The Rookie at 30: The Underappreciated Buddy-Cop Movie

Of all the buddy-cop movie craze that spread like wildfire during the 80s and 90s era, The Rookie was easily among the most underappreciated efforts in the list. Even though a minor financial success that made US$21.6 million against an economical US$10 million budget, the movie was largely greeted with lukewarm responses. Part of the lacklustre box-office result has to do with the bad timing, where The Rookie opened against two massively-popular movies including Home Alone (still sitting atop for four weeks in a row) while Misery remained in second place for the second week.

I remember watching it many years ago and despite The Rookie is no match with some of the better buddy-cop movies like 48 Hrs., Lethal Weapon, Red Heat and even Tango & Cash, it still has its few worthwhile moments. The story itself — credited to Boaz Yakin and Scott Spiegel — is simple enough: A veteran cop Nick Pulovski (Clint Eastwood) teams up with a younger rookie, David Ackerman (Charlie Sheen) to take down a group of car thieves led by Strom (Raul Julia). It’s pretty much a clich├ęd stuff, complete with obligatory plot elements of two mismatched cops who don’t see eye to eye and “this time it’s personal” vibe.

After revisiting The Rookie recently, I still find the story is the biggest problem here: it’s overlong and paper-thin, making the 2-hour length feels longer than it should. A tighter pace would be a better solution.

But it did get a few things right, beginning with the pairing of Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen, both of which have different personalities — one’s a grizzled veteran and the other is a by-the-book and inexperienced young cop. Eastwood is essentially reprising his iconic Harry Callahan of the popular Dirty Harry franchise, albeit with a more sardonic wit and attitude. He clearly has a great time in this movie. His co-star, Charlie Sheen deserves equal praise for his role of a young rookie — a then-promising actor who’s already appeared in acclaimed movies like Platoon (1986), Wall Street (1987) and Major League (1989).

Raul Julia plays Strom in "The Rookie" (1990)

The Rookie is also notable for casting Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia in the role of Strom, who happens to be a German criminal. As odd as it may sound, Raul does a good job playing the kind of villain you love to hate.

Then, there’s Sonia Braga, whose supporting role as Strom’s partner, Liesl involved in the movie’s most controversial and highly-publicised scene that feels out of place for a buddy-cop movie. Even watching it again by today’s standard, Eastwood’s decision (yes, he also happens to be the director of this movie) of including the extended moment where Liesl sexually assaulted Pulovski, who’s completely helpless with his arms and legs tied to a chair, remains a misguided one that should have been trimmed off altogether.

One of the notable action scenes in "The Rookie" (1990)

Amazingly enough for a US$10 million budget movie, both action and stunts are top-notch, notably during the opening nighttime chase scene involved a car and a semi-trailer truck along the highway and the car jumping out of the exploding building.

Here’s a little trivia about The Rookie: Clint Eastwood reportedly agreed to make this movie for Warner Bros. so he could film his pet project, White Hunter Black Heart (1990).