moments to it which gives it an effective tonal inconsistency. As a result it's difficult for viewers to ascertain whether or not to take the film seriously. Of course, the juvenile nature of the writing is so lowbrow that it ensures any intellectual though is far from obligatory when watching Kuffs. I mean, there are moments where the film randomly bursts into absurdist comedy through the use of slapstick sound effects to match the physical comedy depicted on screen, regardless of how much of a cheap gimmick it all is. There is no certainty how one is to interpret Kuffs, but I can certify that I did not find myself entertained in the process.
Kuffs is too much of an 80's film trying to be more than it is capable of. It borrows too heavily from Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Beverly Hills Cop, two of the most distinctive films of the decade. Yet in actuality, Kuffs is a 1992 production which desperately attempts to hold on to the past while also working as a legitimate crime thriller. I don't know what angle Bruce A. Evans was going for, but he did not find any sense of balance to make it all work. The man's greatest achievements came from being a writer in the 1980's, but in the 90's he is out of place and has proven that directing his not his speciality. A key sign of the 80's obsession in the film is the presence of Harold Faltermeyer as the composer of the musical score. It sounds distinctively like the style used on Beverly Hills Cop and particularly its iconic theme song Axel F. Upon discovering that Harold Faltermeyer was actually responsible for both films, my prophecy for the film became all too accurate. Yet even as an attempted 80's movie, Kuffs spends too much time taking itself seriously for viewers to have any fun with it. The derivative nature of the production ensures that story originality is not solidified while the tonal inconsistency is a testament to the poor nature of the dialogue.
There isn't even any stylish value for the film to boast about. As much as I got a slight kick out of the Beverly Hills Cop-style musical score, it just felt all too familiar. The low-budget nature of the production also prevents the film from having any entertaining action scenes or cinematography that can capture it with any sort of stylish distinction. Yet the real problem comes from the lack of sensibility in the audio editing which is a real blow to the film's credibility. The audio levels are ridiculously off because the dialogue is frequently way too quiet to actually make out what the actors are saying while the sound effects and music is at a significantly higher volume. The story is simplistic but it's hard to keep up with because I can't hear what the cast are saying, but the script is terrible anyway so it's not worth trying.
Kuffs is essentially dependent on the skills of its lead actor to carry it to the end. Even though Christian Slater is cast in a bad Eddie Murphy film, he isn't too bad. The tone of the film is extremely inconsistent, but it is entertaining to see the man working in both comedic and dramatic material within the confines of a singular film. The film is the kind that would burden any actor it depended on, but Christian Slater manages to keep up with the misguided story through consistent dedication to his character. Given his teen idol status there is a feeling that Kuffs is like a feature length episode of 21 Jump Street (1987-1991) at times, and this might entertain fans of Christian Slater during his early days. Nowadays the gimmick has worn off and so the nostalgia factor is the one thing that might ensure entertainment, and I will admit that I enjoyed seeing the man branch out into a role which put him through a variety of material even with a one-dimensional character. Christian Slater's natural charms manage to give at least a modicum of appeal to Kuffs, and he makes a dedicated effort to the oddball script.
Milla Jovovich's entire role in Kuffs is extremely pointless because her role is for the sake of an arbitrary subplot used for the sake of characterizing George Kuffs as being a selfish and careless character. She appears at about three points in the film without having anything to actually do, yet her presence in the film is given notorious billing. Oddly enough this is the same senseless treatment she would get the following year with Dazed and Confused (1993). It's a recurring theme with Milla Jovovich, and it never really shows what she has to offer as an actress. With Kuffs, she is simply given a mix of tedious melodrama and sentimentality to churn out a lifeless performance which offers no credibility to the film.
Kuffs attempts to be an 80's comedy and a legitimate crime thriller at the same time, but the misguided script and scattered direction ensures that any such attempt is futile.
