A longtime veteran of the Border Patrol, Frank Cooper (Telly Savalas) is only a few months away from retiring. Just the same, he's pretty good at what he does, ultra-experienced at preventing illegal immigrants from sneaking across the border into the United States. He's also good friends with a teenage Mexican boy, Benito (Danny De La Paz), who he once prevented sneaking into the U.S. illegally. Looking to provide for his newlywed bride, Benito has taken a job as a coyote working for a kingpin smuggler, Suarez (Michael V. Gazzo), who has had his fair share of previous run-ins with Cooper. The veteran Border Patrol agent has long suspected Suarez of an illegal smuggling operation but has never been able to get any proof, until now that is. The problem is, Benito may be too far involved to rescue him in the process.
By my estimation, this movie cost maybe $28.43 to make. From director Christopher Leitch, 'Cop' was filmed on location in Mexico, giving it that realistically gritty look. Know what looks like backroads Mexico? The back roads of Mexico. So it's got that going for it....which is nice. It starts off on a positive enough note, Savalas' Cooper and his partner stopping a souped-up car with two Mexicans strapped underneath trying to sneak across the border. This isn't an action movie though, not by a long shot. The good start gets bogged down in a sea of muddled message, industrial shock value (I know, I didn't think that existed either), and an underuse of the always cool Savalas. For the B-movie that it is, 'Cop' isn't bad. It just isn't very good either. I caught it on MGM-HD so if you can find it on their schedule, do it. The print is downright respectable.
Let's be honest. The only reason this movie is even remotely worthwhile is Telly Savalas in the lead role. A couple years removed from his TV run as detective Kojak, Savalas is as cool as ever. The visual certainly helps from the bald head to the choice to always have his shirt unbuttoned a few buttons too many to the abundance of gold chains he wears. It's almost ridiculous to watch, but Savalas just works...so there. The experienced Border Patrol officer character is certainly cool too. Cooper does the job almost in spite of the job, not necessarily caring for the tactics/policy. That's where things get a little muddled, but more on that later. He sends the illegals back across the border that he catches, but he's not an obsessive, Mexico-hating, America-loving uber-patriot (lots of dashes, huh?). Is it a great performance? No, but if you're a Telly Savalas fan, you'll get a kick out of it.
Basically every other character is drawn with some big old broad strokes, very generic whether it be good or bad. Far too much time was spent on De La Paz's Benito and his new bride, Leina (Cecilia Camacho). Maybe it's just mismarketing, but I thought I was getting a movie that focused more on Cooper and his efforts to stop a person smuggling ring. Seeing a young married couple starting a new life? Meh, not as interesting. Hamming it up in ridiculously evil fashion is Gazzo (Frankie Pentangelli in Godfather 2) as Suarez, leader of the smuggling ring. He's also rocking some epically combed back sideburns. I don't know if that's worth mentioning, but it looks amazing. Just amazing. Herman Blood (Chivo) and Noe Murayama (Mosca) play Suarez's vicious henchmen. And playing Cooper's Border Patrol boss is Eddie Albert, around because.....well, it's Eddie Albert. You already know what the twist is going to be there.
There's just too much going on and not enough of Telly Savalas by the hour-mark. That's not a good sign in an 86-minute long movie. About 10-15 minutes follow a detour with Benito to a slaughterhouse just over the border, the illegals forced to work there. I'm guessing it's meant to show what they're forced to do, but it's brutal in what they show from shooting animals to gutting their carcasses. In general, I don't know what the story is trying to say. Is the immigration bad? Is it good? Is it just the smuggling of human beings they're condemning or just the smugglers? It's beyond muddled, the ending pretty dumb too as it gets more and more heavy-handed with each passing scene. For diehard Telly Savalas fans only.
Border Cop (1980): **/****