Rough-around-the-edges and media-genic as hell New York City cop Bo Dietl, who retired from the force in 1985 and went on to make millions working as a private detective, is the poster child for tough bastards with hearts of gold, and Stephen Baldwin pulls off what is by all accounts-including Dietl's own-a remarkable feat of impersonation in One Tough Cop, a movie that was made in the 1990s, is set in the 1980s, and smacks of the 1970s in its look and attitudes. It's very much to the credit of Brazilian-born director Bruno Barreto that the film oozes New York atmosphere, despite the fact that much of it was shot in Toronto. And it's to the filmmakers' credit (filmmakers in this case including Barreto, producer Martin Bregman-whose portfolio include Serpico-and screenwriter Jeremy Iacone) that it has a tough, authentic edge even though it's based so loosely on Dietl's 1988 autobiography (also called One Tough Cop) that it carries an end credit warning that while the character called 'Bo Dietl' is based on the real-life Bo Dietl, the rest of the characters and events are fiction and any resemblance, etc., etc., etc.

Dietl (Stephen Baldwin), who grew up on the mean streets of Queens and counts many second-generation gangsters among his longtime friends, is in a bind. He's a good, honest cop with absolutely no gift for departmental politics, which makes him particularly vulnerable when a pair of aggressive FBI agents (Amy Irving, Victor Slezak) accuse him of being mobbed up and try to blackmail him into ratting out his old friend Richie La Cassa (Mike McGlone) and La Cassa's family by threatening an Internal Affairs investigation. Dietl's partner Duke (Chris Penn), a stand-up guy with a betting problem and a pile of unpaid parking tickets in his glove compartment, is also under pressure: The FBI witch-finders want him to force Dietl to cooperate, and dangle the promise of forgiveness for the tickets and the fact that, with the La Cassa family empire disbanded, Duke's gambling debts to La Cassa associate Frankie Salvano (Paul Guilfoyle) will be a thing of the past.

Meanwhile, Duke and Dietl are investigating the brutal rape and mutilation of an East Harlem nun, despite the fact that they're not part of the departmental task force that's been organized to crack the high-profile crime. Duke and Dietl's edge is that the La Cassas-good Italian Catholics that they all are-have put the word out on the street that they're offering a reward for information about the crime, and pass the info along to Dietl, which just makes for more trouble with the FBI. The best thing about One Tough Cop is that it's not one long series of gunfights and carefully choreographed car chases: It's a throwback to character-driven 1970s-era crime thrillers, and if it's not Dog Day Afternoon-one of the high points in Bregman's producing career-it's also no Lethal Weapon 4. The supporting cast is crammed with familiar character actors' faces, and Penn and Baldwin nail Duke and Dietl without even appearing to try. Gina Gershon, who's been handed the unenviable role of the girl-specifically, Richie La Cassa's mistress, with whom Dietl has an ill-advised affair that strains his friendship with Richie to the breaking point-fares less well, but you can't really blame her: She's given nothing much to do except knock back neat scotches and twist her generous lips into a knowing smile. Amy Irving, Barreto's wife and the star of his 1996 Carried Away, is all but unrecognizable in the role of Agent Devlin, a foul-mouthed harridan.

--Maitland McDonagh