He explains to us that his name is George Kuffs, he's a chilltacular brah, he's only been with Maya for six months, he never got his high school diploma, and he's probably gonna take off to Brazil cause this whole 'baby' thing is kinda freaking him out right now, you dig?
'Lovable' protagonist established, we cut to the film's title and a bit of explanation about the San Francisco Patrol Special, painted on the side of a house:
In 1851, San Francisco could not afford enough policemen to protect its population. So the city was divided into districts which were sold to private citizens. Merchants who wanted to, paid these men for police protection. Today, the men and women who own these districts are called PATROL SPECIALS.
Back at Patrol Special 33rd District HQ, the neighborhood merchants are complaining to Brad and the other patrol officers that they are not getting their money's worth in protection from Kane and his thugs. Outside, George shows up with a supermarket turkey, explaining (again, directly to the audience) that he plans on asking Brad for a loan before continuing down to Brazil, and that turkey is Brad's favorite food. Then he drops the turkey and a semi truck runs over it, for no good reason other than the production bros probably thought it would be hella sick to film.
Brad and George celebrate Brad's birthday at a local Chinese restaurant. Brad tries to convince George to join the Patrol Special, and tells him proudly how he's resisting bribes and recently busted a local crime lord. After dinner, George is briefly distracted by a newspaper announcing an art theft, then walks with Brad to church, where the latter habitually prays before beginning his shift. George opts to stay at a payphone outside and agonize over possibly calling Maya.
As Brad prays, Kane enters the church and shoots him in retaliation for refusing bribes. Hearing the shots, George runs inside the church as Kane is about to put a final bullet in Brad's head. Seeing George, Kane smiles, drops the gun, and calmly walks out of the church. Brad is rushed to the hospital while George goes to the station to identify Kane, which he promptly does. However, when the district attorney learns that George didn't witness any of the actual shots, he lets Kane go:
DA: You didn't see him pull the trigger? I can't hold him. Let me tell you how it's gonna go down- this guy came, he heard shots, he runs to the front of the church, he sees your brother lying there and there's a gun. He picks it up, you burst through the doors, he thinks you're the gunman, you were gonna come back and kill him, so he ran. He admits he was in the church to begin with.
Cut to a sequence where sad music plays and George makes sad phone calls to Maya where he says nothing and she babbles. George buries Brad on a beautiful hillside plot with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. At the graveyard, a businessman named Sam Jones approaches George to make an offer on the Patrol Special that he has inherited.
Instead, George decides to take his late brother up on the job offer, and steps into the role of leader of the Patrol Special. He is meant to go to the police academy by day, and on patrol at night. He is warned to stay away from Kane, and, when asked if he has a high school diploma, he lies and says yes.
The first day of police academy is filled with the yucks and jackanapes you can expect from a 'tude-tacular dude like George. After classes end for the day, he goes to a gun shop and gets loaded up. Predictably, he tracks down Kane's home address. Just as he's about to go out on night patrol and serve Kane a plateful of cold vengeance, he is assigned a patrol partner: Ted Bukovski (Goldwyn), who has been suspended from the SFPD after a dalliance with the chief's wife and is now slumming it with the Patrol Special. George doesn't want to be saddled with this normo dweeb, so he fakes a bathroom break, spikes some coffee with a boatload of sleeping pills, and brings it back out to the patrol car for his good ol' partner.
While driving through the streets and waiting for Ted to drink his coffee, George spots Kane in a car headed the opposite direction. George pulls the car into a u-turn directly in front of a bus, and attempts to pursue Kane until Ted yells him out of it. They do their jobs by reporting to a robbery instead, where they're too late to prevent anything and instead end up fighting in the parking lot until the real cops show up to take a report. At this point Ted learns that George is the guy whose brother got killed, and with a newfound respect for his partner, resumes their surveillance of Kane. They observe him stop at a laundry, enter, and then exit with a tube like the type one might use to carry blueprints. They then follow Kane to Chinatown, where Ted finally drinks his coffee-- uh, oh. But no time to worry, because Kane has passed the tube off to none other than Sam Jones!
Just as George leaps out of the car to follow Sam into the train station, a call about a suicidal man threatening to jump off a nearby building comes in over the radio. Ignoring Ted's cries to return to the car and respond to the distress call, George follows Sam into a nearby BART station, running to catch up. Ted gives up on the distress call and runs in after the other two men. He's halfway up the platform steps when the drugs in his coffee kick in suddenly and drastically. I felt bad for actor Tony Goldwyn for having to ham it up in this script.
