Sunday, March 14, 2010


This uninspired police procedural comedy of errors from "Clerks" director Kevin Smith and TV scribes Robb & Mark Cullen teams action icon Bruce Willis up with "30 Rock" comic Tracy Morgan as two N.Y.P.D. homicide detectives who tangle with a gang of trigger-happy Hispanic drug dealers. Smith's previous comedies were coarse, loquacious, low-budget efforts about losers on the fringes of society. As classic as "Clerks," "Dogma," "Chasing Amy," and "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" are, these imaginative but niche comedies never scored big bucks at the box office, so Smith decided to helm a formulaic genre piece that he knew his father would appreciate. Interestingly enough, Smith didn't pen the screenplay as he usually does, but the film bears visages of his irreverent humor. "Cop Out" (** OUT OF ****) qualifies as a predictable mainstream law & order thriller that delivers fewer thrills than it does gags. The marginal humor is at times crude, especially an interrogation room scene, but you won't find yourself laughing out loud at some of the jokes that Smith's usual characters, Jay and Silent Bob, would crack or pranks that they would perform for their gross-out hilarity. Half-comic and half-dramatic, this 107-minute, R-rated feature lacks memorable characters in memorable predicaments. Reportedly, "Cop Out" is a homage to 1980s' cop movies with the stereotypically intolerant captain who complains to his overzealous underlings about their questionable actions. Another allusion to 1980s cop movies is the charismatic but hardly classic Harold Faltermeyer synthesized score that the composer of "Top Gun" and "Beverly Hills Cop" came out of retirement to contribute to this undistinguished opus.

Detective Jimmy Monroe (Bruce Willis of "Die Hard") and Detective Paul Hodges (Tray Morgan of "The Longest Yard") have been partners for nine years. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine who would tolerate an idiot like Paul. During the questioning of a suspect at the outset, Paul enters the interrogation room and tries to masquerade as a crazed gunman. A peanut gallery of spectators on the other side of the interrogation room window chuckle as Paul struggles to get the suspect to open up. Jimmy shakes his head incredulously as Paul quotes movie dialogue in his tough guy act to loosen the suspect's tongue. Surprisingly, Paul's lunatic performance succeeds, and the suspect spills the beans about Latin drug dealers. Our heroes stake-out the suspect's cell phone store. Unfortunately, not only does the Latino ice the suspect with a submachine gun, but also he eludes our heroes so that they look like amateurs. Predictably, Captain Romans (Sean Cullen of "Cop Land") chews them out because they lost the suspect and shot-up the neighborhood. Moreover, Romans suspends both Jimmy and Paul, because their slipshod antics fouled up two of their fellow detectives, Hunsaker (Kevin Pollak of "Deterrence") and Barry Mangold (Adam Brody of "Jennifer's Body"), who were investigating the Hispanics.

Captain Romans' suspension could not have come at a worse time for our protagonist. Jimmy learns that his daughter, Ava (Michelle Trachtenberg of "17 Again"), wants a dream wedding and her stepfather Roy (Jason Lee of "Dogma") wants to foot the $48-thousand dollar wedding if Jimmy cannot pay for it. Jimmy insists on paying for it. He decides to sell a collectible baseball card of National League player Andy Pafko that is worth of bundle. Jimmy takes the baseball card to a dealer, but he loses it when a light-on-his-feet thief, Dave (Seann William Scott of "Role Models"), knocks Jimmy down with a tazer during a daylight robbery and pinches the card. Ironically, Paul is standing out front the entire time jabbering on his cell phone with his wife without the slightest idea what is happening inside the store.

Meanwhile, an ambitious Spanish drug dealer decides to take over some new territory. The baseball card thief sells Jimmy's card to this murderous Mexican (Guillermo Diaz of "The Virgin of Juarez") who is obsessed with baseball memorabilia. Poh-Boy--as he is called--has a BMW that thieves have stolen out from under the noses of his henchmen. Poh-Boy agrees to fork over the baseball card if Jimmy and Paul can get his car back. Several people get shot along the way, but Smith doesn't wallow in blood & gore the way a real 1980s movie would have. Indeed, "Cop Out" is no white-knuckled, "Lethal Weapon" type, high-octane cop saga. Kevin Pollak and Adam Brody are okay as the second-string pair of sartorial cops that shadow our heroes. The only decent gag that Smith handles with finesse concerns Paul's jealous behavior about his gorgeous wife. Paul suspects that his sexy spouse, Debbie (Rashida Jones of "I Love You, Man") is having an affair with a hot young stud next door so he puts a teddy bear with a nanny cam in their bedroom to monitor her.

