The Rock ‘n Roll Cops is confusing right from the word go because there’s a bunch of different versions of it. At least three, as well as a whole different movie by the same name. Actually both names.
Confused yet? You see it starts with Jackson, for whatever reason, not getting the footage into Scott Shaw’s hands… I’d better let Shaw explain.
“Though Don and I talked about the film over the next few years, as I never had the footage, there was nothing I could do to make it become a film.
In 2002, I was teaching a class at U.C.L.A, The Art of Independent Filmmaking, and I got to be friends with one of my students, Rich Magram. A great guy, we decided to make a film together.
For that film, what I hoped to embrace was that same feeling of the TV show, Cops that I hoped to capture with the original Rock ‘n Roll Cops. I wanted it to be in your face cinematography. As I believed I would never possess the footage for the original Rock ‘n Roll Cops, I titled this new film, Rock n’ Roll Cops. We shot it very documentary style like I had hoped to do with the original film. Filmed and edited, it was then released.
Very soon after this, in 2003, Don became very ill and asked me to take him to the hospital. His time was almost up. Knowing this, and knowing that I was the only one who would keep his filmmaking legacy alive, he made sure that his wife gave me all of the footage to all of his and our movies. There were literally hundreds of hours of uncut footage. Immediately, I located the Rock ‘n Roll Cops footage and began editing the movie. But, Don passed away before I could finish.”
That explains the two different films, but with the rise of DVD Shaw began looking at those old VHS editions and decided it was time to retitle and release the two films in the proper order. Rock n Roll Cops became Hollywood P.D. Undercover and Rock n’ Roll Cops 2: The Adventure Begins, became The Rock n’ Roll Cops.
On top of that, there’s also a “lite” version, with less nudity and cut down a bit. That’s the version that was on Prime to rent. Of course, IMDB lists them as their original titles which only confuse things further. So for the record, we’re talking about the movie IMDB lists as “Rock n’ Roll Cops 2: The Adventure Begins” (Which is actually the first film that is currently in release as “Rock n” Roll Cops”). If you’re confused, look to make sure Donald G. Jackson is in the cast.
That’s right. I said “cast”. Not “director”.
“Due to Don’s feelings about financing the films of other people, it came as kind of a shock to me when he told me he wanted to do my film, The Rock n’ Roll Cops. I had previously told him about my idea for the film and he brought it up one day when we were having lunch out of nowhere. We certainly had co-directed several films together, but when he asked me to solo direct this film with him shooting it, I was very surprised. Though knowing Don as I did, I knew it was not going to be as simple as all that. ”
Shaw was correct. Don’s behavior on Rock n’ Roll Cops was far more abnormal than usual, exaggerating his worse traits.
“It was during this period that I really began to witness a shift in Don. Anger could be seen brewing in his eyes. ”
It began benignly enough. Jackson started playing games with people. Even his investors.
“one of the high-end money people came over to our production offices to discuss possibly financing a film. At that time, Don was very interested in getting the bumpers of his ’62 Plymouth Belvedere powder coated. Instead of even talking to the guy he let him sit there as he made phone call after phone call discussing the powder coating process.”
But soon, those eccentricities would coalesce into angry outbursts and a tendency to ride his crew extremely hard. While the crew was shooting the opening scenes of Rock ‘n Roll Cops with the vampire in the armorer’s shop Jackson kept on one particular PA. While prepping him as an extra for a scene, Jackson ended up frustrating the PA so much that the man ripped off the armor the crew was dressing him in and stormed off the set topless. Unfortunately, he stormed off in the wrong direction and ended up In the back of the show where there was no exit. An hour later, he ended up stomping through the middle of production, still shirtless, as he exited into the winter night.
