Lloyd Hopkins (Woods) is a cynical, workaholic LAPD detective who figures out the pattern of an elusive Serial Killer while his personal and professional life crumbles around him.
This film provides examples of:
- Bring My Brown Pants: Invoked. The Cowboy Cop played by James Woods confronts a Dirty Cop about his involvement in a rape. After the requisite Perp Sweating, the Dirty Cop says that Woods has scared him so much he has to go to the toilet to clean himself off. Woods lets him go, but changes his position and has his gun ready when the Dirty Cop emerges from the toilet with a shotgun he had stashed there.
- Cowboy Cop: James Woods' character in this movie, based on a James Ellroy script, is less of a "badass, action-y" take on the trope and more of a Defective Detective. He's antisocial, a bit corrupt, repeatedly ignores police procedures while investigating a serial killer case, gets himself implicated in theft (for stealing evidence from a person of interest) and murder (for shooting a suspect after beating up and interrogating him). By the end, he's about to be thrown out of the police force by Da Chief and with nothing to lose, dispatches the killer he was chasing in a Vigilante Execution.
- Deadly Closing Credits: Hopkins faces down the villain at the end: "The good news is I am a cop and I do have to bring you in. The bad news is I've been suspended and I don't give a fuck." (fires his shotgun, quick cut to black, roll credits)
- Defective Detective: The main character, an LAPD detective played by James Woods, is a workaholic and a bit of a lech. His wife leaves him halfway through the movie because of his erratic behavior (like telling his young daughter a "bedtime story" about a gruesome murder case he had to deal with).
- Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: The sleazy main character hooks up with a minor Hollywood actress whose roles have dried up and has had to resort to dealing drugs and prostituting herself to make ends meet.
- For Inconvenience, Press "1": The movie opens with an unseen burglar trying to report a murder, and running into this trope.
- Insanity Defense: At the end, the killer, after failing to kill Hopkins and out of bullets, throws his arms up and taunts Hopkins that he'll just go for the insanity plea. Hopkins executes him on the spot right before the credits roll.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Hopkins views Da Chief with contempt for being an uptight By-the-Book Cop who doesn't understand the realities that his detectives have to deal with, but it turns out Da Chief is absolutely correct to view Hopkins with suspicion. Not only is Hopkins pretty corrupt, he is guilty of multiple wrongful shootings that amount to little more than vigilante justice.
- Job Title: Cop.
- Stranger Behind the Mask: When Hopkins faces down the killer in the climax, it's a completely unfamiliar face. No foreshadowing, nothing.
- Targeted to Hurt the Hero: The LAPD detective protagonist has been visiting an ex-actress turned prostitute who is connected to a murder case he was working on. Later, after it's become clear that he's dealing with a serial killer who knows that he's on to him, the latter murders the prostitute and leaves her mutilated corpse behind for him to find.
- Turn in Your Badge: The protagonist is ordered to turn in his badge and gun by Da Chief (who is portrayed as an uptight WASP, although he has good reasons to dislike his Cowboy Cop subordinate) for his continual reckless behavior, which has even made him a suspect in a murder investigation. He continues to hunt down the serial killer in his spare time, since he simply doesn't give a damn anymore.