Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog. Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese. Harvey Keitel and Scorsese. Leonard DiCaprio and Scorsese. The history of cinema is filled with electric partnerships between actors and directors, beautiful examples of artistic synergy that have created timeless works of art. Of all of these legendary collaborations, there was possibly none more promising than the creation of Sheen/Michaels Entertainment, a production company that united the larger-than-life talents of human trainwreck Charlie Sheen and cock-rock superstar Bret Michaels.
Or maybe not.
It’s not hard to see why Sheen and Michaels would gravitate towards each other; while the circumstances of their meeting remain nebulous, they probably didn’t involve green tea and Pilates. What’s more surprising is that Sheen/Michaels Entertainment actually made a bid for legitimacy on their first turn up to bat by producing the Gena Rowlands vehicle Unhook the Stars before focusing its efforts on the rapidly-declining career of Mr. Sheen. The shingle also offered Renaissance man Michaels the chance to direct two shitty direct-to-video movies back-to-back, both of which starred the dynamic duo at the head of the Sheen/Michaels behemoth.
As with every crime film made in the 90’s, No Code of Conduct begins extreme close-ups of somebody preparing drugs under stroboscopic lighting. In this case, it’s a long-haired sleazebag by the name of Willdog (Joe Lando) rolling a joint as prepares to join a motley crew of colorful criminals in making a Mexican drug mule puke in the back room of his nightclub. The operation turns out to be a bust when one of the would-be criminals (Michaels himself, bedecked in his Mickey Rourke / gay-cowboy-on-LSD Sunday best) turns out to be an undercover cop. They rip his fucking throat out, the Mexicans get the hell out of there and our dope-dealing heroes are left heroin-less, which is a terrible way to be when you’re a heroin dealer.
Bill Peterson (Martin Sheen) is the cop on the scene to uncover Michaels’ body on the site of a future rehab clinic (powerful!). As DEA hotshot Paul Gleason explains, the death of Bret Michaels is a sign pointing to a giant shipment of heroin coming in and there ain’t nothing Peterson can do about it. Meanwhile, Peterson’s hot-tempered son Jake (Charlie Sheen, billed here as Charles Sheen, in what I assume is an attempt to distance the unintentional hilarity of No Code of Conduct from the intentional hilarity of Hot Shots!) is going stir-crazy, relegated to being the evidence locker’s desk jockey instead of being out cracking melons. This is because, for all intents and purposes, Jake is horrible at his job, being the kind of cop that thinks that it’s okay to do He’s in such dire straits that he manages to talk down a fellow officer gone postal by basically saying ‘sure, your life sucks, but mine’s so much worse, bro’. He misses his own daughter’s birthday, his wife’s about to leave him… His life is basically on a Charlie Sheen-esque spiral of destruction.
I’ve never seen any actor quite as bad at hiding boredom than Martin Sheen. When he’s on, he’s firing on all cylinders; when he’s not, he’s about as convincing as Harrison Ford at an awards show. He’s doing a lot more of the latter here, going through the motions of his stock cop character with barely-veiled weariness. If nothing, it complements Sheen Jr.’ s illusory intensity. Made around the time that Sheen had his first publicized overdose, No Code of Conduct showcases a puffy, pale and bloated-looking Sheen huffing and puffing his way through a rather unoriginal hot-tempered workaholic cop with a misplaced, chemical intensity that unfortunately never reaches pyrotechnical levels of scenery-chewing. If Martin’s performance is the equivalent of the working stiff a week away from retirement whose presence is ultimately cosmetic, Charlie (or Charles, my bad) feels more like the young turk overcompensating for coming in to work hungover.
Thankfully, the bland Criminal Minds-esque writing that our leads have to deal with is offset pretty nicely by the hodgepodge, multicultural group of drug dealers (which includes the aforementioned scuzzbag Willdog, a redheaded pervert, a Vietnamese woman with a temper problem and a black guy the others not-so-affectionately call Shaft) who were apparently gathered through an S Club 7-like casting call. Their time onscreen is jam-packed with nonsense colorful dialogue and insane line readings that are so different from the rest of the film’s turgid clichés (‘She needs a father, not a teddy bear.’), you’d swear they belong in another movie. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are a whopping five credited writers (including Messrs. Michaels and Sheen) for what basically amounts to little more than a cop-show pilot. Whichever one of the bunch was commissioned to write the would-be hepcat nonsense that the criminals come up with should probably have handled the entire script.
Using a female cop posing as a prostitute, the cops set up an ambush for the drug dealers. Jake and his partner (Mark Dacascos) decide to crash the proceedings and intervene when the plan inevitably goes awry, leaving the decoy prostitute dead and making Martin and Paul Gleason’s car flip over about twenty times before exploding. This goes quite against Sheen Sr.’s claim early on in the film that real police work is nothing like it is on TV (with the possible exception of NYPD Blue, apparently). A car flipping over 25 times and people feeding each other exposure as they work their way through clues? Sounds like TV police work to me.
That having been said, Michaels proves to be a serviceable action director. While the script is jam-packed with mothballed tropes from fucking James Cagney movies, the action scenes have a nice flow and a mid-film car chase actually rivals that of higher-budgeted movies not directed by dudes who made a sex tape with Pam Anderson. While the level of care put in this movie varies wildly (the wound makeup on Sheen after the seventh car crash might as well be a lipstick smear), Michaels and Sheen seem to have taken a page from good car chase movies as opposed to Wings Hauser joints they may have caught between eightballs. As usual, the biggest danger with a movie that has this kind of baffling potential is that it’ll end up being boring as shit. Although there’s absolutely nothing surprising, noteworthy or interesting going on in here, at least Michaels keeps things nice and explode-y.
Things finally start to get a little more interesting when it’s revealed that the heroin dealers are employed by the same guy who owns the land on which the rehab center was being built. Not only that, but he’s in cahoots with the dude from the DEA! (Paul Gleason playing a scumbag traitor? Whoa!) Fine, fine, so it doesn’t get more interesting at all. They kidnap Sheen’s wife minutes after she admits to her father-in-law that she wants to divorce her no-goodnik husband, they tie her to a chair, inject her with heroin (which, much like movie-grade chloroform, has an immediate but short-lasting effect) and eventually have a big climactic shootout in a warehouse where everyone explains everything to each other while having a fucking Mexican standoff. A lot of explosions are shown from every possible angle. Some characters live, some characters die and I assure you it doesn’t matter which is which.
So why does it exist?
Imagining Bret Michaels and Charlie Sheen pacing around one or the other’s palatial mansions and spitballing ideas this bland and familiar is infinitely more satisfying than watching the actual ideas realized. The entire existence of Sheen/Michaels Entertainment is obviously one giant coke-fueled, hubristic jerk-off session, possibly one designed to combat the fact that there just weren’t movies being made like Charlie Sheen and Bret Michaels wanted there to be. It’s why pretty much anyone starts their own production company. But instead of making challenging, thornily uncommercial films like, say, Brad Pitt, or even the bombastic and self-indulgent crap one would expect from this duo, they’ve made the kind of movie that already pollutes the low-budget landscape. Instead of writing themselves the movie they’d wish to be offered, they made something that they might take right before a Writer’s Guild strike. Charlie Sheen may be totally crazy, but he’s shown in the past that he can at least find good material. He just can’t create it.