- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

"Dark Blue" is ominous color-coding of Hollywood origin. In fact, the Hollywood origin may account for the movie's parochial defects. The blue symbolizes the Los Angeles Police Department, specifically the would-be elite Special Investigations Squad, which may have sheltered more than its share of bad apples.

The darkness alludes to the corrupt tendencies of its protagonist, Kurt Russell as a grandstanding SIS fixture named Eldon Perry, encountered near the end of his tenure as the favored errand boy of an even more corrupt boss. This evil influence bears the racy name Jack Van Meter and is impersonated with bullish severity by Irish transplant Brendan Gleeson.

The movie comes honestly by its hostile, unraveling pedigree. Based on a story by shock-noir novelist James Ellroy ("L.A. Confidential"), the screenplay was written by David Ayer, who emerged as a hard-bitten exhibitionist last year with "Training Day."

For his performance in that film, as another cop gone bad, Denzel Washington won the Oscar as best actor. Though Mr. Russell is kind of fun shooting off his mouth and going on rampages, his performance fails to transcend the structural sprawl and shakiness that afflict the material.

The movie begins by re-enacting portions of the notorious chase that ended in the beating of Rodney King. It's an abbreviated recap, and the rest of the movie has nothing to do with the King case per se. The time frame is roughly a year later, during a five-day countdown to the verdict that acquitted the police officers accused of assaulting King the verdict that triggered the L.A. riots.

During this period, Perry, a third-generation bad'un, loses his grip on a position of privileged corruption. He does his last dirty deeds for Van Meter, who requires nothing less than murder frame-ups. During a bombastic confession scene, which upstages the riots in the movie's scheme of things, he rats out both the grandfather and father who preceded him on the force.

Like forerunner Denzel Washington, Mr. Russell is also very hard on his young partner, Scott Speedman as hapless Bobby Keough, whose mild manner suggests a college intern surrounded by hard guys. Because Mr. Russell has alienated spouse Lolita Davidovich, Mr. Speedman gets to share the romantic subplot, a short-lived affair with "E.R." ice queen Michael Michele, cast as a cop named Beth Williamson.

You could get the impression that fraternization is wreaking havoc in the LAPD. Beth works for an upstanding police administrator, Arthur Holland, played by Ving Rhames, the righteous rival to Mr. Gleeson's loathsome Van Meter. Playing a redemptive figurehead leaves Mr. Rhames little expressive range; he is permitted only disapproving glares in the presence of lesser men, which means all the white actors in the cast.

Miss Michele adopts a similar demeanor, perhaps because Holland and Beth have been consorts in the recent past. This indiscretion proves a sore point with the impressively buxom Mrs. Holland, embodied by Khandi Alexander.

"Dark Blue" might have made sense by simply showing us more of what we ought to see to evaluate Eldon Perry as a rotter. For example, the Rodney King prologue is expendable; what might be relevant is an encounter we learn about secondhand. It seems to have landed Bobby Keough in a police hearing. Evidently, the circumstances were no credit to Bobby or Eldon, but that scene would have some direct bearing on the plot, which is far more interested in coarse and brutal sensation than dramatic priorities.


TITLE: "Dark Blue"

RATING: R (Frequent profanity, graphic violence and racial epithets; occasional sexual candor and vulgarity)

CREDITS: Directed by Ron Shelton. Screenplay by David Ayer, based on a story by James Ellroy. Cinematography by Barry Peterson. Production design by Dennis Washington. Costume design by Kathryn Morrison. Music by Terence Blanchard.

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes


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