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Film / Deep Cover

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Deep Cover is a 1992 crime film directed by Bill Duke and starring Laurence Fishburne and Jeff Goldblum.

Russell Stevens Jr. (Fishburne) is a cop recruited by the DEA to go deep undercover in the Los Angeles drug trade and enable the prosecution of key members of the Gallegos Cartel. He eventually makes a name for himself and becomes a major distributor, but problems arise when he allies himself with David Jason (Goldblum), a crooked lawyer with ambitions beyond his station.

This film provides examples of:

  • Amoral Attorney:
    • David Jason is a drug lawyer who dreams of setting up his own operation producing synthetic drugs.
    • Betty is one of David's partners in his synthetic drug scheme, and is also a lawyer who does money laundering for the cartel.
  • Ax-Crazy: David starts out as Affably Evil, but gradually becomes a psychotically vicious killer.
  • Bad Boss: Felix Barbossa, the underboss of the cartel, isn't an easy guy to work for. Not only does he beat one of his minions to death with a pool cue to show his displeasure, he also despises David for no rational reason and attempts to have him murdered after rejecting his synthetic drug plan out of hand.
  • Becoming the Mask: Russell is chosen to become an undercover narcotics officer because his personality is so similar to that of a typical criminal. As he discovers, he's actually pretty good at being a drug dealer. Eventually he's forced to sell crack cocaine for real because his handler doesn't have enough money in the budget to pay for all the stuff he brings in. Ultimately subverted in that he never completely loses sight that he's still a cop and helps to dismantle a major supplier.
  • The Cartel: Russell is tasked with infiltrating the fictional Gallegos Cartel, which is said to supply nearly 40% of the entire cocaine supply to the West Coast.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: After Russell and David murder Barbossa, his boss Anton Gallegos demands a sitdown. He makes it abundantly clear that he considered Barbossa a valuable partner and the only reason he doesn't just kill them for their betrayal is because of Barbossa's open debt to Gallegos, which they now inherited. Russell and David realize that Gallegos has no intention of working with them even if they pay the debt, so they orchestrate his murder as well to force Gallegos' uncle to make a new deal in person.
  • Cassandra Gambit: Russell has to Take a Third Option when asked by a gang of thugs if he's an undercover cop. If he lies, then any future arrest would be worthless because it'd be considered "entrapment". And of course, if he tells the truth, they'll kill him. So he just tells them the truth in a way that makes it seem ridiculous. (Note: This is actually a case of Artistic License – Law. Real undercover cops are allowed to lie to their marks about being cops. The entrapment clause doesn't work that way. Because if it did, there'd be a lot fewer arrests and a lot more dead cops.)
  • Coat Cape: Anton Gallegos wears one.
  • Corrupt Politician: Hector Guzman is a prominent Latin American diplomat who plays golf with George Bush Sr. and is also the kingpin of a drug cartel with his nephew Gallegos as the front man.
  • Cowboy Cop: Russell starts to go against his superior's orders to protect David from Barbossa by killing the latter. Lt. Carver attempts to arrest him, but Russell turns the tables and continues his mission to take down Gallegos.
  • Ear Ache: Gallegos makes it clear to Russell that he considers him beneath him by ripping off his earring.
  • Hauled Before a Senate Subcommittee: After Russell deals a crippling blow to the Gallegos cartel and implicates Mexican diplomat Hector Guzman as a high-level drug trafficker, he is brought before a House Judiciary Committee hearing to report his findings to the public representatives. When Guzman's crimes are brought to light, several members demand that the evidence be destroyed, as it will inevitably embarass the current administration and possibly hurt US-Mexico relations. Russell had anticipated this, and distributed copies to the press beforehand.
  • Hero Antagonist: Taft is an LAPD narcotics detective who believes that Russell (an undercover cop working for the DEA) is just some ordinary drug dealer recently moved into town who's spreading that crap to get rich off it. He continues to pursue Russell and his associates and endangers Russell's own investigation into the Gallegos Cartel at several points.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: When it becomes necessary to take out a competing drug dealer, Russell actually goes ahead and kills him.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: While Barbossa's murder of Eddie was needlessly cruel, Eddie did have it coming. One, for being an incompetent jerkoff drug dealer who tried to sell out Russell to the cops (thereby demonstrating he can't be trusted not to cooperate with the police if his ass is on the line), and two, he also sticks a fork in Barbossa's chest right beforehand when he clearly hadn't made up his mind yet whether to just cut Eddie loose or "dispose" of him.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: Gopher, one of Barbossa's henchmen, only ever comes across as an avuncular old man, and is quite horrified by Barbossa's cruelty. He even starts helping Russell at the end.
  • The Mole: Barbossa is an informant for the LAPD.
  • Must State If You're a Cop: At one point, Russell is asked point blank if he's a cop. He says just as frankly that he is, but answers the question in an incredibly sarcastic way to make it seem like he's bullshitting.
  • Naughty Nuns: During a mob meeting at a strip club, there's "entertainment" from a Fanservice Extra in a nun costume.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: After undercover cop Russell Stevens sets up a deal with drug kingpin Hector Guzman to record the transaction, he is followed by a local narcotics detective who scares off Guzman and almost sabotages the whole thing.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: DEA Special Agent Carver has no issue hurling the N-word around, but despite being a Smug Snake entirely too satisfied with himself, he does make it clear at several points that he's genuinely trying to combat the crack cocaine epidemic or at least, until his bosses order him to scupper the investigation.
    Carver: Have you ever seen a crack baby? Newborn crack baby... six hours old... screaming its heart out... because it's going through withdrawal? Over the course of the next year it doesn't learn to crawl, or walk, or talk on time... because it's got deformities. Physical deformities, mental deformities. It's got brain damage, lowered IQ, dyslexia—God only knows what else. Maybe it goes to school, but it can't learn. And it's violent, so it gets in trouble with the law. It's unable to form any close emotional ties, so it's faced with the prospect of going through this hideous, miserable life... completely alone. There are millions of these babies, John. There's a whole generation of your people who are being destroyed before they are even born, because these guys are bringing that shit into this country. Now do you remember what you're doing here?
  • N-Word Privileges: Played with. Agent Carver interviews three different black police officers to see if they can be recruited for his undercover program by bluntly asking each of them "What's the difference between a black man and a nigger?". The first one tries to awkwardly answer the question thus showing that he's too docile, the second one flies into a rage which shows that he's too easily provoked, but the third (Russell) calmly tells him "only a nigger would answer that question" to show him as more cunning and diplomatic than the previous two. At the end of the film, he does repeat the question and punches Carver in the stomach.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Before Russell testifies at the House Judiciary Committee, Agent Carver threatens to charge Betty with money laundering unless Russell gives glowing praise of the DEA and its investigation. Russell complies with these demands, but manages to screw them over another way.
  • Race Fetish: David wonders aloud why he likes having sex with black women so much; Russell says it's actually a slave fetish.
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: The DEA is not sharing its information with the LAPD Narcotics Division, so Russell is frequently hounded by a Sergeant who thinks he's an ordinary drug dealer.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: After one of Barbossa's henchmen is caught by the police, the henchman gives up undercover cop Russell (thinking he's just a street dealer) to keep his own ass out of jail, confident that his bosses would consider Russell expendable. Instead they kill the henchman for making a deal with the cops and reward Russell for keeping his mouth shut all the way to his trial by giving him the henchman's job.
  • Wicked Cultured: David at one point remarks "In dreams begin responsibilities," which is a slight misquote of a line by William Butler Yeats.