Basically, Willis and Morgan kindle little chemistry with their sophomoric shenanigans. They walk through this lackluster shoot'em up with Willis as the gruff, seasoned partner who doesn't need a moron like Paul. Paul cannot say homage right and Smith milks this joke far beyond its use. The death of Poh-Boy detracts from his overall villainous stature because our heroes eliminate him with far too much ease. The plot really gets wacky when Jimmy bails out Dave, the baseball card thief, and sends him into Poh-Boy's house to recover his card. The usually agile thief slips and knocks himself out cold, so cold in fact that our heroes believe that he is dead. This set-up provides the best joke that Smith plays out during the end credits. "Cop Out" conjures up forgettable characters, forgettable situations, and consistently forgettable gags.


"Cat People" (**** OUT OF ****) qualifies as a subtle, suspenseful, 73-minute, black & white, B-picture horror movie from RKO Pictures about a delectable young thing who cannot consummate her marriage because she fears that she will change into a deadly panther and tear her husband to shreds. Russian-born producer Val Lewton, who had once served as a story editor to producer David O. Selznick, advocated the power of suggestion to forge genuine horror in the hearts of an audience. Lewton shunned the standard approach by depicting outright horror as Universal Studios did with their "Dracula," "Wolfman," and Frankenstein" franchises. When "Cat People" was made, the Production Code Administration censored movies and chief censor Joseph I. Breen worried about the implications of this sinister tale of terror. Indeed, you never see anybody get clawed and Irena (French actress Simone Simon) never actually turns into a cat. By comparison, Nastassia Kinski went through a transformation in the 1982 color remake. Nevertheless, it is the ambiguity and the power of suggestion that makes this movie a masterpiece of understatement. The themes of light/good and darkness/evil permeate this yarn as well as the women versus women permeate this impeccable nail-biter.

Director Jacques Tourneur creates a spooky sense of atmosphere and freshman scenarist DeWitt Bodeen pile up ideas that brood just beneath the surface in this memorable fright flick. Simone Simon is perfectly cast as the tender young girl who draws fashion pictures and worries about her village in faraway Serbia. The stories that she tells Oliver about King John of Serbia and the witches foreshadow her own demise. Indeed, she has a statue of the regal witch-hunter in her apartment with a cat impaled on a spear. This hearkens back to the first scene when she throws away a sketch of a panther impaled on a sword. She meets a nice, clean-cut young draftsman, Oliver Reed (Kent Smith of "Hitler's Children") at the local zoo one day while she is sketching pictures of the caged panther and Oliver helps Irena dispose of her crumpled up drawings. He accompanies Irena back to her brownstone apartment and they begin a brief courtship that end with them getting married. This is where trouble enters paradise.

During her wedding party, Irena is approached by a strange woman in a black cat suit who addresses her in her native tongue as her sister. Later that evening, Irena cannot bring herself to have sex with her husband because of her intense fears about her past and what she might do. Patient, understanding Oliver recommends that Irena see a shrink, Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway of "The People Vs. Dr. Kildare"), so she can come to terms with her anxieties about marriage. Dr. Judd is literally a wolf in sheep's wool and Conway turns in a brilliant but slimy performance and pays with his life for his perfidy. She never kisses Oliver and they never sleep together. Struggling to deal with her own fears, Irena turns on Oliver's office buddy, Alice Moore (Jane Randolph) who has a thing for him, but she only wants to help Irena and Oliver. Irena doesn't like what Alice is doing and one night some strange things happen. "Cat People" is a classic, far better than its graphic remake with its mind-blowing special effects. Nicholas Musuraca's black & white photography is fantastic. No, "Cat People" won't give you nightmares, but it is an effective chiller with two incredible scenes, both between the opposing women. The first scene occurs at night while they are walking down a dimly-lighted city sidewalk and a bus appears. Later, Irena follows Alice home to the latter's apartment and stalks her in the swimming pool. The swimming pool is cloaked in eerie shadows so that we cannot see Irena or the panther into which she has transformed herself. Afterward, Alice finds her clothing clawed.

