- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

"Blood Work" takes quite a bit longer to trivialize and disgrace itself than the last Clint Eastwood crime yarn, "True Crime." The new title, derived from a novel by Michael Connelly, who seems to have been working away prolifically for several years without a nibble from the movie companies, also provides some straightforward incentive to spectators who might want to outsmart the plot: The medical need to match blood types is meant to be a pivotal clue to the mystery.

Now 72, Mr. Eastwood is willing to add infirmity and vulnerability to his resume as a tenacious crime-buster. Cast as a lone-wolf yet celebrated FBI profiler named Terry McCaleb, the star enters a grisly murder scene in Los Angeles where the killer seems to be cultivating a rivalry: He has scrawled McCaleb's name, followed by a puzzling sequence of numbers, in blood on the wall of a room.

Upon exiting, McCaleb spots the culprit, or a lower-half fragment of him, clad in blood-spattered sneakers, at the edge of a gathering crowd. The hero gives chase for several blocks, curiously unsupported by other minions of the law, notably an ethnic, permanently resentful, homicide cop played by Paul Rodriguez.

McCaleb's grit is demonstrated when he gets off five shots at the fugitive despite collapsing with a heart attack. The continuity jumps two years, and we learn that McCaleb has survived a heart transplant operation six months earlier. His case is in the stern hands of Anjelica Huston.

McCaleb's well-merited retirement is interrupted when he is contacted by the sister of his heart donor, a murder victim. Suddenly placed under a sense of profound obligation, McCaleb begins snooping around and eventually discovers that the elusive menace of the prologue is still at large and still keen on targeting him for cat-and-mouse games.

The initial advantages of establishing the sleuth as an over-the-hill and physically weakened specimen begin to shift in the direction of expedient absurdities when a romance ensues between hero and the donor's sister, Wanda DeJesus as a rather ominous presence called Graciella Rivers, who claims to be caring for an orphaned nephew, Raymond (Mason Lucero). The youngster, suspiciously untroubled, acts immune to sorrow or trauma.

There's a grotesquely laughable seduction-night episode in which Raymond and auntie stay overnight at McCaleb's Long Beach houseboat in order to facilitate hanky-panky. In what I believe is a career first, Mr. Eastwood is observed tentatively stroking his own bare chest before Miss DeJesus sneaks up on him and takes a more forceful approach to foreplay.

Jeff Daniels gets a disarming role as McCaleb's layabout neighbor, Buddy Noone. Ultimately, the movie probably makes more sense as a Jeff Daniels cult classic than a Clint Eastwood standard.

The plot unravels harmfully once it becomes apparent that the elusive killer must have been as busy as an eight-armed paper hanger in order to stage-manage all the deaths and interventions necessary to get McCaleb into harness again. It's difficult to decide who is cultivating the unhealthier obsession with this particular relic, the lurking villain or the lurking heroine. It would seem much more convenient for both of them to move on and select younger objects of harassment.

The McCaleb-Graciella matchup seems especially puzzling when one contemplates the presence of Tina Lifford as a police officer named Jaye Winston, who seems to have had something more in common with the hero than a caseload when they were younger and friskier. She appears a more appropriate source of consolation and consultation in all discernible respects even more so after she and McCaleb get to fire several rounds at the villain, detected tailing them at the scene of one of his crimes.

The shooting scenes remain Mr. Eastwood's best rhetorical moments. For the remainder of his career there may be a special thrill attached to the spectacle of Clint Eastwood defying such obstacles as heart attacks and prolonged recoveries from surgery when the opportunity to bag a bad guy arises. Daunting work, but if Hollywood has so much difficulty replenishing itself that someone in his 70s needs to keep faking the strenuous stuff, Mr. Eastwood might as well be conceded the franchise.


*1/2

TITLE: "Blood Work"

RATING: R (Sustained morbid elements; occasional graphic violence, profanity and sexual candor)

CREDITS: Directed by Clint Eastwood. Screenplay by Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by Michael Connelly.

RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes

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