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Dark Blue
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by Jack Sommersby

"Cliche-Ridden Crime Drama Wastes a Marvelous Russell"
2 stars

Despite another standout performance by Kurt Russell, this is familiar and uninteresting stuff.

Kurt Russell's galvanizing performance as a corrupt Los Angeles policeman is the only reason to get involved in the substandard crime drama Dark Blue. It's based on a short story by best-selling author James Ellroy, whose novel L.A. Confidential served as the basis for the extraordinary, Oscar-winning 1997 film. Unfortunately, the screenwriter who did the adaptation is David Ayres, who was responsible for the insidiously phony Training Day, and the director is Ron Shelton, the talented filmmaker who gave us the brilliant Bull Durham and whose first non-sports film this is since his failed biopic Blaze fourteen years ago. Not surprisingly, both Ayres and Shelton fail to deliver: Ayres, with his affectation for cliche and limited dramatic arcs; and Shelton, whose forte for character-driven fare doesn't mesh too well with his attempt to give the story here a taut narrative. The film is both episodic and lumbering, as if every plot turn came out of a can and wasn't organic enough to build anything upon; instead of developing the story, the filmmakers go the TV route of building every scene to have some kind of payoff, even if it's entirely inappropriate and off-tone with the moments preceding it. For instance, when Russell's Eldon Perry goes on a tirade in his office in lecturing his young partner, Bobby Keough (a mediocre Scott Speedman), about "honor" among one's fellow officers, it comes completely out of nowhere, and Russell (one of our most truthful and soulful of actors) is temporarily left with movie on his face. In between moments like this, the film serves up a number of whopping coincidences that are only the least bit plausible in Movieland, like when Keough's bedmate turns out to be a direct subordinate to a high-echelon officer who's determined to debadge both he and Perry. It's that kind of film.

Dark Blue wants to be about a lot of things, but it can't keep its mind on any one thing too long, and in gliding over rather than delving into such matters as race relations and police corruption it leaves a repugnant air of opportunism -- you feel its exploiting just to grab and hold your attention. The film is set in 1992, the year after the Rodney King beating and a few days before the Simi Valley jury acquits the officers involved in it, and tensions throughout the Los Angeles area are percolating. Perry, an all-out bigot, and his equally bigoted commanding officer, Jack Van Meter (a frightening Brendan Gleeson), have just celebrated a police-review board's decision not to suspend Perry and Keough over a fatal shooting. It's immediately revealed to the audience that the shooting was unjust -- Perry gunned down an innocent man whom his rookie partner refused to heinously shoot as part of his initiation -- and that the review board, composed of cops, is a jerk-off. However, the ranking chief, Arthur Holland (a stoic Ving Rhames), an African-American who despises Perry and his racially checkered history, determines to get at the truth before transferring to a higher-ranking job in Cleveland. In addition, there's a subplot involving Perry and Keough investigating a convenience story robbery where two gunmen killed five customers and the owner before making off with the safe. What kills the interest here is it's revealed too early on that the thieves were carrying out the orders of Van Meter, who's gotten rich off of using paroled felons to steal for him. Perry also has a dissatisfied wife, Sally (a solid Lolita Davidovich -- the director's off-screen wife, by the way), who wants a better life for her and their son. Their scenes are just tired and come off as mere filler material to pad out its 118-minute running time.

Dark Blue lacks atmosphere and tension, and also a sense of purpose. What the filmmakers present us with here are conventional story developments we've long grown accustomed to, and you start questioning if what's being served up is to be taken straight-on or if they're serving as mere taking-off points to lend gravitas to some interesting psychological revelations to be revealed later on, the kind that made the antagonistic relationship between Richard Gere and Andy Garcia so fascinating in the outstanding Internal Affairs. Alas, nothing particularly interesting comes of anything in Dark Blue. Complex situations are resolved conveniently, internal conflicts straighten themselves out right on schedule, and it's all carried out with a solemn air of seriousness that makes everyone involved in the film come off as more than a bit dim. If it's not bad enough that the graphically depicted L.A. riot scene is thrown in for the sole purpose of providing a plot ploy so the two thieves Perry is pursuing can be slowed down long enough for him to catch up to their car, the filmmakers follow this up with a simply shameless scene at the end where a grief-stricken Perry "comes clean" about his and Van Meter's wrongdoings at a ceremony in front of the department's upper echelon. Why this ceremony is taking place while the riots are going on is anyone's guess, but it is easy to guess its possible inspiration: Nick Nolte had a similar coming-clean scene at the end of William Friedkin's basketball drama Blue Chips, which Shelton wrote the screenplay for. Dark Blue isn't negligible because it's cliched, but because the cliches have been relied upon to totally carry the show, and Shelton isn't the kind of kinetic director who can propel through familiar scenes with narrative drive. It's a square film by a square-minded director who likely had a lot more fun making it than the audience certainly will watching it.