"Cat People" contains many inventive touches, such as Irena parading around in a fur coat, particularly when she visits the panther at the zoo. There is another brief scene when Tourneur frames Irena in a shot with tiger lilies. Bodeem's screenplay contains many wonderfully clever lines.


Warner Brothers tampered considerably with American history in "Big Trail" director Raoul Walsh's first-rate western "They Died with Their Boots On," (**** OUT OF ****)a somewhat inaccurate but wholly exhilarating biography of cavalry officer George Armstrong Custer. The film chronicles Custer from the moment that he arrives at West Point Academy until the Indians massacre him at the Little Big Horn. This is one of Errol Flynn's signature roles and one of Raoul Walsh's greatest epics. Walsh and Flynn teamed in quite often afterward, and "They Died with Their Boots On" reunited Olivia de Havilland as Flynn's romantic interest for the last time. They appeared as a couple in seven previous films. This 140-minute, black & white oater is nothing short of brilliant with dynamic action sequences, humorous romantic scenes, and stern dramatic confrontations between our hero and his adversaries. One of the notorious errors involves Colonel Philip Sheridan who is shown as the commandant at West Point before the Civil War. Indeed, Sheridan was a lieutenant at this point. In fact, the commandant was Robert E. Lee as the earlier Flynn film "Santa Fe Trail" showed. Another historical lapse concerns Lieutenant General Whitfield Scott; Scott was not the commander of Union troops throughout the Civil War. Warner Brothers presented Custer as a drinker (probably because Flynn had a reputation for drinking), but in real life Custer neither drank nor smoked. Nevertheless, these as well as other historical goofs do not detract from a truly splendid film.

"They Died with Their Boots On" opens with Custer riding into West Point Military Academy arrayed in a fancy dress uniform with an African-American carrying his luggage and tending his dogs. After the sergeant of the guard realizes that he has turned out a honor guard for a future plebe instead of a high-ranking foreign general, the sergeant turns Custer over to a ranking cadet Ned Sharp (Arthur Kennedy of "City for Conquest") to take charge of him. Sharp plays a practical job on Custer by installing him in the quarters of Major Romulus Taipe (Stanley Ridges of "Task Force") who promptly runs Custer out. Naturally, the volatile Custer attacks Sharp in a public brawl. General Phil Sheridan (John Litel of "The Sons of Katie Elder") is prepared to dismiss Custer from West Point for conduct unbecoming. As it turns out, Sheridan cannot expel Custer because Custer has not enrolled. Once he enrolls, Custer establishes a mediocre academic reputation with alacrity to fight and accumulate demerits galore. When the American Civil War erupts, West Point graduates cadets who have not completed their education and rushes them into combat. One of the last cadets hustled off to war is Custer. Avid as he is to get into the fight, Custer encounters his future wife, Elizabeth 'Libby' Bacon (Olivia de Havilland of "Santa Fe Trail"), and they pledge themselves to each other, despite Mr. Bacon (Gene Lockhart of "Carousel") who detests the sight of Custer. It seems that Bacon ran across Custer at a saloon and insulted one of Custer's friends and our hero reprimanded Bacon.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Custer desperately seeks a transfer to a regiment, but Major Taipe has him cooling his heels. Custer befriends rotund Lieutenant General Winfield Scott (Sidney Greenstreet of "The Maltese Falcon") and they share an appetite for creamed Bermuda onions that becomes one of Custer's characteristics. Not only does Scott see to it that Taipe assigns Custer to the Second Cavalry, but also Custer appropriates Taipe's horse to get to his command. During the Battle of Bull Run, 21 July 1861, Custer disobeys orders from none other than Sharp, strikes his superior officer and holds a bridge so the infantry can cross it. Wounded in the shoulder and sent to the hospital, Custer receives a medal rather than a court-martial. When Confederate General Jeb Stuart threatens the Union Army at the Battle of Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, Scott is shocked by the chance that the South may triumph. When a brigadier general cannot be found, Scott goads Taipe into promoting the first available officer. A mistake is made and Custer is promoted. Incredulous at first, Custer embraces the moment and cracks Stuart's advance. After the war, Custer idles down and starts boozing it up with the boys at the local saloons. Sharp shows up as a crooked railroad promoter and with his father they try to enlist Custer to serve as the president of their railway so that they can obtain funds. Eventually, Libby intercedes on his behalf with General Sheridan, who was in command of the army, and gets him back on active duty as the commander of the 7th Cavalry. When he takes command, Custer finds the 7th cavalry a drunken lot and is not surprised that Sharp commands the liquor at the fort. Meanwhile, Custer has his first run in with Crazy Horse (Anthony Quinn of "The Guns of Navarone") and takes him into custody. Of course, Crazy Horse escapes, becomes Custer's adversary, and they fight.

