Maniac Cop 2 (1990; William Lustig) is mostly disposable junk—it has that signature blue steel sheen once fetishized by John Carpenter and James Cameron and a script that, to my tin ears and eyes at least, makes close to no sense. But even though it was partially shot in Los Angeles, it also makes good use of its nighttime New York City locations. It’s like a time capsule glimpse back to a city that no longer exists, at least not in precisely the same way, and it has a pleasurably scuzzy 42nd Street vibe. How could it not with Robert Davi’s gruff detective skulking around alleyways, investigating the apparent reappearance of the titular imposing figure of menace? (Davi is so tough, he smokes in hospitals!)
Fortunately, there’s also Claudia Christian as Davi’s antagonist, a sympathetic cop psychologist who comes to believe the wild stories about a wronged, killed and resurrected cop who’s out there taking out innocents and baddies alike; Bruce Campbell reprising his role as the lead investigator from the first movie (he doesn’t last quite so long this time); Michael Lerner picking up a (small) check as the corrupt police commissioner; Clarence Williams III finding one good note and playing it into the sunset as a loony death row inmate; and Leo Rossi hamming it up as a bushy-haired serial killer who befriends Cordell, the Maniac Cop, essayed as always (there was a third one, you know) by B-movie stalwart Robert Z’Dar, he of the hulking frame and XXL lantern jaw. Z’Dar sports the worst scary makeup job of all time, but at least he-- or, more accurately, his stuntman-- gets in some top-notch asbestos suit time when he gets set on fire near the end of the picture.
(Asbestos suit stunts are among my favorites, yet another harkening back to a more "innocent" age of filmmaking where if you wanted to show a guy on fire, you couldn’t decorate him with pixels, you had to really set him on fire… and all that protective outerwear still makes a giant like Z’Dar’s Cordell look like going up in flames somehow caused him to instantly gain about 75 pounds.)
Christian-- or, more accurately, her stuntwoman— also gets a rousing action set piece about half an hour in when the Maniac Cop handcuffs her to a steering wheel and sets the car in high-speed motion down a crowded boulevard. It’s easily the highlight of the movie, especially if you don’t stop to think about who’s keeping the car hurtling forward with their foot on the gas. (Answer: no one.) After that it’s pretty much downhill (the movie, not the car—that would’ve explained things) straight toward the rote gory shoot-‘em-up, stab-‘em-up, set’-em-on-fire conclusion, which is topped, as many thought-disabled genre pictures have been since Carrie White and Michael Meyers and Jason Voorhees rose from the dead, by the usual jolt that screams "Sequel!"
Don't get me wrong: Maniac Cop 2 isn’t even close to good, but it’s the most well-paced and acted of the movies in the Cordell saga made so far, and its violence, though ridiculous and once considered on the extreme side, now seems almost period quaint. (Rumors have it that Nicholas Winding Refn may direct a prequel, and if you think he’s gonna stand for "period quaint," well…) You could chuck a dismembered limb or flame-charred skull in any direction and hit a far better movie, but as brainless, gory action-horror hybrids go you could also hit far worse (like Maniac Cop 3, for example). For all its clunky echoes of The Terminator and scores of other superior low-budget action thrillers, Maniac Cop 2 does manage to leave some grimy stains and a not entirely unpleasant aftertaste of its own. It's the B-movie equivalent of a bong shot of Ripple guzzled near a Dumpster behind a strip bar, which at times, by the adjusted standards of the grindhouse anyway, gets within shouting distance of mean, dirty, stupid fun.