Mike Logan returns! So, is that a good thing? NOTE: MOSTLY spoiler-free.
If you read no other part of this review, here's the one sentence to keep in mind:
Yes, they are gonna go there.
That said, Exiled may be the first Law & Order movie, but it doesn't feel much like one. It is more of a movie than an episode of Law & Order -- it takes place almost entirely within the police half of the setup, the crime leads to the police department, and the prosecution is never shown (we're not taken into a courtroom). Chris Noth fans will have a field day; Jerry Orbach, John Fiore, and Dann Florek fans will be happy. Sam Waterston fans will have to resign themselves to one testy scene; S. Epatha Merkerson's fanclub will see a bit more of her, but almost always strident and stressed. (If you didn't know Chris Noth had co-written this movie [as he did, with Charles Kipps, who also produced it] you'd think it was being told from the point of view of Mike Logan -- Anita was always strained with Logan; Anita continues to be strained three years down the line. Additionally, there are no "slates" to indicate date, time, or location, the somewhat cheesy music (by Mike Post, who also wrote the L&O theme song) is more prominent, and there are plenty of establishing shots (which L&O makes a habit of not using). What this is, more than anything else, is Exiled: A Mike Logan Movie. And that's just fine.
The symbolism doesn't take a genius to figure out: the first shot after the credits has Logan taking the Staten Island Ferry to work -- yup, he still lives in Manhattan, his heart is there. The movie gets off to a rough start -- as with some fan fiction, the writers and director are assuming we know who the heck Mike Logan is, and why he's on the Ferry, and so forth. He's not in a cop uniform, he's in his old dark suits and plaid ties so...who is this guy, and why do we care? Also, more importantly, how much time has passed, anyway? We find out it's three years as the story progresses, at least.
Never mind, we're in Staten Island, where eagle-eyed Logan (looking almost as trim as first season, not a snatch of gray in his hair, instantly at home in his old brogans) catches sight of a Harbor Patrol going after a body found in the water. His Lieutenant tells him to hand it over to a homicide detective, Frankie Silvera, which pisses Logan off. He's been in domestics for three years (not walking a beat) and is fed up, bored, and as he tells his captain, his abilities are not being utilized. When he goes out to a domestic abuse case, his partner roughs up the husband and the two of them are split up -- and Logan gets paired with the homicide detective he recently gave his homicide case to. Silvera and Logan share no sparks (she's a soon-to-be single mom who comes off flat). The investigation takes them through strip clubs and various unsundry places around the Times Square area (which sadly dates this film; most of those places are gone now, as per Mayor Guiliani's rezoning laws) until they come across a place where the dead woman danced. Ice-T puts in an entertaining, albeit too short appearance as the dead woman's pimp; Florek as Captain Cragen, apparently still with the anti-corruption unit, although in a much nicer office, becomes Logan's real de facto buddy. Cragen tells Logan to back off, because they've had a surveillance on the club where the dead woman danced for years now -- it's run by the son of a known mob don -- and when Logan says he can't, Cragen tells him there's a dirty cop in the two-seven, where the strip club is located. Now Logan really can't tear himself away from it.
Logan then proceeds to annoy just about everybody he comes in contact with: Jack McCoy and he have a face-to-face confrontation about setting up a joint task force so Logan can stay on the case. Anita Van Buren is just generally pissed off at Logan's presence in her place, especially when it turns out she didn't know about the dirty cop investigation. Lennie Briscoe is the one character we believe in all of this -- he's still a tired, although generally good cop, who won't stick his neck out but who will back someone up. There's the sister of the dead woman, a lithe black dancer, and yes, Noth fans, they are gonna go there. But that's no real spoiler: from the moment Logan sees her at dance class he goes all slack jawed and the case turns personal. (Most amusing moment: Logan and the dead woman's sister emerging from Da Marino's, Noth and Kipps' hangout, where they wrote the script. Second most amusing moment: This scene coming right after Logan tells his new homicide partner about the dirty cop deal, and her telling him, "At least you're not doing the sister.") When the investigation leads Logan et. al. (for some reason Briscoe, Profaci, and heretofore unseen Detective Sammy Kurth all go along for the ride) to a no-tell motel, there's much ado about a brand-new mattress, an old mattress stained with blood left outside for the trash pickup, and lots and lots of fingerprints found all over the room.
More and more, the case leads Logan in two directions: the mob boss's son, and his old precinct. Logan tracks down both killer and accomplice, and by the time he's done, he knows he's dug hard enough to wriggle out the rotten tooth of the precinct. But as he comes out the camera walks in front of him, panning so we can see the rest of the precinct looking at him...and except for perhaps Lennie and Rey, not liking what they see. Although other movies, if they have them, may take a different view, it looks from this perspective that Logan really can't go back now: it's not his precinct any more.
From there on out, however, the movie's a little mishmashed. It feels as if it should end in the precinct, but the last ten minutes or so are taken up with a hackneyed arrest, obligatory Sunday Night Movie car chase and Logan visiting the dead woman's sister one last time to tell her he solved the case, all of which seems to be a long and unnecessary epilogue. Still, the movie has him visiting the dead girl's sister, who's cool towards him but says thanks. They're not together any more -- he made a colossal blunder just after the Da Marino's date by blurting out that he was so hot to solve this case because it would get him back in Manhattan, which is not what she wanted to hear at all -- and she doesn't let him in. It's a familiar feeling. For now, at least, the gates of the city remain closed to Mike Logan.