Once Custer has quelled Crazy Horse and the Indians, Sharp with Taipe as a government agent conspire to destroy a peace treaty with the Sioux and other Indian nations. They also see to it that Custer is brought up on charges for striking Taipe in a saloon brawl. On his way to Washington, Custer discovers the perfidy of Sharp and Taipe who have drummed up a gold strike in the sacred Black Hills. Settlers rampage in and the Indians hit the warpath. Custer sacrifices himself and his 600 men at the Little Big Horn in a slam-bang showdown against six-thousand redskins. "Stagecoach" lenser Bert Glennon captures both the grit and the glory. The long shot of the 7th Cavalry leaving the fort at dawn is spectacular. As an added premonition of Custer's imminent demise, Libby faints after he leaves their quarters for the Little Big Horn. "They Died with Their Boots On" benefits from a top-notch Max Steiner score that incorporates the regimental tune "Gary Owen."


Terence Hill had been acting in movies for almost twenty years before he took the lead in "Unholy Four" director Enzo Barboni's "They Call Me Trinity" (1971) with his favorite co-star Bud Spencer. Initially, Hill made his cinematic debut in 1951 as a child actor in director Dino Risi's "Vacation with a Gangster" under his real name Mario Girotti. Later, Girotti would appear in co-directors Gillo Pontecorvo & Maleno Malenotti's "The Wild Blue Road" (1957), and director Luchino Visconti's "The Leopard" (1963). When Franco Nero became popular, Nero's popularity was so vast that he couldn't appear in every Italian film so the Roman film industry found suitable substitutes, among them Maurizio Merli and Terence Hill. Hill starred in several Spaghetti westerns, including a Nero-esquire oater, director Ferdinando Baldi's "Viva Django!" (1968) as well as in the Giuseppe Colizzi trilogy, "God Forgives, But I Don't" (1967), "Ace High" (1968), and "Boot Hill" (1969), where he met Bud Spencer.

Although it did not qualify as the first Spaghetti western parody, "They Call Me Trinity" (**** OUT OF ****) cemented Hill's claim to fame and he became famous in his own right. Italian film comics Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia had starred in parody picture "Two R-R-Ringos from Texas" as early as 1967. Meantime, this landmark, low-brow western slapstick shoot'em up roughly imitates the same trail as George Stevens' "Shane" with Alan Ladd and John Sturges' "The Magnificent Seven." Not only did "They Call Me Trinity" turn Terence Hill into an international superstar, but also Bud Spencer and he wound up co-starring in 18 films. They met on Colizzi's "God Forgives, But I Don't" when Hill replaced actor Pietro Martellanza after the latter broke his leg and found himself acting with Spencer. Ironically, cinematographer-turned-director Enzo Barboni is reported to have persuaded Sergio Leone to watch "Yojimbo" because it would make a great western. Barboni lensed his share of Spaghetti westerns, including "The 5-Man Army," "The Hellbenders," "A Long Ride from Hell," and "Viva Django!"

