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Film

Cop drama shoots, misses

An on-target central performance by Kurt Russell isn't enough to overcome the inadequacies of Dark Blue.

By PHILIP BOOTH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 20, 2003

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[Photo: United Artists]
Kurt Russell, left, and Ving Rhames star as a jaded detective and an ambitious deputy police chief in Dark Blue.

Dark Blue, adapted from an old screenplay by ace noir novelist James Ellroy, feels a bit borrowed, hinting at corrupt cop dramas from the recent, edgier Narc all the way back to 1973's Serpico.

The setting -- Los Angeles before and during the riots sparked by the acquittal of four police officers in the beating of Rodney King -- also feels somewhat contrived. Screenwriter David Ayer (Training Day) might just as easily have set his story in the present. The 1992 racial unrest comes off as sensationalistic background noise, a device to distract attention from the movie's deficiencies. Maybe that's a result of the rewrite: Ellroy's story originally took place during the 1965 Watts riots.

And several characters come off as less than multidimensional, notably Ving Rhames as ambitious deputy police chief Arthur Holland, prepared to declare war on high-profile colleagues to become top cop. Holland, though tarnished by a past marital infidelity, seems a little too straight-arrow perfect. Rhames (Undisputed) and the movie deserve better.

On the plus side, Kurt Russell, looking worn down and tired, turns in one of the better performances of his career as veteran sergeant Eldon Perry, a world-weary but loyal member of an elite unit headed by crooked-to-the-core Jack Van Meter. As played by Brendan Gleeson (Gangs of New York), the movie's second MVP, Van Meter is cold-blooded, utterly without remorse and prepared to do anything to maintain his position of power.

Van Meter has been running scams for years, taking bribes and in some cases sharing in the profits generated by prostitution and drugs. Lately, he has grown cozy with a pair of trigger-happy lowlifes, Darryl Orchard (rapper Kurupt) and Gary Sidwell (Dash Minok), suspected of carrying out a sloppy armed robbery and quadruple homicide.

Those killings, quick and graphic, open the movie. They are intercut with a hearing on a shooting by rookie Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman, Duets), Perry's handsome, impressionable partner. Keough, it seems, is taking the blame for his older colleague, a veteran of many "shooting board" hearings over the years. Perry has made a habit of killing suspects and asking questions later, a policy unofficially smiled on by Van Meter and his superiors.

So far, so fair. Dark Blue is weakened, though, by a pair of glaring inadequacies, including the failure of director Ron Shelton (Tin Cup, Bull Durham) and Ayer to adequately illuminate the domestic life of Perry, the film's central character. The relationship between Perry and his wife, Sally (Lolita Davidovich, Gods and Monsters), is apparently complex and troublesome, but we see only two sequences involving the two before the climactic conclusion. It's as if a larger subplot was chopped back to keep the movie under two hours.

The other, larger problem: Too much of the action hinges on coincidences. The young cop's girlfriend, Beth Williamson (Michael Michele), is the assistant to and former lover of Holland. She has been assigned by her boss to ferret out the true story behind the deadly force incident and get the badges of Keough and Perry. Those opposed to Holland's potential ascent to chief dig up old, revealing photos of Holland and Williamson.

There's more: Perry's chase of a suspect, followed by a rambling showdown with his superiors, take place right when South Central is erupting in rioting, looting and random attacks on whites. It's all too much, too late, a rush of last-minute external chaos in a story that doesn't have enough going on internally.

Dark Blue

  • Grade: C+
  • Director: Ron Shelton
  • Cast: Kurt Russell, Brendan Gleeson, Scott Speedman, Michael Michele, Lolita Davidovich, Ving Rhames, Dash Minok, Kurupt, Khandi Alexander, Master P
  • Screenplay: David Ayer, based on a story by James Ellroy
  • Rating: R; graphic violence, profanity, sexuality, nudity, mature themes
  • Running time: 118 min.

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