April 20, 2006
'Kojak' remake cancelled in the U.S.
By BILL BRIOUX - Toronto Sun

Some actors are born to play certain parts. Hard to imagine anyone other than Peter Falk playing Columbo. There's only one J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman. And Telly Savalas is the one and only Kojak, right?

Wrong, lollipop breath. Tonight, Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction), who co-stars in Mission: Impossible III, makes his Canadian debut in an all-new Kojak (CITY-TV, 10 p.m.).

The series launched over a year ago on U.S. cable. That usually means a) no Canadian network was in a hurry to pick it up because it stinks, or b) it stinks, but, after a year on the shelf, it's priced so low even those cheapos at CHUM can't resist it.

First to address the "it stinks" part. Yup, the remake isn't very good, but Rhames is not to blame. He reinvents the character and is worth watching in spite of the otherwise seen-it-before production.

He wisely makes no attempt to evoke Savalas, whom most viewers may not remember anyway. The original cop drama ran from 1974 to 1978, 30 years ago.

Savalas established Kojak as a tough but charismatic Manhattan police detective who sucked on lollipops and sported a fuzzy fedora. His catchy tag line was always, "Who loves ya, baby?"

The dude was also 100% Greek. Way back in January of '05, when this series was paneled at press tour, Rhames was asked how an African-American wound up with a name like Theo Kojak.

"My last name is Rhames -- what's the origin of it," the actor challenged. A pause. "It's Egyptian and Greek."

He also said that "the first name I was born with is Irving -- and I know I look Jewish."

Rhames plays Kojak with controlled anger and emotion. He never seems to wrinkle his designer suits when he's freaking out thugs in the interrogation room. His fancy, wide-brimmed fedora stays at exactly the right angle even after chasing after some punk for 15 blocks.

Shot mainly in Toronto, the series looks (I'm told) like bad porn. Too many lazy, hand-held camera shots, too many showy, slow-motion pans, too much bad sax music. The director and editor both seem to suffer from ADD, with no shot lasting longer than two or three seconds. Establishing shot, medium shot, long shot, cut to Rhames, cut to girl ... find a tripod and lock it off already!

Intercut are dazzling shots of the Statue of Liberty at sunset and birds-eye views of Manhattan skyscrapers that just scream stock footage.

The dialogue is also porn-worthy. Kojak asks "Are you cool?" a lot. The cops all speak fluent Brooklynese. "At least she was a stay at home ma," one officer says about a prostitute slain in the pilot. "You gotta give her that."

We know Kojak is sensitive because he says things like "Jazz music relaxes me." We know he is sincere because he wears an American flag pin in his lapel.

Chazz Palminteri (The Usual Suspects) picks up a cheque for a few days work as Kojak's ex-partner-turned-police chief. Roselyn Sanchez (Rush Hour 2) plays the assistant D.A.

The series was cancelled after one season in the States. As Baretta would say, "Dat's da name of dat tune."