Although it is not the first Spaghetti spoof, "They Call Me Trinity" ranks as one of the top five Italian western comedies, bracketed by its side-splitting sequel "Trinity Is Still My Name" and director Tonino Valerii's "My Name Is Nobody." Unfortunately, Barboni never delivered a third "Trinity," but he did make an inferior spin-off western "Trinity & Bambino: The Legend Lives On." Incidentally, do not be fooled into believing that director Mario Camus' "Trinity Sees Red" is a "Trinity" sequel because it is not. Furthermore, Terence Hill does not play Trinity. Presumably, the distributors were banking on Hill's identity as Trinity to see the film. Terence Hill displayed a knack of comedy so that he could move from a dramatic role to a comedic one. Trinity's first appearance makes it clear he is not a hero in the western tradition of John Wayne riding tall in the saddle. Instead, Trinity sprawls out comfortably on a travois, dragged by his faithful horse that attracts his attention when have reach a stopping point like the Chaparral Stage Coach Station.

Covered from head to toe in dust, Trinity (Terence Hill) fetches his horse some hay and enters the station. The owner gives him a plate of beans. Two bounty hunters with a Mexican in their custody watch in fascination as Trinity polishes off his beans. As he leaves, Trinity takes the poor Mexican with him to the surprise of the bounty hunters. As he strolls out the door with his back to the bounty hunters, they try to bushwhack him. Trinity casually plugs both of them without a backward glance. He just keeps on traipsing along with the little Hispanic to his horse. This scene depicts Trinity's incredible marksmanship. Later, we discover that he can slap a man faster than the other man can draw his own six-gun. The long funny scene when Trinity appropriates the huge pan of beans and wolfs them down with a slab of bread is an amusing gastronomic gag. Thereafter, eating beans became a trademark for both Trinity and Hill. Altogether, Hill is just plain, downright affable as the protagonist who you cannot help but like because he radiates some much charisma.

In the next scene, Trinity rides into town where his half-brother Bambino (Bud Spencer) is masquerading as the town sheriff. Bambino is known as 'the left hand of the devil' and he guns down three tough-talking gunslingers when they challenge his authority. As it turns out, Bambino escaped from prison, shot a man following him, learned the wounded man was a sheriff and then took his job. Bambino is waiting for his fellow horse rustling thieves, Weasel (Ezio Marano of "Beast with a Gun") and Timmy (Luciano Rossi of "Deaf Smith & Johnny Ears") to arrive so they can head for California. Major Harriman (a mustached Farley Granger of "The Man Called Noon" doing faux Southern accent) is trying to run a community of Mormons out of a scenic valley where he would rather see his horses grazing. "Either you leave this valley, old man, or I'll bury you in it," Harriman assures Brother Tobias (Dan Sturkie of "Man of the East"), the leader of the Mormons. Eventually, Harriman teams up with an evil Mexican bandit, Mezcal (Remo Capitani of "The Grand Duel"), and his army of horse thieves. Of course, Trinity and Bambino thwart the Major and the Mexicans and save the Mormons from sure suicide.

The slapping scene in the saloon between Trinity and the Major's hired gunmen is hilarious. Bambino and Trinity get along for the most part, but Bambino has little respect for his half-brother's apparent lack of ambition. Nevertheless, the comedy emerges from their clash of personalities. "They Call Me Trinity" relies on broad humor, some shooting, and a lot of fist-fighting, but this western is neither violent nor bloody. The opening theme song provides a thumbnail sketch of Trinity and it hearkens back to similar theme songs in American westerns made in the 1950s.


Bartender turned director Troy Duffy’s contemporary action melodrama “The Boondocks Saints” (**** OUT OF ****) bears all the influences of Quentin Tarantino with its ultra-violent shoot-outs, use of profanity, over-the-top situations, fractured time lines and gallery of memorable characters. Two multi-lingual Irish lads from South Boston awaken one day after they hear the Lord tell them to hit the vigilante trail. Actually, despite its far-fetched storyline, “The Boondocks Saints” spouts the message that evil flourishes only when good men look the other way. Duffy hammers this theme home in an early scene when the minister recaps the real-life tragedy of Kitty Genovese. In 1964, Genovese was raped and murdered near her home while thirteen eyewitnesses cowered in either fear or indifference to her plight back and did not intervene. Consequently, “The Boondocks Saints” advocates vigilantism. Unfortunately, whatever credibility that Duffy generates for his message is obliterated by those kinetically staged gunfights, rampant profanity, and the melodramatic plot twists.

