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'Hollywood Homicide'

'Hollywood Homicide' too fast, too furious

Friday, June 13, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Who could disagree with "Hollywood Homicide" director Ron Shelton when he ascribes a certain absurdity to Los Angeles? He finds that quality attractive.

 
 
'Hollywood Homicide'

RATING: PG-13 for violence, sexual situations and language.

STARRING: Harrison Ford, Josh Hartnett.

DIRECTOR: Ron Shelton.

   
 

That's where some of us part company with him.

No one enjoys a city's quirks more than the people who live there. But in most cases, outsiders can remain happily oblivious of those quirks if they so choose. That's not the case with L.A., which produces most of our movies and television.

Like it or not, the media concentration in the nation's second-largest city forces us to pay attention to a lot of things we'd rather ignore -- like live telecasts of police chases, gaudiness on an immense scale, obsession with the rich and famous (especially when they behave badly), the inability of a city based on make-believe to take itself seriously.

Shelton calls his movie an irreverent homage to tinsel town. I call "Hollywood Homicide" a series of inside jokes that starts promisingly but degenerates into a series of interminable chase scenes that become increasingly chaotic and violent, especially for a movie that views itself in part as a comedy.

The entire movie proceeds with a kind of dizzying quality, with the characters or their vehicles moving at high speed or the film busily cutting between scenes and moods much like one of the lead characters, Joe Gavilan (Harrison Ford), a cop who moonlights in real estate and negotiates on his cell phone while chasing a suspect.

Gavilan falls asleep in his easy chair after work, owes more money than he makes, can't sell a house that has become his personal albatross and sounds fed up with everything. Ford makes him seem as worn out as a movie cliche -- like, say, the veteran cop teamed with an unseasoned young partner.

That would be K.C. Calden (Josh Hartnett), who confides in Gavilan early on that he's not sure he wants to stay in police work. What he really wants to do is act -- he's rented a theater and invited entertainment moguls to see him play Stanley Kowalski. He's also into New Age stuff, meditating to find his center and teaching yoga to shapely young women.

In most movies, these guys would be bickering constantly and loudly with each other, like the "Lethal Weapon" or "Bad Boys" partners. One of the things I like best about "Hollywood Homicide" is that Ford and Hartnett underplay the roles, expressing their frustrations quietly or working them out over a beer.

The screenplay, by Shelton and former Hollywood division cop Robert Souza (it's based on his recollections of the job), also allows them to be competent. They are investigating the shooting deaths of a rap group at a Hollywood club. Gavilan is a Motown kind of guy, but he knows how to detect bullsmoke. Calden notices the little things that help connect the dots in a very complicated case.

The movie withstands all the side action that is going on -- Gavilan's real-estate dealings and his romance with a radio psychic (Lena Olin), Calden's acting jones and his yoga school, an Internal Affairs investigation run by a cop (Bruce Greenwood) with a longstanding grudge against Gavilan.

It all collapses under the barrage of physical action that makes up the last half-hour or so of the movie. One comical chase scene has Calden on foot and Gavilan in a car chasing a suspect back and forth across the canals of the L.A. suburb of Venice. It's merely prelude, however, to simultaneous chases that set the two cops separately in pursuit of the main perpetrators.

It starts with a high-speed chase that draws news helicopters like bees to honey. Then we get Joe on foot pursuing a younger man with whom he trades gunshots on crowded Hollywood streets. This is the second movie in a month (the other is "The Italian Job") to feature a chase through the Hollywood-and-Highland complex adjacent to Oscar's Kodak Theater, right down to the subway level and back. Of course they have to crash through the cement in which some star is about to put his handprints at Graumann's Chinese Theater, and of course unofficial Hollywood mayor Johnny Grant has to get his cameo.

Throw in the shooting of the rap group, the gunfire on the streets, the car chases and the ultimate fight between Gavilan and his prey on the roof of a tall building and "Hollywood Homicide" doesn't seem quite so funny or so driven by the characters. It's just driven -- right over the top.


Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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