New ‘Kojak’ feels like a ’70s relic – which it is

  • By Victor Balta / Herald Columnist
  • Wednesday, March 23, 2005 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

It seems that smooth, round objects are the only things the new “Kojak” and the original TV cop drama have in common.

Actor Ving Rhames sports the familiar smooth, bald head of the title character.

And he, like the original, has an affinity for lollipops – particularly the red, round variety.

But the new version – which premieres with a two-hour special on cable’s USA Network at 9 p.m. Friday – has one smooth, round feature that the original didn’t.

One of these: 0.

As in, “zero.”

As in, the amount of intrigue it brings, suspense it offers or desire anyone should have to watch it.

This is certainly no affront to Rhames, who wrestles at least some semblance of a pulse out of this show.

Over the past decade, since bursting onto the scene as gang leader Marsellus Wallace in “Pulp Fiction,” Rhames has established himself as just the guy you’d want to see playing the tough, brooding villain, or the mean guy on the good guys’ team.

Since then, he’s won a Golden Globe for portraying boxing promoter Don King in the TV movie, “Don King: Only in America.”

The part of a tough cop with a soft side seemed a perfect fit, and Rhames brings a certain sense of elegance and humanity to the part, but lazy writing ultimately makes the show more style than substance.

The awkward filming and slow-moving plot are also to blame for making us wish this remake had been left well enough alone.

The original “Kojak,” starring Telly Savalas on CBS from 1973 to 1978, was praised in its time for its genuine portrayal of police life in south Manhattan.

But with today’s fast-paced forensics investigation shows, and other new twists, such as the telepathic Patricia Arquette on NBC’s “Medium,” USA’s “Kojak” just feels like a bad imitation of something.

Lt. Theo Kojak is as tough and streetwise as ever.

Rhames’ character dons slick suits, wingtips and a fedora, popping the occasional lollipop in his mouth.

He strides onto the scene in the first episode with jazzy theme music playing in the background as two detectives struggle to interrogate a witness who is simply mocking them.

The fun and games take on a different form, though, when Kojak strides into the room and gets the man to confess what he knows by playing a little Russian roulette.

The star’s tactics set the tone for the way he handles business.

It’s an interesting start, but the intensity fades all too quickly and you’ll spend the next hour and 56 minutes wondering whose idea it was to kick this show off with a bloated two-hour special.

The new Kojak is a fan of jazz. His dad was a piano player who was killed during a botched convenience-store robbery when Theo was a youngster.

And he isn’t afraid to show his sensitive side.

In the premiere, he tries to track down a serial killer who is targeting prostitutes. One victim left behind two children who Kojak becomes personally committed to saving, and toys with taking custody of them because their father is in prison.

At times, the emotion of the case and other frustrations mount to the point where the star sheds some tears.

Nothing against crying, but it doesn’t fit with the image and just feels awkward.

Besides, for as groundbreaking as Savalas’ Kojak was, and for as much further as Det. Andy Sipowicz brought the tough New York cop image on “NYPD Blue,” it seems silly to bring back a retread from the past – especially when it hasn’t improved with time.

Columnist Victor Balta: 425-339-3455 or

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