Robert Z’Dar spent a harrowing night on the wrong side of Jackson’s anger as they shot scenes at a large parking complex. It was well past midnight and they had completed their shoot at that location and Jackson was hungry, so the group of them ran over to the nearby Denny’s. He was feeling bad about how much he’d been berating Z’Dar and offered to buy dinner. Z’Dar said he just wanted some fries. Jackson waved a waiter over and declared “Give him three plates of fries!”. He then proceeded to order a grilled cheese sandwich for himself. When the food arrived, Jackson discovered a tomato on his sandwich. He seized the plate and flung it across the room.
Then there was the night they were shooting at Jay Burgers. This was a public burger stand (it’s gone now), on the wrong side of the tracks, over in East Hollywood. A lot of gangbangers hung out there. It wasn’t turf though. Most of the gangsters in this situation were willing to ignore you as long as you didn’t come at them. There was what Shaw describes as a young gangbanger with a couple of friends hanging out at the burger joint. Don began hassling them, as he shot. He screamed at them to shut the fuck up and get the fuck out of the shot. The gangstas rose from their seats with hands reaching for their guns. Don had started packing recently (due to threats on his life) but didn’t have his weapon on him that night and stopped production to apologize. He offered a handshake. The gangsters just stared at him and then went back to their business. Everyone let loose a sigh of relief.
For some of the final scenes shot on the film, veteran actor William Smith was scheduled to film at a local hotel. He arrived with his girlfriend, (who would later become his wife) and it set Jackson off. He insisted that she had to leave. Bill goes into the bedroom of the suite, where Don was getting the camera ready, and put him in a chokehold. The girlfriend stayed, hanging out in the hotel bar.
Somehow, the film got made. So, what did it end up looking like?
I kind of dig the opening shot of a vampire coming at the neck of what looks like a Barbarian Queen. It takes place at the shop where Jackson and Shaw had gotten armor for other films like Big Sister 2000 (Julie Strain wears this very set on the cover). Scott Shaw shows up with his partner as the rock ‘n’ roll cops from the boogie-woogie division (Yes, that’s actually how they identify themselves).
“We are here to investigate the decapitation”
“Who was decapitated?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
They’re also looking for the man who makes the “D cappuccino”.
“Did you see any strange people coming to the shop – besides yourself?”
“There was a tall oriental fella…”
“Did he talk like this? Hang chang toy!” (David Heavener would be crucified for that stereotypical imitation today)
They take a knife from the shop (as evidence I suppose) and the vampire gets back to business. If this is what I’m in for, I’m not sure what to think – I’m really digging the puns though. We’ll get more of them as the movie goes on, but not as many as I like.
Outside, a ponytail kid attempts to steal Bonzirelli’s car. Scott Shaw leaps on top of the car in slow motion (The car itself is driving at a crawl, that’s the reason for the slow motion) and rolls off. He jumps into his Porsche and screams off in the hot pursuit as the opening credits roll.
While I’ve been critical in the past of Jackson’s ability to film exciting action sequences, the car chase is actually pretty competently filmed with good coverage and interesting angles. That shouldn’t come as such a surprise, Shaw recalls Jackson doing more than thirty takes on it. Indeed, it goes on so long, that the day stretches to night. You’ll see the sky going from daytime on the outside of the cars to night time during the interior shots of the drivers.
Scott Shaw’s character of Jake Blade (yeah, I can’t take that name seriously either. I suppose it’s better than his partner “Bonzarelli”. Nevertheless, we’ll just keep referring to him as Scott Shaw, shall we? ) grabs the thief, beat him up and toss him into a swimming pool. Afterward, Shaw’s lieutenant comes to chew him out for his excessive use of force.
“You’re a little wet behind the collar, huh?”
“Well, it is raining!”
The rain wasn’t planned, by the way. It just happened to be raining when they were setting up the scene so Shaw and Jackson decided to use it. Shaw got so soaked he had to stop at a department store for dry clothes before heading out to the next location. It’s interesting to notice that Shaw is wearing a “Guns of El Chupacabra” hat. The detective’s partner will later on complain about the hat and make him take it off… It’s the weirdest thing.
