So, I’m outlining an undercover cop movie. Although the central character isn’t a cop, exactly, and I suppose he isn’t technically undercover, but… Just take my word for it, okay? And this got me thinking about the whole genre.
I love undercover cops. Point Break, American Yakuza, my personal favourite The Fast And the Furious… The naïve cop infiltrates a criminal gang, only to be seduced by the camaraderie, the adrenaline rush, and the dangerously attractive brother/ father figure of the gang leader. Does he choose his old life, or his new one – and can he ever be fully one or the other again? So much rich character material to dig into, and big action scenes, too. That’s my kind of movie.
But when you compare undercover cop movies to other crime movies, there are some very odd structural differences. For example, I realized that my antagonists – the cop’s boss, and an ever badder guy out to destroy the gang – were getting very little screen time, and anything I did to give them more scenes weakened the overall story.
Then again, in The Fast And the Furious, the Chinese gangsters and the FBI/ LAPD bosses are minor nuisances rather than strong antagonists who drive the plot. The cops are stronger in Point Break, largely thanks to Gary Busey, but the drug-dealing rival surfers barely feature. They’re subplots, not real antagonists. Really, there’s no antagonist in the traditional sense at all.
And then there’s the level of homoeroticism that attaches itself to the relationship between the cop and the gang leader. That level of semi-sexual interaction between lead characters of the same gender would never appear in any other kind of crime movie. Is this just a function of the age difference – the undercover cop is often young, leading to a hero-worship dynamic – or is there something else going on?
I think there is. I’m starting to think that undercover cop movies don’t share the same structure as any other crime movie. Their structure, in fact, is the same as… a rom-com.
Okay, that sounds crazy. But think about it. In a rom-com, a conventional, boring person comes into contact with a crazy, rule-breaking person and is drawn into their world. They resist at first, but that person supplies something that has been lacking in their life, and they’re transformed by this contact. They become a better, more whole person. Ultimately, they must choose between their old, conventional life, and the new life personified by the rule-breaker.
Sure sounds like an undercover cop movie to me!
Rom-coms don’t have antagonists as such – and as we saw above, neither do undercover cop movies. The main conflicts in a rom-com are between the Protagonist and the Attractor, as they influence and change one another, as their rival worldviews are played out on screen and struggle to be proved right. And so it proves in undercover cop movies too.
So is that where the homoeroticism in these movies is coming from? We’re aware that the structure is that of a rom-com, and we read an erotic charge into the scenes because that’s what the structure primes us to expect? It would certainly explain a lot…