Dark Blue Movie Review

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"Dark Blue" is a movie that asks you to believe that during the worst hours of the riots following the Rodney King beating verdict, the brass of the Los Angeles Police Department -- and a gallery full of reporters -- would have nothing better to do than hold a speech-intensive promotion ceremony for a handful of detectives.

It's a police corruption drama in which high-ranking officers are crooked for crooked's sake and not because they have anything to gain from their vice. Its imagined grittiness is polished to a Hollywood high gloss. Its hard-edged dialogue, intended to be disturbingly frank and nonchalant about corruption and use of excessive police force, has had all its shock value re-written and over-rehearsed right out of it. And its story is stamped from a well-worn template, built around a hard-drinking rogue cop (Kurt Russell) with marital problems, a violent streak and an Academy-fresh partner (Scott Speedman) who has yet to lose his ideals on the harsh streets of South Central.

The film opens with a graphically ruthless convenience store robbery (four people are brutally murdered) that is juxtaposed, for the sake of neon-sign irony, with a police hearing at which Speedman is being let off the hook for a fatal shooting only three weeks after joining the force as Russell's partner. Following a round of drinks and pats on the back with higher-ups that include Speedman's powerful, corrupt uncle (Brendan Gleeson), the jaded veteran and his protege are assigned to investigate the robbery. More specifically they're told to pin it on two black petty criminals, even as they discover, through unlikely clues, that there was more to the crime than meets the eye.

Moral questions arise, doubts are explored and dead squealers are found in refrigerators as Russell zealously grabs the reigns of his character's cracking callousness and rides it like a bucking bronco. More suspects are shot as a matter of routine, a principled and determined Internal Affairs chief (Ving Rhames) threatens to bring Russell down -- which in turn puts the shady cop on Gleeson's hit list -- and Speedman finds himself falling for a beautiful detective (Michael Michele, "E.R.") who he later discovers works for Rhames (gasp!).

Full of such mock complexities and a one-dimensional undercurrent of strained race relations, "Dark Blue" was adapted by David Ayer, (who treated the same themes with far more nuance in 2001's "Training Day") from the book "Plague Season" by James Ellroy ("L.A. Confidential"). And even if Ayer retained any of Ellroy's stylish brusqueness in his script, it's lost in the superficial showmanship of director Ron Shelton ("Bull Durham," "Tin Cup").

When the picture isn't playing like a cliché-swamped TV-movie cop drama (a lonely, muted trumpet solo accompanies Russell's drinking scenes), it's busy telegraphing the build-up to its predictable shoot-out climax in which the only question is: Which main character will end the movie riddled with bullets as the King riots erupt around them, and which one will give a rambling, impassioned but half-crazed speech exposing Gleeson's corruption at that absurdly ill-timed promotion ceremony?

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Dark Blue Rating

" Unbearable "

Rating: R, Opened: Friday, February 11, 2003

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