Even through all this, however, there's Kurt Russell giving the film more class than it's even remotely worthy of. Russell's vivid, and he has the unusual ability to engage an audience and make identifiable his characters' emotional plights. His acting tends to get underpraised because, like Jeff Bridges, he doesn't allow you to see him "acting", just behaving plausibly, so you accept whatever he does on-screen just as you would the time from a passing stranger or a gust of wind on a March day. (If Oscar voters had had their thinking caps on in the '80s, they would have nominated him for his remarkable performances as the sleazy salesman in Used Cars and the cynical ex-football jock in The Best of Times.) Here, he manages to take what's really a composite of a character and fleshes it out beautifully; he manages to get away with banal dialogue most actors would choke on; and he brings more immediacy to the story than the filmmakers know what to do with. His Eldon Perry is not only a man of numerous faults, but a man who's all too aware of his faults as faults; it's his acceptance of himself as a weak, disgusting human being that makes him interesting. He isn't righteous toward anything in particular, and Russell does a masterful job of portraying someone who's without any hope for redemption yet finds the determination to go on living, even it's in a nondescript, pleasureless life. There's a stunning moment when Perry, upon leaving the house after being told by his wife that she's leaving him, simply says "Goodbye" and walks out the door. Instead of shamelessly milking this for pathos, Russell eases his way into that one word with a hollowed-out delivery that suggests what a life of corruption can do to one's soul. He's terrific. Dark Blue, regrettably, is anything but.

Check out 1990's "Internal Affairs" instead.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7056&reviewer=327
originally posted: 03/31/03 20:54:39
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User Comments

9/12/17 morris campbell GOOD BAD COP FLICK 4 stars
9/29/05 R.W.Welch Gritty cop flick holds you most of the way but suffers from hammy finale. 3 stars
8/12/05 ES Starts with an incredibly disturbing scene, I really wanted those thug bastards dead 4 stars
3/21/05 indrid cold Definitely not fantastic, but still a nice juicy drama very similar to Training Day. 3 stars
9/26/04 Archanist_101 I agree with 'malcolm'... It's a MILLION times better than "Hollywood Homicide"!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 stars
5/11/04 Denise Duspiva Russell is good 3 stars
5/05/04 J.Peckerfoot Nice to see Russell in a different kind of role,shame about the story. 3 stars
4/25/04 Denise Duspiva Russell was good 4 stars
4/22/04 y2mckay Decent TRAINING DAY clone, Kurt gives great performance (but not quite a Denzel) 4 stars
3/01/04 gradstudent Actors did well with underdeveloped characters and script. 3 stars
11/29/03 larry Kurt russel sucks 1 stars
10/29/03 Jinnvisible Kurt Russel, still a contender for the classic veteran actor league comeback ala S. Connery 4 stars
7/19/03 Daddy Plaid Can't we all just get along? I especially enjoyed it since it was free. 4 stars
7/12/03 malcolm 1000 times better than 'Hollywood Homicide' 4 stars
3/27/03 Allison Lafferty Takes forever to get going; remains more disturbing than enlightening. 2 stars
3/16/03 Cameron Slick Kurt Russell gives a good performance. 4 stars
3/01/03 Jack Sommersby Russell's galvanizing performance is only merit in overly familiar crime drama. 2 stars
2/27/03 meathole editor should be shot, Russell given a small pat on the back, Speedman incinerated 4 stars
2/25/03 Poetchuck Well done 4 stars
2/23/03 Kyle Not a disappointment, considering how shitty I expected it to be. 3 stars
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  21-Feb-2003 (R)


  07-Aug-2003 (MA)

Directed by
  Ron Shelton

Written by
  David Ayer

  Kurt Russell
  Ving Rhames
  Scott Speedman
  Brendan Gleeson
  Michael Michele

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