Jackson himself shows up as the Commissioner of police consulting with Shaw at a hamburger joint. It’s not just an assignment, its also a shakedown. Shaw tells him he picked up his last prescription, and Jackson complains he is in a lot of pain. This is eerie to me because at this point, Jackson’s leukemia was in its more advanced stages. Medication had destroyed the cartilage in his hip, causing him to walk with the cane we see in the film. He was on a lot of Vicodin, and indeed in a lot of pain and Shaw was actually doing just the sort of thing, getting prescriptions and things for him. I’m unnerved that they decided to use Jackson’s real-life suffering and immortalize it in the film.
Jackson gives Shaw an assignment, and he asks what’s in it for him (I’m getting some deja vu back to Guns of El Chupacabra). Jackson says he’ll give him the world, and then actually holds up an inflatable globe. Jackson also threatens him that if he fails, he’ll do this to his head -then crashes the inflatable globe.
Shaw and his partner pick up a couple of hookers in a limo and question them. Back at the vampire’s weapons shop, he and his Barbarian Queen are getting a little busy. We get another quick insert of Julie strain in chains on the couch under heavy-metal posters. These are the kinds of scenes that were trimmed for the “Lite” edition, cutting out nudity to make this a little more acceptable for release on certain platforms like Amazon Prime and Jackson’s backroom screenings at home over in Michigan.
Back to the cops harassing a Russian pimp.
They deliver a beat down on the pimp to get some information, then head out for burgers at a greasy self-serve place. They talk about girls, vegan food and the fact that Shaw needs a haircut.
“I got a haircut, it grew back.”
Their meal is broken up by a stool pigeon butting in. He tries to shake them down for a payoff.
“Maybe give me a couple hundred bucks…”
Shaw grabs him and slams him down onto the table
“Yeah, I’ll give you a hundred bucks and then I’ll kill you afterward!”
There is a third character in this scene too! A boom mike keeps dropping in the frame and is impossible to miss, that is if you’re not distracted by Jackson’s frequent reflection in the store window behind the actors.
The police chief catches up with them to complain again about them using excessive force on their witnesses. “I want to see some changes, and I want to see them on my desk tomorrow morning!”
The cops go and find someone else to harass, Bobby the Monk who they pull out of his car. He tells them that Robbie is hiding out of the seasons. Turns out, Robbie is a girl, and we find her swimming in a pool (fun fact, It’s the pool at Kevin Eastman and Julie Strain’s house. And the same one Shaw tossed the car thief into at the beginning of the film)They question her, searching for the name of Mr Big.
“Listen toots! We can do this easier we can do this hard!”
After they get the name, the picture shifts to widescreen for a couple minutes (So I guess we’re doing this the hard way) before we suddenly transition to a complete non-sequitur with the cops and one of their friends sitting watching a stripper by the pool. I’m not even sure what’s going on there… It’s actually a relief when we cut to the parking lot at night with a Corvette pulling up to the German pimp again. The pimp claims he’s gone straight and insists now that he only sells watches.
“Oh! A Jeweler?”
“No, I’m Catholic!”
The German is delivered another beat down with Shaw showing off his roundhouse skills, then the pair head off in search of a pizza with vegetarian anchovies. Jackson pulls up behind them shaking them down for drugs again. They don’t have any.
“I have some cashews here sir,” Banzirelli offers. “They won’t ease the pain but they’ll make you fat….” That satisfies Jackson who wants them to contact him the next time they make a bust and score some speed or something. He’s going to need some.
The Rock n’ Roll Cops go out and find Charlie, the car thief from the beginning of the film. It’s time for another beat down.
“Didn’t that king fu shit it go out in the 80s?” Charlie protests. It’s enough for him to remember the general location of Mr. Big.
The investigation’s taken too long though. Bonzerelli has been up for four days straight and is starting to hallucinate as they drive in the car. Shaw himself has a devastating secret – he’s already in business with Mr. Rinaldi (I think he is anyhow. Nothing ever comes of it and by the end of the film, Jackson and Shaw seem to have forgotten about this altogether). He heads over to see him for advice as his partner is wheeled through the dimly lit hallways of a mental hospital by two nurses. If the scene looks familiar, it should. It was filmed at Los Angeles Union Station, the same place Jackson filmed several of the monastery scenes in The Roller Blade Seven.