Leaving Ted to sleep it off in the car, George is about to enter the building where the jumper is up on a ledge when he sees Maya in the crowd of spectators. She's back together with her ex, Robert, and is incredulous that George seems to be a cop now. George has to go inside and deal with the jumper, however, which he does spectacularly, by calling him an asshole. The suicidal man scoots down the ledge back towards the window, and asks if George is a cop. He then takes out a gun and shoots George, allowing the momentum of the blast to propel him backwards off the ledge and to his death.
Luckily for him (unluckily for the audience), George is not fatally wounded, and he has the chance to catch up with Maya in the hospital. Remarkably, the conversation doesn't begin with "So about me abandoning you and our baby to go live in Brazil..."
When he gets out of the hospital, George is approached by Kane, who offers him a hefty bribe to look the other way and let Jones' nefarious business continue unfettered in the district. George takes the bribe happily and with no intent of fulfilling his end of the bargain. He then hides in Jones' car to jump out surprise him while he's driving and to let him know that the bribes aren't going to work.
Back in his district, George is buying Maya some flowers when he sees Kane pull up to the grocery store across the street. George goes into the store and stops Kane in the middle of a shakedown. Kane reminds George that he took the bribe, and George reminds Kane that the shop owner also pays George for services, and that Geroge cannot let his two interests conflict. He explains to Kane that if the shopkeeper were to enter Kane's business and start trouble, George would pull a gun on the shopkeeper, demonstrating the action with his gun on Kane, who wisely departs.
Predictably, Kane doesn't just shrug this off- he shows up that evening at George's door while he's preparing a romantic dinner for Maya. Kane begins firing willy-nilly with a machine gun, while George, who is desperately trying to remember where he put his gun (or his shirt), dodges and ducks all throughout the apartment. In true action hero fashion, George miraculously misses being hit by any of the dozens of bullets sprayed into the apartment by Kane, and takes out assault rifle-wielding man with a single well-placed shot from a handgun.
Immediately after the climactic end of the shootout, Maya shows up with her parents. Obviously they are not too pleased to meet their daughter's shirtless babydaddy and the dead body in his kitchen, but Maya seems more smitten than ever. She and George go get matching tattoos which are kept secret from the audience, and then they canoodle as dawn breaks over the Bay Bridge. Maya tells George that it's time to grow up and make some tough decisions. She then hops a bus back to Sacramento.
DEAR CHRIST THERE'S STILL HALF AN HOUR LEFT IN THIS MOVIE.
If you guessed that George's lack of a high school diploma would come back to bite him in the ass, give yourself a cupcake! Sam Jones brings the discrepancy to the attention of the police, who arrest George for defrauding the city. While being processed at the police station, George pulls same bathroom schtick that he did with Ted to disappear from his arresting officer. This time he picks up a sniffer dog along the way: enter Thunder the St. Bernard.
Jones returns to the laundry and catches George, tying him up with a bomb before departing. Ted, who has changed his mind and come running after George, shows up outside the laundry. George encourages Thunder to howl and alert Ted to the fact that they need assistance inside. Thunder executes a foleyed fart, because this movie hasn't insulted the viewer's intelligence in at least 10 minutes, and then begins howling. Ted rescues George and Thunder seconds before the bomb explodes.
The men go to the gun store and get turnt up. Thankfully, they leave Thunder with the gun dealer, and take their small arsenal with them to the roof of a parking garage, where the illicit art deal is happening. The requisite shoot-out happens, and the requisite happy ending prevails.
Cut to approximately a year later. George is cuddling his baby daughter Sarah, and explains to the audience that he and Maya are married and living in San Francisco. He turned his Patrol Special around and even bought a new district. He's studying to get his GED and everything's worked out a-ok for George Kuffs.
Yes, that's right. That young lady dancing around in her underwear is fifteen, you pervert. I realize this may make me seem contradictory, at the very least- I raved about Diary of a Teenage Girl, which features a scene wherein a naked 15 year-old Minnie Goetz stares plaintively at her body in the mirror. I considered this myself, and asked myself why I wasn't bothered by the portrayal of a nude teen in Diary like I was by a scantily-clad teen in Kuffs, or a teen's naked corpse in Dirty Harry. The conclusion I came to was that it greatly depends on the point of view from which such scenes takes place, and the purpose they serve in the overall plot. Dirty Harry's Ann Mary Deacon, meant to be only 13, is killed and left nude for the police to find for seemingly no reason other than to shock and titillate the audience. We know nothing about her except her name, age, and the Scorpio Killer's crude observation that she's got nice breasts, which somehow director Don Siegel felt necessary to back up with visual evidence. Further, Debralee Scott, the 18 year-old actor who played Ann Mary, was not even credited in the film. By contrast, Diary's portrayal of a teen girl's burgeoning sexuality may be far more erotically charged, but is told (as the title would belie) from the point of view of the girl. When Bel Powley, the 23 year-old actor who portrays Minnie, gazes upon her nude form in the mirror, it is as someone who owns that body and not as someone who wishes to possess it. She is admiring her body for what it does for her, not for what it does for others.
