I wanted to like this more than I did. Some of it's fantastic - great actors, memorable scenes. It has a unique mood. I would loved to read Walter Hill's original draft. Robert Culp tries some interesting things.
But it's a mess. I know it was the 70s, but still... I found it hard to follow. Scenes just sort of start and stop, and action overlaps, and the drama doesn't build. It felt Robert Altman-y at times. Sometimes this works - such as when Bill Cosby is scolded by the mum of his dead wife. Other times its just alienating. I was confused about a lot of stuff - the point of Culp's ex, whether Culp was gay, why they were hired in the first place, why they stayed on the case (I think I was told it just didn't register). It's frustrating we never find out about what happened to the mob boss (Cosby didn't want revenge on him?).
There's a lot of repetition. Culp and Cosby are always lighting a cigarette and/or putting one out and/or drinking. There are several scenes of them explaining themselves to exasperated cops, and of Cosby's ex being exasperated with them, and of them drinking, and of them shooting and missing (they are terrible shots... while it's more realistic I never realised how frustrating this is to see in on film). There's several action set pieces at a sporting location.
Our heroes actually aren't bad detectives when it comes to finding stuff out (mostly in stuff that happens off screen which is reported on screen). But they are bad shots, make a lot of mistakes, are always playing catch up to others (in fairness the audience is only ahead of them because we see it... wouldn't have been a problem if everything was from our point of view).
It's got to be said though that Culp and Cosby are superb. Cosby completely has the chops to play a tough, hard bitten PI. Culp is also strong. The support cast is divine - Vincent Gardenia pops up as a cop as does James Woods and Ed Lautner; there's a trio of very scary hitman villains and another trio of mob bosses (including Michael Moriarty).
Everything feels grimy and smoggy with glary LA sun. It's actually quite an accurate visual representation of the city - houses on clifftops, that literally might fall off; dingy strip clubs and bars, smog-filled highways.
And there are some dynamic moments - the shock of the death of Cosby's wife, the death of the courier and his wife (him telling her and presumably explaining what's going on), the action sequence where the "torpedoes" first run into Hickey and Boggs.
It is an interesting movie. It's got a growing cult, in part one suspects because it is (a) neglected an original release (b) violent (c) misogynist.