In "The Mod Squad," the latest from the "take a vintage TV series and turn it into a movie" school of filmmaking, the opening credits give the dictionary definitions of the words "mod" and "squad." But a device that was meant to be hip only serves to anticipate the lowered intelligence level of the target audience.
While the television series got away with the outrageous plot line of three juvenile delinquents going undercover to keep out of jail, due to the anti-establishment take, this update of the tepid trio finds nothing more than a swell of implausibilities.
When their boss (Dennis Farina) is mysteriously murdered and accused of stealing drugs from the department, reformed-drunk Julie (Claire Danes), good-boy-gone-bad Pete (Giovanni Ribisi) and African-American arsonist Linc (Omar Epps) strike out to uncover the dastardly doings.
With pounding, Shaft-like guitar riffs announcing the action to come, little is left to figure out -- everything slaps you in the face. Scott Silver, whose first film was the somewhat risky yet slightly flawed "Johns," takes very few risks in this Aaron Spelling production. The director lacks the concept of building tension, going from lackluster scene to intense action with no particular rhyme or reason. And the outdated and lame story line, also provided by Silver, is beefed up with sex, drugs and hip-hop. Oddly enough, though, the dumbed-down approach does hold your attention the majority of the time.
Danes, who's had a pretty impressive film career, sinks to a new low in "The Mod Squad." Her Julie is little more than a svelte body who tosses her tresses. Ribissi plays on a different level than the rest of the cast, with an out-there performance that appears more like a re-creation of his performance in "The Other Sister." And Epps is so low-key that he barely registers on the screen.
If there were any creative justice in the film world, "The Mod Squad" would stand as the definitive reason to stop further productions based on nostalgia TV. And maybe the poor showing by "The Mod Squad" will put a stop to the currently-in-production "Charlie's Angels" before it's too late. Nah, they never learn.