[Screen It]

"BROOKLYN'S FINEST"
(2010) (Ethan Hawke, Richard Gere) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A number of cops with varying degrees of service in Brooklyn's 65th police precinct must contend with any number of personal matters and external issues as they work in a notoriously crime-ridden neighborhood.
PLOT:
In Brooklyn's 65th police precinct, a number of cops are at different stages in their careers. 22-year veteran Eddie Dugan (RICHARD GERE) is just 7 days away from retirement, but has long ago given up really caring about doing his job, and thus isn't pleased when he's assigned to mentor rookie cops such as Melvin Panton (LOGAN MARSHALL-GREEN) and then Eddie Quinlan (JESSE WILLIAMS). Needing a drink when he awakens and having suicidal thoughts, about the only thing that keeps him going is his growing fondness for hooker Chantel (SHANNON KANE) who makes him feel special, at least during their regular sessions.

Then there's Sal Procida (ETHAN HAWKE) in the narcotics division who's so desperate to obtain enough money to move his pregnant wife, Angela (LILI TAYLOR), and their five kids out of their small, mold-infested home that he's taken to robbery and murder to get his hands on the cash he needs for a down payment on a new place. Another cop in his squad, Ronny (BRIAN F. O'BYRNE), is concerned about Sal's worsening state (although he doesn't know of the homicides), but other cops in the group are more of Sal's mindset than his.

Similarly unhappy about his situation is Clarence "Tango" Butler (DON CHEADLE) who's been working undercover for years infiltrating a notorious drug operation. He wants a regular detective job, and his immediate supervisor, Lt. Bill Hobarts (WILL PATTON), tells him to be patient, but things become far more complicated when his longtime friend, Caz (WESLEY SNIPES), is released from prison. Federal Agent Smith (ELLEN BARKIN) wants Tango to bring the dealer down, but given their past and the fact that Caz saved his life in the past clouds the undercover cop's mind.

With the public in a growing anti-cop frenzy due to an officer allegedly killing an honor student during a botched robbery, the various cops go about their daily duties, unaware that their desires and lives are about to collide.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Back when I was just a wee young thing in the 1960s, Herman Munster was the only Frankenstein's monster, Gomer Pyle was the epitome of the Marines, and Pete Malloy and Jim Reed were exactly what all of us kids grew up believing police officers were and should be. Of course, as we grew older, we eventually realized such portrayals weren't always the most accurate, be that in entertainment or reality

Yet, that was a more sheltered time for kids and adults alike (at least in terms of what was shown on TV). Accordingly, while those latter characters on TV's "Adam 12" did experience some harsh and perilous realities in their fictional world, they certainly weren't one-hundred percent accurate representations of real life.

Whereas TV provided something of a security blanket, films of that era and then especially in the 1970s increasingly become ever coarser, grittier and uglier as the pendulum started to swing in the other direction. Accordingly, we saw dirty cops, incredibly troubled ones, corruption of all sorts, and basically one seedy representation after another. While that was novel for its era, the repeated use of that not only diminished the shock value of said realities, but also turned them into something of a running cliché in many a cop movie that would follow and continue that trend.

Some, of course, managed to put enough of a fresh spin or perspective on such material that it would go down easier, such as director Antoine Fuqua's "Training Day" from (gasp -- has it really been that long ago) 2001. The story of a new cop paired with a veteran who's far from squeaky clean certainly wasn't novel back then, but Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke brought terrific performances to the effort and Fuqua did a fine job of telling the familiar tale.

I'm guessing the filmmaker hopes that lightning will strike twice with Hawke in the corrupt cop genre (especially considering his follow-up efforts -- "Tears of the Sun," "King Arthur" and "Shooter" -- didn't light up the box office or Academy Awards) as they reunite for "Brooklyn's Finest." Yet, the umpteenth cop drama to be released by Hollywood, it easily could have also been titled "Cliché's Finest." And that's because it doesn't just trot out one cop movie convention, but a number of them that alternate getting the spotlight before they all collide in a decidedly unbelievable "Crash" style at the end.

To be fair, it's far from awful, the performances range from strong to decent, and -- as I'm seemingly stating ever more nowadays -- had no such film preceded it, the offering might have come across as fresh, disturbing and captivating. Alas the fairly stale and certainly recycled mediocrity likely won't cause too many viewers, let alone critics, to bat an eye at what's put up on the screen.

Hawke appears as a troubled cop who's so desperate to make ends meet and provide the best for his family -- all on an officer's meager salary -- that he resorts to breaking the law to "earn" more money. While the actor is quite believable in the role, we've seen that sort of tale countless time before. That also holds true for the cop who's so far undercover that he's also involved in or at least must put up with nasty criminal behavior without being able to do anything about it as it occurs.

The terrific Don Cheadle is also good in that role (while Will Patton does his usual shtick as his supervisor and Ellen Barkin chews up the scenery and anything else in her path -- as a Fed who wants more from the undercover cop -- and thus ends up bordering on caricature), but the surprise is Wesley Snipes. Trimmed down (physically and, one assumes, financially after running afoul of the IRS in real life), the actor -- after eliciting the "Is that really Wesley Snipes?" reaction upon first glance -- is quite good as a recently paroled drug dealer who's back in the game.

The third leg of the film deals with one of the hoariest cop clichés available to mankind -- or at least screenwriter Michael C. Martin -- and that's the officer who's on the verge of retiring and just wants to make it to that day unscathed. He's embodied here by Richard Gere who's playing the usual Richard Gere type (mostly one facial expression), and is not only saddled with the retirement cliché, but also the one where the veteran cop gets paired with an idealistic and eager rookie who has yet to have reality break him and his enthusiasm.

Whether simply coincidental or perhaps some sort of twisted homage to his part long ago in "Pretty Woman," Gere's character spends his off-time with a hooker that he's fallen for, yet another genre convention. To make matters worse, his character -- who's, natch, also suicidal and apparently alcoholic, goes through a not entirely believable third act transformation that results in him crisscrossing paths with the other characters and their storylines. Granted, they're all working for the same police department in the same Brooklyn neighborhood, but Fuqua's staging of the three intersecting (literally) at the end feels nothing more than staged.

I completely get what the filmmakers were aiming for -- showing the adverse effects of the law enforcement system on those within it who were once trying to do their best -- and appreciate the attempt for those currently operating in a profession that isn't looked upon as highly as back when we were similarly idealistic kids watching cop dramas (and comedies) on TV.

It's just too bad all of it feels completely recycled and, aside from some decent performances, is pretty much instantly forgettable due to negligible shock value and/or enough of a dramatic or emotional hook to lure us in and keep us glued to our seats, wondering what might happen to these damaged men. Mediocre as an overall experience and weighed down by one genre cliché after another, "Brooklyn's Finest" rates as just a 4.5 out of 10.




Reviewed February 17, 2010 / Posted March 5, 2010


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