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VIDEO : BIG-TIME QUEEN, SMALL-TOWN SHERIFF.

Byline: Daily News

When ``Mrs. Brown'' and ``Cop Land'' arrived in theaters last summer, there was an Oscar buzz in the air.

Now they arrive in video stores with reality attached.

For the well-respected British actress Judi Dench, who played Queen Victoria in ``Mrs. Brown,'' the buzz became a best-actress nomination (thanks, no doubt, to Miramax's relentless publicity department), although she lost out to Helen Hunt.

For action hero Sylvester Stallone, his moment in the critical sun faded as quickly as a summer tan. Perhaps it was because ``Cop Land'' was ultimately Scorsese-lite. Or maybe it was because Sly played a slow-witted, paunchy New Jersey sheriff with a glazed expression. Apparently, you can be mentally challenged (Cliff Robertson in ``Charley''), autistic (Dustin Hoffman in ``Rain Man''), even a serial killer (Anthony Hopkins in ``Silence of the Lambs'') and win an Oscar, but looking like you're in a stupor is never going to get you a gold statuette.

Nevertheless, Sly does give a fine - OK, not Oscar caliber - performance in ``Cop Land.''

Stallone plays a character named Freddy Heflin, sheriff of a New Jersey burg populated by tough cops from the big city across the river who figure they don't need any supervision. Freddy has dreamed all his life of being a New York City cop, too, but he's deaf in one ear, making him unfit to wear the uniform, according to regulations.

The irony is that compared to the deeply corrupt officers who run roughshod through his town, he's the only one who's got the right stuff where it counts - underneath his badge. However, it takes a while for Freddy to open his eyes to the corruption that has spilled from the big city into his town. That change is painful for Freddy, who worshiped these guys, and Stallone makes that pain believable - a lot more believable then he looked after taking a few thousand punches in any ``Rocky'' movie.

``Cop Land'' is a modestly budgeted independent film from second-time writer-director James Mangold (``Heavy''). Besides Stallone's performance, the film is also notable for its flavorful writing and the impressive pedigree of its cast, which includes Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick, Michael Rapaport and Annabella Sciorra.

If Sly wasn't enough of a heavyweight for the academy, Dench was.

An acclaimed stage actress, Dench has appeared in Shakespeare (Kenneth Branagh's ``Hamlet'' and ``Henry V'') and action pictures (she plays James Bond's boss M in ``Tomorrow Never Dies'').

In ``Mrs. Brown,'' Dench portrays a grieving Queen Victoria who after the death of her husband, Albert, begins to keep company with her horseman, a frank, willful Scotsman named John Brown (Billy Connolly). But in this smart, subtle and utterly skillful telling, we're led to believe that this was an affair of the heart, an abiding friendship far less sordid than the public imagined.

Dench plays Victoria with a depth and fire that set the tone for everything else in this smart production, and Connolly - the Scottish comedian and actor best-known here for his TV shows ``Billy'' and ``Head of the Class'' - exhibits a gallantry and virile maturity as Brown.

Robin Williams was another actor who was received Oscar buzz last year, but it was not for his Thanksgiving release, ``Flubber,'' which is also hitting video stores this week. Williams picked up his statuette for December's ``Good Will Hunting,'' in which he showed his serious side.

``Flubber,'' a remake of Fred MacMurray's 1961 ``The Absent-Minded Professor,'' offers Williams an opportunity for his famous comic improvisation, especially when playing with the dangerous but helpful green gunk. A new wrinkle here: Flubber has a personality. It's kind of a naughty, destructive kid trapped in a glob of super-energized green goo, although that doesn't explain why it stages a Busby Berkeley production number in the middle of the movie.

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Photo: (1--2) An Oscar buzz fizzled for ``Cop Land,'' at left (with Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone), but yielded a nomination for Judi Dench (shown with co-star Billy Connolly) of ``Mrs. Brown.''
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Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Video Recording Review
Date:Apr 24, 1998
Words:676
Previous Article:SOUND CHECK.
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