Faced with these two examples, Milla Jovovich's performance as Maya in Kuffs shares a lot more in common with Dirty Harry than with Diary of a Teenage Girl, although Kuffs still stands in a category of its own for using a minor actor to play an adult character, rather than vice-versa. While Maya is given a last name (Carlton), backstory, and dialogue, her existence functions solely as a catalyst for George to get his act together- or rather, should I say, her existence functions solely as an incubator for said catalyst. Maya's pregnancy is a hyper-distilled expression of Hollywood's perfect young mother: slender enough at 10-12 weeks to dance around in bikini briefs with a flat tummy, then just cut away to a year later when she's had time to lose the baby weight! Suffice to say, Kuffs did not pass the Bechdel Test, and while filmmakers rarely need a compelling reason to have a female actor strip down to her underwear, there's really no excuse not to have a very compelling reason indeed when the actor involved is a full 3 years from legal adulthood. No such reason exists in Kuffs: Maya's attire and dance is completely irrelevant to any aspect of what might feebly be called a plot, and its placement at the top of the film serves only to hook the audience and provide sufficiently lurid snippets for promotional trailers.
Okay, let's shake off the sex offender registry vibes by looking at some fun cameos. Hey, Don Davis showed up again! He's popped down from Twin Peaks to supervise the police academy shooting range, and in a few more years he'll go to work for the Giants, as seen in The Fan. Another Norton's alum popping in is a young Ashley Judd in a blink-and-you-miss-her appearance as one of the paint store owners being robbed by Kane's thugs. Evidently she took this role over a larger role because she didn't want to do nudity (so they got a 15 year-old instead).
Brad Kuffs' death is made even more fantastical through his final resting place at the National Cemetery in the Presidio. It's difficult to overemphasize to out-of-towners just how small San Francisco is: it's surrounded by water on three sides, and it's only seven miles wide by seven miles long. A lot of visitors are surprised to learn that the population of San Francisco is well below one million. Just as in Manhattan, city planners have been forced to come up with unusual solutions to the problems presented by population growth and density. One such solution was to move all existing gravesites out of the city, beginning in 1912. The result is the city of Colma, a veritable necropolis (unofficial population in 2006: 1,500 residents 'aboveground,' 1.5 million 'underground') composed almost entirely of various denominational graveyards and funerary service providers dedicated to tending to the afterlife of generations of San Franciscans, including the esteemed namesake of this site, Emperor Joshua Norton himself. City motto: "Colma, a great place to be alive."
The National Cemetery is one of only four surviving cemeteries still located in San Francisco, and is not accepting new internments. More importantly, however, internment is restricted to members of the armed forces who have met certain service requirements and their eligible family members. Although it's possible that Brad Kuffs was a military veteran, George tells his brother's grave that "I got you the best spot I could," implying that it was a matter of actions made by the surviving family rather than the decedent that led the audience to this hillside overlooking the bay. Sorry to burst your bubble, readers, but you cannot opt to be buried here.
Another location gaffe is in using above-ground MacArthur BART station in Oakland as a stand-in for normally-underground Montgomery station. Although it's inconsequential to the plot, it's a pretty brazen swap for anyone with even a passing familiarity with the BART system. If MacArthur's distinctly colorful wall mosaics aren't obvious enough, at the tail end of the scene an announcement can be heard that "a Concord train will arrive at MacArthur station in two minutes."
Throughout the film, several random scenes are shot in downtown Los Angeles, and because I apparently had nothing better to do this month I managed to track most of those down, as well. See below for more details. There were a couple of locations where I wasn't certain, but assumed they were also in Los Angeles because of factors such as street width and signage.
Patrol Specials are real crime-fighting groups in San Francisco, but beyond that, it's surprisingly challenging to get extensive information on the institution, despite it being part of the city for over a hundred and fifty years. In fact, the librarian in the history room of the main library had me repeat myself a couple of times before finally scrounging up a slender manila folder about half an inch thick, representing one hundred years' worth of material assembled on the Patrol Specials. A more alarmist person might be disturbed by the seemingly invisible ways in which a for-hire group of armed citizens has moved through the city for over a century and a half.
