|Law and Order fans are in the habit of scrutinizing every word and sideways glance in the show to uncover new clues about its characters. To them, Exiled: A Law and Order Movie is like a bone with the meat still on it - something to chew on for a long time. |
In the film, airing Sunday, Nov. 8, on NBC, Chris Noth returns to the role of Detective Mike Logan after a three-year absence.
"I said, "You know, if we're going to do it, it should be called Exiled,' " Noth recalls. "That word is used on many different levels in this movie. ... And out of that came the story. Everything flowed from that."
Noth co-wrote the film's story with his screenwriter friend Charles Kipps (Columbo, The Cosby Mysteries), then took it to series creator and executive producer Dick Wolf.
Law and Order regulars Jerry Orbach, Sam Waterston, Benjamin Bratt and S. Epatha Merkerson appear in the movie, along with recurring player John Fiore and cast alumnus Dann Florek.
Costas Mandylor plays a sleazy club owner, Ice-T appears as a lowlife hustler, and Nicole Ari Parker plays the sister of a murdered young woman found floating in New York Harbor. Dana Eskelson, as Logan's new partner, and Dabney Coleman, as the Staten Island police captain, are particularly good.
Three years have passed since Logan was transferred to bucolic Staten Island after punching a crooked city councilman in the kisser. During that time, he has been taking the ferry into "exile" each morning to hunt for stolen lawn mowers and barbecue grills.
The minute Logan comes across the case of a murdered prostitute, he knows it could be his ticket back to Manhattan. The detective's adrenaline begins to flow; he's more than ready to work a homicide again.
For the audience, the feeling is mutual; no Law and Order character has been more keenly missed. Mike Logan Websites have even sprung up on the Internet.
But there remains an air of unpleasantness surrounding Noth's departure after five seasons on the cops-and-lawyers drama. While Wolf has never hesitated to drop a cast member for the sake of the show, Noth has been outspoken about the limitations of the drama's just-the-facts-ma'am acting format.
"Law and Order is completely story-driven and completely characterless, really," Noth says without mincing words. "If you do that format for five years and you're an actor, you're bound to get bored. ... It wears on you. And it was really wearing on me.
"But you need a job, and I felt awfully blessed to be in New York City and to be doing a show that was considered intelligent in the world of TV. But hey, five years is enough time. It's just that the process of leaving got very ... It wasn't handled right. I'll just leave it at that."
Noth's bitterness erupts in bleak humor. "I only watch Law and Order when I'm suffering from insomnia," he deadpans in Wolf's hearing.
If the actor is prickly, the auteur is controlling. Few series creators have continued to manage a show so closely after eight seasons; most turn over the reins after three or four and move on. The opening credits of Exiled look like a child's game of rock, paper, scissors as each side tries to trump the other with claims of authorship: executive producer, co-executive producer, story by, based on a character created by, etc.
"I think (Wolf) can't help but want to push it to look like Law and Order," Noth says, "and I didn't want it to look at all like Law and Order."
Perhaps Wolf's power play is deliberate, a way of getting more of Noth's frustration to spill over on the screen, which it does. While the old Logan usually had a wry sense of detachment, as if his heart were somewhere far away, the Logan of Exiled is a caged animal, selfish and cunning in pursuit of a homicide case to call his own.
At least both men agree that the story is tight.
"The one thing we all agreed is that we weren't going to do it unless it was at least as good as a good episode of Law and Order," Wolf says.
"It's faster than a speeding bullet," Noth says. "There were some important scenes cut (from Kipps' original script) for speed.
"It breathed a little more. There was a little more humor; there were a few more character elements and bits that were cut out because Dick Wolf's the executive producer, which I was not in agreement with, but there's nothing I could do with this (movie) about that."
The story is not without its flaws, including circumstantial evidence Logan is slow to connect and the less-than-dogged pursuit of two witnesses.The dry, rapid-fire dialogue, typical of the series, separates the viewer from another gruesome murder in the voyeuristic Wolf style. This is, after all, the knifing and mutilation of a pregnant woman, even if she is a dancer-turned-drug addict and prostitute.
A running "joke," as Noth describes it, is the oft-repeated comment that Logan has always been hard to get along with. Since this is not actually the case, perhaps the "joke" is a reference to the Wolf-Noth relationship.
"Talk to Charlie Kipps about that," Noth suggests. "He wrote those lines."
And if any die-hard Noth fans or Web page editors envision a spinoff series, it's time to abandon hope.
"You mean like 22 episodes and all that kind of stuff?" Noth says. "No. Not interested.It's possible to do another movie, though, one or two a year. (Charlie and I have) definitely got other stories we can do. I'd like to go even further. Actually," Noth reverses himself on an intellectual dime, "I don't know if it's possible. The existing circumstances, the way it is now, I can't work under those conditions again.
But if that changes, we might be able to do something."
Better catch Exiled now; it may be the last anyone will see of Detective Mike Logan.