Edit: Apparently San Francisco Patrol Special Police is a real thing, but I highly doubt it's as Robocop/Judge Dredd as this film makes it out to be.
It seems the actors I drooled over in my adolescence were, for the most part, not self-destructive in the long run. (Though I bet I know at least one person who can be smug at me about it, given that she always preferred Emilio to Charlie!) However, it also seems they haven't had careers that held after they moved out of their teen-idol days. Now, of course, Johnny Depp sidestepped the issue neatly by being a forty-nine-year-old teen idol, and anyway I didn't get much into him until I was in college and discovered that he can act. It's not that Christian Slater has had a terrible career, and certainly he still has one. In fact, he did about a dozen different things last year. The issue is more that they were mostly obscure, and they were not reliably of good quality. He didn't settle into a dignified middle age as a leading man or character actor of repute, is I guess what I'm saying, and that would have shocked me when this movie came out.
In it, he plays George Kuffs, a bit of a gadabout. His young girlfriend, Maya Carlton (Milla Jovovich, then not even out of high school but playing a college student), has just informed him that she's two months pregnant; they've been together for six months. He decides to borrow money from his older brother, Brad (Bruce Boxleitner), and take off to Brazil. Brad offers him a job instead--and then is promptly killed. Brad owned a "patrol special," essentially an independent police force in the City of San Francisco. He has left it to George. George must go through the academy, and then he tries to use the business to bring the killers of his brother to justice. It's the first time George has ever had to be a grown-up, and he starts to realize that maybe he was wrong to run out on Maya and their baby. But first, he has to make the charges against his brother's killers stick, or he won't live to parent anyone.
Patrol specials really do exist in San Francisco. They're one of those weird leftovers of frontier justice that you find scattered throughout the West. The first constables were sworn in in 1847, even before the Gold Rush, and once gold was found, it was just easier to increase their numbers than to hire actual city police, I suppose. Owners are probably better paid than the average San Francisco cop, certainly. It is also worth noting that George is far from being a vigilante. Because he is working essentially as an agent of the San Francisco police, he is required to follow all the same rules as they are. He has to obey the same Fourth Amendment procedures as the city cops, and doubtless there is going to be some kind of official investigation into all those bodies left lying around at the end of the picture. Yes, his apartment is full of bullet holes--and pity the neighbours--so he'll probably be fine. Still, he's operating within the law, not outside it.
Actually, George comes across at times as a guy who's just seen too many movies. Now, one of the movies I thought of while watching this was [i]Tombstone[/i], specifically the line, "No witness, no murder." (Surely you start building your case with a witness, you don't end with it!) However, this is yet another film where a character is essentially a vigilante with a badge. Yes, the villains are operating in his district; that's why they killed his brother in the first place. He was trying to enforce the law there. However, George blithely ignores the orders of Police Captain Morino (Troy Evans), who tells him not to go after the killers. He even drugs poor Ted Bukovsky (Tony Goldwyn), the officer assigned to make sure he follows the rules. Yes, he feels guilty about it, but that's because he's by then discovered that Ted is a pretty decent guy. It's not because that's, you know, illegal and dangerous. George has seen one too many movie about a loose cannon cop, and he thinks that's what they're actually like.
Yes, of course it all works out all right in the end. This movie is a comedy, not a drama. However, this is the kind of movie where, if you know anything about Constitutional law, you start wondering which guys are going to get off. Probably, given how things happen, none of them, not that many of them survive the picture. For the sake of the people in that neighbourhood, though, I hope George never does anything like this again. The plot, as so many movies set in cities with high real estate values do, revolves around someone involved in a land grab. However, if the kind of pitched gun battle that occurs twice in the movie happens anywhere near as often afterward, the land values in that area will end up being the lowest in all of San Francisco. Though of course, that's still a lot higher than in a lot of places outside the city. I guess they hoped that Christian Slater talking companionably to the audience would keep us from thinking about that. If I were the same person I was in 1992, it probably would have worked on me, too.