- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

"Training Day" proves an elaborately punishing and demoralizing day on the job for Ethan Hawke, cast as a rookie narcotics detective named Jake Hoyt. The tenacious Jake is obliged to survive a whirlwind of last-ditch criminal activity engineered by his would-be mentor, Denzel Washington as a veteran and terminally corrupt Los Angeles cop named Alonzo Harris, revealed to be a loose cannon whose fiefdom is in jeopardy.
As a practical matter, Alonzo needs to implicate and exploit Jake on this particular day like he needs a hole in the head. Given the bulging and perilous nature of his own agenda, it would make more sense if Detective Harris left the newcomer on the sideline.
Of course, Jake is drawn into Alonzo's machinations because he's our surrogate. On one hand, we're encouraged to admire Mr. Washington's gusto in embracing a flamboyantly reprehensible characterization.
The star hams it up as boisterously as James Cagney playing Cody Jarrett in "White Heat" or Lee J. Cobb playing Johnny Friendly in "On the Waterfront." It seems unlikely that Mr. Washington will ever impersonate a more overheated hot dog.
Given the current mood of the country, he may have reason to regret that Alonzo appealed to him as much as he did. You can't help preferring the decent lawman he played in "The Siege," confronting a terrorist crisis not unlike the one that has become real since Sept. 11.
On the other hand, we're encouraged to cling to Mr. Hawke as the overwhelmed and modest good guy, placed in compromising positions that seem inescapable. All too obviously, they prove escapable only because writer David Ayer and director Antoine Fuqua elect to cheat. Straining coincidence and credulity at certain junctures, they allow Jake to slip out of apparently ironclad deathtraps.
Their method of tying knots and then loosening them recalls the prankishness of John Huston upon departing for World War II service and leaving Humphrey Bogart's character in a seemingly helpless fix in the thriller "Across the Pacific."
The director who finished the show, Vincent Sherman, was obliged to engineer an escape, which was bound to look impossible.
In a similar respect, you wonder what Jake will have to say to his bewildered superiors on the day after training day. Even "I quit" would involve a lot of weary and disgraceful explaining.
The movie remains intriguing and compelling while we're being introduced to the principal characters, duly noting the contrasts between young idealist and middle-aged sociopath. Just as Alonzo feels a grudging respect for Jake when he insists on confronting a pair of muggers, Alonzo's professional cynicism has its appealing and defensible side until his corruption acquires a lunatic magnitude.
The downhill plunge begins with a sequence in which Alonzo, for no discernible reason, robs a woman in a black residential neighborhood after flashing a false warrant, a menu from a Chinese restaurant.
Presumably, the victim is a prostitute; Alonzo himself seems to be a familiar intruder to her.
However, the intrusion leads to a getaway gunfight with armed homeboys that leaves Alonzo's car riddled with bullets and conceivably might end the day prematurely.
In retrospect, having soured on the movie's ultimate destination and rhetorical excess, one rather wishes it had ended prematurely.
"Training Day" only transpires when filmmakers decide to shoot the works and end up with a picture that suffers from multiple self-inflicted wounds.

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