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(2003) (Kurt Russell, Scott Speedman) (R)

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Drama: A young detective sees how prevalent and deep the corruption is within the Los Angeles police department as the city awaits the results of the Rodney King beating trial.
It's March 1991 and the city of Los Angeles is awaiting the results of the Rodney King beating trial. Sgt. Eldon Perry (KURT RUSSELL) of the SIS division of the L.A.P.D isn't one of them. A hard-nosed cop who comes from a long line of officers, Perry can't believe his colleagues are on trial.

He has other pressing matters, however, in the form of an unhappy wife, Sally (LOLITA DAVIDOVICH) as well as his green partner, Detective Bobby Keough (SCOTT SPEEDMAN), being investigated for the fatal shooting of a suspect.

Due to the good old boy network with the department - that includes Bobby's uncle, Jack Van Meter (BRENDAN GLEESON) - Bobby gets off, much to the chagrin of black Assistant Chief Arthur Holland (VING RHAMES) who sees the racism and can smell the corruption, but can't prove it. His assistant, Beth Williamson (MICHAEL MICHELE), wants to assist him, but is likewise limited in what she can do.

Things get more complicated when Eldon and Bobby are assigned to investigate a convenience store murder spree committed by thugs Orchard (KURUPT) and Sidwell (DASH MIHOK). Little do the cops realize that the murderers were working for a corrupt superior who's now asked them to frame the acts on other known criminals who fit the profile. As various other revelations occur, and the outcome of the beating trial is revealed, it's only a matter of time before the city and its police department erupt.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
When it comes to serial novels, recurring TV shows and movie sequels, it's certainly not uncommon for an installment's subject matter to be quite similar to that which preceded it. That provides a sense of continuity and most readers or viewers readily accept that. If the characters aren't recurring, however, the same doesn't hold true for unrelated movies. That's particularly true when different movies share rather similar stories or, worse yet, the same writer or writers.

That's the case with "Dark Blue," the latest cop drama to deal with corruption and rogue cops who play by their own rules, only to have another cop ultimately topple their regime. If that sounds like "L.A. Confidential" or "Training Day" it should since James Elroy wrote the stories for "LAC" and this film, while David Ayer ("The Fast and the Furious," "U-571") penned the screenplays for "TD" and this effort.

While those sorts of characters and the subject matter certainly aren't new to the cinema, the fact that this effort so closely follows on the heels of the quite similar "Training Day" is likely to elicit the "been there, seen that last year" reaction from many viewers. To make matters worse, the film isn't as good as either of those earlier efforts, although it does have its moments where it clicks.

The rogue cop played by Kurt Russell ("Vanilla Sky," "Soldier") will obviously be compared to the similar one embodied by Denzel Washington in "Training Day." Both are unorthodox, break the laws they supposedly enforce, and don't try to cover up any of that. They're also partnered with green cops -- Scott Speedman ("Duets," TV's "Felicity") inheriting the role from Ethan Hawke - whose eyes are widened by what occurs.

The engaging element of "Training Day," however, was having the rookie and thus the viewer repeatedly questioning whether the veteran was truly the way he appeared, or was just hazing his partner. Here, there's no doubt that the character is a racist, corrupt and rogue cop.

Although Russell fills him with palpable amounts of venom, anger and prejudice, there's no gray or nebulous quality to him. Accordingly, he doesn't intrigue the viewer. Instead, we simply await his inevitable comeuppance (since no one that bad manages to get away with it, at least not in a major Hollywood production). Ayer and director Ron Shelton ("Play It To The Bone," "Tin Cup") try to circumvent some of the standoffishness by making others worse than him (so that he's somewhat redeemed by his later activities), but the die is already cast.

The filmmakers do take an interesting approach by using the Rodney King beating trial as the temporal and thematic backdrop for the plot. Since all of that involved charges of police brutality and corruption, as well as the volatile powder keg that awaited the verdict, it certainly fits the story, particularly from a symbolic standpoint. Yet, something about it simply didn't work for me like I felt it should. Perhaps it was a bit too forced in terms of mirroring and buttressing the main plot.

For those hoping for something as complex or multi-layered as "L.A. Confidential," they're apt to be disappointed. While there are various storylines and subplots - including unhappy wives, murderous thugs, and affairs, etc. - few of them sizzle like they should. They do connect, however, to the main plotline in a decent enough manner, even if some of them and the accompanying dialogue are a bit contrived, unbelievable and/or melodramatic.

Beyond Russell - who's actually rather good despite the limitations of his character - Speedman credibly plays his rookie partner. Ving Rhames ("Undisputed," "Baby Boy") gets a more volcanic role, but is limited by a lack of enough screen time, while Michael Michele ("How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," "Ali") appears as his assistant who conveniently just so happens to be dating the rookie cop.

Brendan Gleeson ("Gangs of New York," "Harrison's Flowers") plays the head corrupt cop, Kurupt ("Half Past Dead") and Dash Mihok ("The Guru," "The Perfect Storm") do the criminal thug bit, and Lolita Davidovich ("Play It To The Bone," "Mystery, Alaska") embodies the stereotypical unhappy wife character. While most of them and others are decent, their characters simply don't get enough screen time and/or aren't fleshed out enough to make them as effective as they need to be.

While Shelton delivers some decent action sequences, other parts of the film are unbelievable (from both a plot and character standpoint), unpleasant or simply too overwrought. In the end, one is likely to feel that the film either needed to be longer to give all of its various elements and players time to work, or streamlined to cut away what amounts to unnecessary fat. Decent, but not as complex as its writers' earlier works, "Dark Blue" has its moments, but also too many nagging problems that undermine the effort. The film rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed February 5, 2003 / Posted February 21, 2003

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