Jackson comes back and introduces Shaw to his new partner, a stunning blonde named Kelly, just before shaking him down for some prescription drugs.
“You’re not as cute as my last partner but you deafly better kisser…”
“I’m definitely cuter than your last partner!”
She takes to the excessive force right away, knocking down still pigeon Bobby before they even exit the stairwell. While Shaw and his new partner are beating up witnesses, Jackson is confronting Ranalli. meanwhile, Robert sirdar tries to seduce Shaw new partner…
“What a nice girl like you doing with a cop like Jake? “
“He’s a rock ‘n’ roll cop! Like me! “
Z’Dar is undaunted and offers to take her to the movies – a double feature with “The Roller Blade Seven” and “Hell Comes to Frogtown 2”!
After a brief monologue from Mr. Big Rinaldi, we cut to Shaw playing some guitar and shredding against a police “do not cross the line”… I guess this is where he gets the name rock ‘n’ roll cop from. Elsewhere, his new partner Kelly has been captured and tied to a chair as a weirdo in a D.A.R.E. (to keep kids off drugs) shirt and rollerblades in circles around her occasionally beating the poor woman with a short whip or riding crop.
Shaw and his old partner come to rescue her in the weirdest, most anticlimactic rescue I’ve ever seen. Bonzarelli explains that he spent four months in the nuthouse. Much more time must have passed than it appears. Shaw must’ve been playing guitar all that time.
The rollerblader comes out to attack Bonzirelli, and we actually get a bit of a scuffle here. The camera zooms in and out to add an additional sense of movement, occasionally missing shots but generally capturing the feel of the fight. Elsewhere, Bobby the Monk is setting up an ambush with his Uzi and executes rollerblade boy.
The cops pull up to the stakeout Rinaldi’s hotel room. Bonzerelli pulls out his phone to talk to the police chief while Shaw gets busy with Kelly in the back seat. Up in the hotel room, Jackson does his best to intimidate Ranaldi by repeatedly removing his glasses and staring long and hard at him.
Shaw and Kelly wait out in the lobby of the hotel where Shaw discovers Kelly has been infiltrating Ranaldi‘s organization for a while, starting at a strip club. They flirt and Shaw wonders what happened between her and the dark. The elevator ride ends with a contrived looking kiss. We shift to Rinaldi’s hotel room where Kelly is schmoozing with him over drinks. It doesn’t work, Rinaldi spots her as a cop, whips out his gun and executes her. Shaw is right behind her, with a bullet for Ranaldi as well.
We find ourself back in Shaw’s Porsche as the sun sets into night and the film fades out to black
“Don and I always felt we made two masterpieces as a team: The Roller Blade Seven and Guns of El Chupacabra. But, I would add The Rock n’ Roll Cops to that list. Even though it was a crazy, mind-bending experience due to the behavior of Don it, none-the-less, is a true embodiment of Zen Filmmaking.”
Shaw’s idea was to film it handheld, with an almost shaky-cam look; similar to shows like COPS.
“For the camera, we used the then, just on the market, Sony VX1000, Mini DV Camcorder. For the sound, we used a Sennheiser ME66 Microphone, predominately on a pistol grip, plus clip-on lavaliere microphones for many of the dialogue scenes.”
The format was suddenly becoming popular. At one point Shaw and Jackson ran out of the mini DV tapes this camera used and ended up driving all over Hollywood to find more stock. Every store had been bought out by another production team shooting at the same time.
The different format wouldn’t keep Jackson from obsessing over shots. Despite using the handheld camera, he would repeat shots, again and again, fine tuning until he got exactly the shot he was looking for. This, combined with using Jackson’s stock pool of players is why, in many ways, this still looks very like A Jackson film (and therefore merits coverage here), rather than a Scott Shaw Zen production.