He has made exactly two funny movies (Caddyshack and National Lampoon’s Vacation), appeared in more bad ones than you can count (anybody up for a third entry in the Fletch series?), and hosted a late-night talk show that, for its six weeks, seemed less like a TV program than a nightly train wreck. To me, though, the most telling performance of Chevy Chase’s career will always be his lackadaisical ”impersonation” of Gerald Ford on the old Saturday Night Live. Chase, you’ll recall, would stand at the presidential podium acting slightly spaced out and then execute one of his famous bumbling pratfalls. The fact that he made no real attempt to mimic Ford’s voice or mannerisms was, of course, part of the joke. Yet Chase’s minimalist brand of satire also seemed to spring from something in his own nature. I always thought the reason he never actually tried to do Ford was that, on some level, he couldn’t be bothered.
All of which makes Cops and Robbersons a fitting final nail in the coffin of Chase’s big-screen career. This disastrously lame comic thriller is a movie that can’t be bothered. It’s a three-day-old hash of Stakeout and City Slickers that seems to recycle its own cliches as it goes along.
Chase plays the befuddled (read: slightly spaced out) dad in a generic dysfunctional family. Jack Palance is the warhorse cop who moves into the house in order to stake out the pizza-faced hooligan next door, a situation that allows Chase’s doofus suburbanite to live out his fantasy of becoming a TV-cop-show hero (in place of Billy Crystal’s cowboy fixation in City Slickers, he displays an irrepressible desire to crash through windows just like Barnaby Jones). In a typical gag, Chase and family attempt to conceal the fact that Palance is a cop by passing him off as Uncle Jake from Buffalo! Palance, when he isn’t reading his lines in a throaty whisper, seems to be having acid flashbacks to his old film roles, and Chase, once again, puts the dead back in deadpan. It’s movies like this that point the way to a career in infomercials.