Are there any well-adjusted movie cops out there?

Woody Harrelson sprang into cinemas this weekend with Rampart, perpetuating the image of the cop who’s a bit messed up. The film takes its inspiration from LA’s real Rampart division, but of course the detective with the, um, flawed personality is nothing new.

From John McClane and Martin Riggs through to TV land’s John Luther and Jimmy McNulty, the Movie Cop doesn’t generally have a healthy work-life balance and is usually called John.

Here’s a handy profile:

He has a really big crime map
John Movie Cop isn’t a nine-to-five kind of guy. He’s a dedicated, borderline-obsessive personality who always takes his work home with him. Murder cases are usually connected, so he needs a Really Big Crime Map on his living room wall. Here he can trace where his victims were found, pin photos of their mutilated corpses and link to their respective crime scenes with a thick red marker pen. Then attach mug shots of scowling suspects – much time will be spent staring at these photos and trying to Figure Stuff Out.

His gun(s)… obviously
He’s practically defined by his gun. It’s always in plain sight, often with the clip removed and sometimes with bullets scattered around the place. The gun is a crucial way to wordlessly reveal his state of mind. If it’s just lying on the table he’s a man of action who’s prepared to do what’s necessary to make things right. If he sticks it in his mouth every now and then, he’s, well, a bit depressed, but there’s the ringing phone or chiming doorbell to act as a standard distraction.

There are, of course, other back-up weapons hidden in weird places like the cupboard, under the pillow and in the toilet cistern. That way, intruders can be dealt with when the primary weapon is inevitably kicked from his hand in the initial fistfight.

Chinese food, pizza and alcohol are all awesome
He single-handedly keeps his local Chinese and pizza takeaways in business; it’s all he ever eats. Alcohol is omnipresent. The boxes and bottles look great strewn around a flat and imply an Unhealthy Movie Cop Lifestyle in a single (but atmospheric) tracking shot. Our hero’s generally unique in never putting on weight despite such a crappy diet. Such are the healing properties of the Figuring Stuff Out thought process.

His family hates him
Okay, ‘hate’ is a bit strong. Let’s go for ‘deeply alienated’ instead. John Movie Cop’s ex-wife is normally quite hot and was once attracted to our man’s roguish charm, pithy one-liners and dedication to truth and justice. But when he became a bit too dedicated she jumped ship and started dating the incredibly dull stockbroker who clearly can’t handle himself in a fight and is probably called Stan. Or Dennis.

Meanwhile, the kids are savvy, streetwise and estranged, regardless of how old they are. They resent their dad’s lack of attention, want a piercing or tattoo and will often get into tight spots with street-level gang members that end up driving the plot.

Incredibly hot girlfriends
While the ex-wife plans a move to the suburbs with new squeeze Stan, John Movie Cop deals with this by casually dating a succession of stunningly beautiful young women who are happy to be secondary to his dedication to truth and justice. Often they’ll be call girls or at least strippers, but he won’t have to pay them for anything because, you know, they have a special relationship. Most of them look like they should be pursuing modelling careers in real life. Oh, hang on…

An innate understanding of the criminal mind
That innate understanding is very handy in times of need, such as when a vital plot point is revealed to the audience and we suddenly need John Movie Cop to catch up fast. He’ll come up with some wild theory based on ‘instinct’ that happens to be pretty damn accurate, but it’s basically an excuse for lazy screenwriting.

So there you have it. Will we ever see a story about the female cop who works brutal murder cases but switches off her computer at 5:30pm sharp on Friday afternoon, goes home for the weekend to her loving graphic designer husband and three kids, and passes on the contact details of her borderline-obsessive precinct partner when the serial killer calls her on a Sunday? Probably not, but then that’s hardly the stuff of dramatic dreams, is it?

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Nick Goundry
I'm a film journalist and comedy writer. Career highlights so far? Shaking Werner Herzog's hand, disrupting a David Cronenberg interview with an antique Dictaphone and getting chased by the Western Norway Film Commission in a speedboat. I also run the daily news blog at location filming specialist The Location Guide. Drop me a line at nick.goundry@gmail.com.