Sunday, March 14, 2010


“Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua’s new bullet-riddled NYPD thriller “Brooklyn’s Finest” (** OUT OF ****) suffers from too much irony. Three seasoned New York City policemen struggle against forces beyond their control to ensure their survival, promote the prosperity of their family, or live by code of loyalty. Indeed, this gritty urban shoot’em up, starring Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle and Wesley Snipes, recycles the usual inventory of clichés about the boys-in-blue both on and off the beat. The origins of multi-storied police procedurals like “Brooklyn’s Finest” can be traced to either those post-Watergate, Joseph Wambaugh-inspired law and order street epics, such as director Richard Fleischer’s “The New Centurions” (1972) and director Robert Aldritch’s “The Choirboys” (1977) or director Sidney Lumet’s police yarns, including “The Anderson Tapes” (1970), “Serpico” (1973), and “Prince of the City” (1981) Predictable, disillusioning, even humorless, this Overture Films release manages to surpass earlier convoluted cop dramas such as “Pride & Glory” (2008) with William Norton and “We Own the Night” (2007) with Mark Wahlberg. Not only do the protagonists in “Brooklyn’s Finest” radiate minimal charisma, but also the cops in supporting roles appear nothing less than incompetent. One guns down a fellow cop by mistake. A rookie cop dies in the line-of-duty and other rookie botches an arrest and kills an African-American youth. While he musters enough momentum to keep this 125 minute cops versus drug dealers saga crackling along at a brisk clip, Fuqua cannot compensate for “Sleeper Cell” scenarist Michael C. Martin’s lackluster narrative that delivers virtually no surprises. Mind you, there are a couple of jolts that will catch you off guard, but good as they are they do not salvage this film. Worse, parts of “Brooklyn’s Finest” emerge as incoherent, and Fuqua never gives us a chance to warm up to the characters. This is not the kind of cop movie that lures in recruits. Technically, this proficiently produced chronicle about crime busters in the Big Apple paints law enforcement in ignoble colors.

“Brooklyn’s Finest” chronicles the lives of three NYPD cops. The action opens with Sal (Ethan Hawke of “Training Day”) chatting one evening with a criminal, Carlo (Vincent D'Onofrio of “Full Metal Jacket”), in a sedan near a cemetery. We learn Sal is an overworked, underpaid tactical narcotics cop with a growing Catholic family. Not only does he have three children, but also his asthmatic wife, Angela (Lili Taylor of “High Fidelity”), who is suffering from wood mold, is pregnant with twins. Worse, Sal’s house is too small for his brood and he is struggling on a cop’s salary to make ends meet. Of course, the ends don’t meet for Sal and he turns to crime. He kills gangsters for their illicit money and he ponders taking money from drug busts, but his misguided, well-intentioned partner tries to get him not to. Sal is desperately trying to come up with enough cash to get his family into a bigger house. White-haired Eddie (Richard Gere of “Internal Affairs”) awakens in bed alone at the start of a new day and practices suicide by jamming his service revolver into his mouth. He is seven days away from retirement and universally reviled by members of his own department because he has descended into the depths of alcoholism. Eddie does his best to keep out of action. He has been beating the mean streets of Brooklyn so long that he has lost his desire to be a cop. He finds himself stuck with mentoring rookie cops and he cannot stand their enthusiasm or their inexperience. Finally, Tango (Don Cheadle of “Traitor”) is an undercover narcotics officer who is separated from his wife. Tango has been undercover so long that he is beginning to think like a mobster. He pleads with his liaison, Lt. Bill Hobarts (Will Patton of “The Fourth Kind”), to take him off the streets. In fact, Tango served a stretch in prison as an undercover cop and bonded with a big-time gangster Caz (Wesley Snipes of “Blade: Trinity”) with whom he sympathizes because the gangster has been given so many wrong deals. The upper echelon want to arrest Caz and send him back to jail and they call on Tango to inform on the man who saved his life while in prison. Tango refuses to help them, especially a tough-as-nail female cop, Agent Smith (Ellen Barkin of “Ocean's Thirteen”), who is prepared to exhaust every possibility to put Caz back behind bars and perhaps even worse.

Director Antoine Fuqua and scenarist Michael C. Martin carefully build the pressure with which these cops have to contend. Ironically, these guys run into each other occasionally during the action, but they are not acquainted with each other in any way. For example, Eddie and a rookie cop are entering a store when Tango emerges. They nudge each other and you can see Tango’s hackles rise. Tango is so messed up that he contemplates killing a couple of New Jersey State Troopers in one scene. Eddie struggles with the two rookie cops that he trains to stay calm under pressure, but they cannot control themselves. Like Tango, Sal has gone too far and searches for opportunities to take advantage of drug dealers, gun them down, and appropriate their cash, but he never seems to be able to acquire enough cash to buy his dream house. Unfortunately, when the pressure cooker of tension explodes in the last quarter hour, audiences get no relief and little closure from the outcome. Fuqua and Martin spent more time moralizing about the fate of these three than entertaining us with snappy action scenes. Ironically, everything works out, like the initial dialogue between Carlo and Sal about the warped way that wrongs making rights and rights making wrongs. What little closure “Brooklyn’s Finest” provides at fade-out is not enough to make you feel good. Instead, this handsomely produced, atmospheric, well-acted cop drama brings you down more often than it gives you a boost.

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