Information is so scant that it's difficult to gauge the accuracy of the film's opening title, which claims that the Patrol Specials came about in 1851, when the city could not afford to populate a full police department. Patrol Special Officer Al Stancombe, writing for the summer 1994 edition of The New Centurion (official publication of the San Francisco Patrol Special Officers Association) contradicts himself by saying that the Patrol Special has been providing services "since around 1857," but was written into the city charter in 1850. The Patrol Special website gives the year of incorporation into the city charter as 1856. Both the website and an informational pamphlet put out by the Patrol Specials around 2004 cite 1847 as the year of the group's creation, a year that seems unlikely given that San Francisco's population never exceeded 1,000 prior to the 1849 gold rush.
The pamphlet also includes this interesting disclaimer:
Patrol Special Officers are not members of and are not paid by The San Francisco Police Department and are not required to perform general law enforcement duties. Contract for street patrols or fixed patrol services are strictly voluntary. Such services are in addition to and different from services provided by the SFPD. The City and County of San Francisco will not provide a defense or pay damages for the conduct of Patrol Special Police undertaken on behalf of subscribers; however, Patrol Special Officers are supervised by the Police Department and are fully insured as required by the San Francisco Police Commission. Calls of inquiry or complaint can be made to the Field Operations Bureau of the San Francisco Police Department at (415) 553-9093.
...equally obvious is the fact that the institution [of the Patrol Specials] is still firmly embedded as a feature of California Local Government. Section 817 of the Penal Code recognizes a "Policemen of a City or Town" as a peace officer; it would seem, therefore, that a duly appointed patrol special is, ipso facto, a peace officer in California.
But who are they? Well, as the 2004 pamphlet informs citizens, Patrol Specials are police academy-trained community members licensed to use a two-way SFPD radio and carry a firearm, but whose visible, uniformed presence in the neighborhood is meant to be a 'preventative' measure. They are compensated by neighborhood merchants and residents of the various 39 districts that they patrol. As far as I'm aware, they have not been able to wrest back their Peace Officer status from the police commission, and have, since the 80s, distinguished their uniforms from the SFPD with the addition of a light blue stripe, a detail that Kuffs appears to have neglected. Although they've been part of San Francisco for 169, 167, 165, or 159 years, depending on who you ask, their time may be drawing to a close. A lawsuit filed earlier this year alleges that the SFPD's 'rent-a-cop' program cuts into the Patrol Specials' business, and asserts that the city charter should trump more recent city legislation allowing for the private hire of off-duty SFPD officers.
Following the cold open and title, the action begins with Brad Kuffs responding to the paint store robbery by flying down Filbert Street at Hyde, turning left (north) onto Leavenworth. Filmmakers love this block, not only for the stunning view of Telegraph Hill and the bay, but also because at a 31.5% grade, this hill is one of San Francisco's steepest, making it the ultimate emblem of the city. Norton's Movie Maps has covered this block previously with movies like Quicksilver and Bedazzled.
George buries Brad and meets Sam Jones in the San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio district. As touched upon above, this cemetery is reserved strictly for veterans and eligible family members. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly where this scene was shot, but the likeliest location is in the cemetery's southeast corner, the highest point of the hill, with a view of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a characteristically foggy day when I took my photos, so the south tower of the bridge is hardly visible at all- I took the liberty of highlighting where it was with the green box below.
George then chases Sam Jones into a BART station. The script says Montgomery, but in reality it is MacArthur station, across the bay in Oakland. It would appear that at some point after 1992, one of the wall mosaics was sacrificed in order to install elevators to the southbound platforms.
When he gets out of the hospital, George spits philosophical and shows us his bullet wound while riding in the back of a taxi. Through the windows, the taxi is shown clearly headed northwest on Columbus Avenue. When we cut back from a close-up of George's injury, the cab is back at the starting point of the ride, and the production crew's various trailers can be seen parked along the edge of Washington Square Park.
The Spring House, incorporating both 1323 and 1321 Waller Street, last sold the year before Kuffs' 1992 release for $577,500, making me think it may have actually been within a police officer's grasp to rent or even own such an apartment at the time. Today, of course, such opportunities are impossibly out-of-reach for civil servants: as of this writing in July 2016, the Winter House is currently on the market for just under $3 million.
Authenticity: 6/10- Your uncle who visits from Ukiah and can't figure out how to use a Clipper card but somehow knows about a tacqueria you've never been to and it's one of the best burritos you've ever had in your life.
Vigilantometer Reading: 3/10 Zimmermans- Given the hijinks that the SFPD has been up to lately, the Patrol Specials don't have to do much to look good in comparison.
Overall: Remember when rap first hit the mainstream and everyone thought they could do it? Kuffs perfectly encapsulates the self-delusional chutzpah of that era.