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'Dark Blue'

L.A. streets fester in 'Dark Blue'

Friday, February 21, 2003

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

Everybody knows the good-cop, bad-cop routine. But what happens when you get bad-cop, worse-cop?

 
 
'Dark Blue'

RATING: R for strong language, violence and sexuality.

STARRING: Kurt Russell, Brendan Gleeson, Scott Speedman, Ving Rhames

DIRECTOR: Ron Shelton

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You get shades of "Dark Blue," as murky as the air over Los Angeles -- and its mean streets below -- during the tense days of the Rodney King trial.

Kurt Russell and Scott Speedman are the veteran and rookie LAPD detectives, respectively, whose first item of business is to survive an inquiry into the fatal shooting of a suspect they apprehended. Was it "in policy" or "out"? The deck is happily stacked in their favor, and nobody's paying much attention to such a minor matter anyway. All eyes are focused on the forthcoming King verdict, which could turn the town upside down.

All eyes except those of Ving Rhames, that is. He's the highest-ranking African-American officer on the force, and his eyes are focused on the festering internal corruption he perceives.

But nobody likes Ving. Everybody likes Kurt, for his rough chutzpah, and Brendan, for his GQ good looks. And when they go to work beating information out of the street folks on a quadruple-murder-robbery, it's all in a brutal day's work -- until the brutality leads to internecine complexities in higher places.

Director Ron Shelton handles the suspense carefully and the action compellingly, as we might expect from a former basketball and minor-league baseball player with "Bull Durham" (the best film of 1988!) and "White Men Can't Jump" (1992) to his credit.

The casting is interesting: Never before, in my memory, has Russell played such a totally odious antagonist. "And you wonder why I drink?" asks his wife, under her alcoholic breath, in the film's only laugh line. But for that matter, virtually all the cops and robbers in this picture drink constantly: It's all-booze, all-the-time law enforcement.

Russell plays his role, if anything, a little too well for the credibility of the ending. Speedman and Michael Michele make for a nice enough (if irrelevant) romantic interest. Brendan Gleeson is an appropriately slimy chief, while Rhames turns in a thanklessly stolid performance as the hero (of sorts).

Small consolation that the overwhelming depiction of blacks as thugs, pimps, killers, rioters and looters is "balanced" by the equal (or worse) evil-doin' whites. "The truth is a defense," a cinematic lawyer could argue, and the story is arguably derived from actual events.

But it's a seriously depressing collection of rascals we have to work with here --and I'm not sure they, or we, are redeemed by the "courtroom"-style grand finale that is intended to make the apocalypse come out all right.


Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

Correction/Clarification (Published Feb. 22, 2003): The names of the actors who played two of the characters in the movie "Dark Blue" were transposed in this review of the film in Feb. 21, 2003 editions. Scott Speedman was the rookie detective. Brendan Gleeson played his chief.

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