Basically, “The Boondocks Saints” is a beer & pizza saga that shows some tolerance for homosexuality because one of its chief characters—an erudite FBI agent—is gay but not gay is an over-the-top way. Sadly, this independently produced actioneer got lost in the politics of its day. According to Duffy, the Columbine massacre prompted the distributers to curb release of the film because of its violent fare. The heroes—who perform primarily good deeds—dress in black like the Columbine gunmen and wipe out Russian mobsters galore. Nevertheless, this ranks as first-rate entertainment if you enjoy gritty gunplay, provocative characters, and some surreal staging. People who love cats may not enjoy “The Boondocks Saints” because a cat is accidentally shot and splattered like a tomato against a wall Of course, the actual cat was never harmed, but some cat lovers cannot differentiate between reality and illusion so this film may leave a dire taste in their mouths.

The Cold War has concluded and Russian criminals have migrated to America and the Russian syndicate is buying up property in Boston, much to the chagrin of some leaseholders, like poor old Doc (Gerard Parkes of “Short Circuit 2”) a barkeeper afflicted with Tourette's syndrome who runs McGinty’s Bar. The patrons are celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day when three imposing big bruisers, among them Ivan Checkov (Scott Griffith), walk in to lay down the law and encounter the McManus twins, Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery of “The Suicide Kings” ) and Murphy (Norman Reedus of “Deuces Wild”), who precipitate a barroom brawl with them. They tied the biggest Russian to the bar and set his butt on fire. The next day two of the Russians, including burnt butt, barge into their apartment. They handcuff Connor to a toilet and threaten to kill Murphy. Connor rips out the toilet—possible but not likely—and goes to the roof and drops it on the biggest Russian and saves his brother from certain death. FBI Special Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe of “Platoon”) launches an investigation because he is part of the Organized Crime Task Force. Smecker hooks himself up to his portable CD player, pops on his disposable gloves, and analyzes the crime scene to the strains of classic composer Puccini’s operatic La bohème. Although the chronology of the scene is fractured like a Tarantino bloodbath, Duffy appears to invoke the kind of cross-cutting that worked so well for Hong Kong director John Woo so that we get to see both the crime and the analysis of the crime. Later, when Smecker presents the details of the crime to his colleagues, he is in the same shot with our heroes when they perform their community service.

Our heroes give themselves up and Smecker lets them go and informs the Boston press that they killed the Russians in self-defense. Later, our heroes hear voices and believe that the Lord wants them to destroy evil men. The MacManus brothers receive help from one of their loony friends, David Della 'Roc (David Della 'Roc’ of “Jake’s Corner”), who serves as an errand boy of sorts for the Boston mob. He provides our heroes with all the information that they need to start wiping out mobsters with extreme prejudice. Roc is the crazy one of the bunch and he lacks the focus of the MacManus twins. Meanwhile, Smecker investigates each convoluted crime scene and shows the Boston Police, particularly the three detectives on the case, Dolly (David Ferry), Duffy (Brian Mahoney) and Greenly (Bob Marley), why he is such a genius. By now, our heroes have become ‘saints’ in the newspapers, and they obtain a cache of silenced automatic pistols with which to carry out their work. When they ice top-level hoods, Connor and Murphy utter a prayer while they have their victim on his knees and shoot him through the back of the head so that their bullets exit through the eye sockets. Afterward, they place pennies on the dead man’s eyes. Each execution gets wilder and crazier until the mobsters catch up with them. Meanwhile, Smecker has so underestimated the MacManus brothers that he never imagines what they have been doing until Roc loses a finger during a shoot-out and he connects them with Roc. By this time, the mob has declared war on them.

“The Boondocks Saints” is for action-oriented film fans who know they are only watching a movie. Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus are perfectly cast as brothers and they kindle a lot of charisma as vigilantes in the tradition of Charles Bronson from the “Death Wish” movies. Make no mistake, however, Willem Dafoe and David Della 'Roc’ steal the show. Close behind them in his peripheral role is Gerard Parkes who has only a couple of scenes, but he is unforgettable, especially with his use of the F-bomb and the A-word followed in rapid succession. Mind you, “The Boondocks Saints” is not remotely believable, but it is a terrific, entertaining, action-packed opus with colorful character, blue dialogue, and Duffy’s imaginative staging.


“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.