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The cop formula as before


Although probably best known for a series of gritty, authentic sports flicks often laced with considerable quantities of irony and humor --- White Men Can't Jump, Bull Durham, Tin Cup, Cobb, Play It to the Bone --- Ron Shelton has also worked in some of the popular action genres. Most recently, in fact, he directed Dark Blue, a violent cop movie starring Kurt Russell, which fared poorly with both reviewers and audiences. His latest film, Hollywood Homicide, strangely, is another cop movie, and perhaps more strangely, resembles the previous work, occasionally substituting some comical actions and characters for the blood and brutality of its predecessor.

            In Hollywood Homicide all the tired ingredients of what has become an entirely too familiar formula combine, resulting in a picture that seems almost completely secondhand in every way. The movie features the usual odd couple of cops, one the grizzled veteran, the other a handsome, idealistic youngster. Harrison Ford plays Joe Gavilan, survivor of a dozen shootouts and a couple of marriages, who has moonlighted in a number of assorted jobs and currently sells real estate on the side. Josh Hartnett plays K.C. Calden, who teaches Yoga on his time off and dreams of leaving the force for the equally difficult and perhaps even bloodier profession of acting.

            Along with the hackneyed situation, the script adds a few more complications borrowed from a dozen other films, including Shelton's own Dark Blue. Throughout the movie, Gavilan contends with an investigation conducted by a relentless Internal Affairs officer with a grudge against him. Through propinquity and his own family history, his partner also becomes a target. The difficult professional problems naturally impede their own pursuit of a dangerous and puzzling case, the killing of a rap group in a Hollywood HipHop nightclub.

            Even with the constant problems of the internal affairs surveillance and harassment, along with the detectives' picturesque personal lives, the central investigation barely sustains the plot. The picture must continually alternate and occasionally combine its comic moments with its more serious business, then introduce additional material to flesh out its slender, fragile skeleton. Gavilan, for example, spends much of his time and energy attempting to close a couple of real-estate deals, including the sale of a movie producer's palatial digs to a rap musician, while his artsy partner engages the attentions of a succession of beautiful women who admire his Yoga "centering" and apparently appreciate his skills at Tantric sex.

            Other odd and generally irrelevant stuff clogs up the plot, including Gavilan's relationship with a radio psychic named Ruby (Lena Olin), the former girlfriend of his tormentor in Internal Affairs, and his employment of a Hollywood madam (Lolita Davidovich) as an informant. For some inexplicable reason, Lou Diamond Phillips turns up for a few minutes as an undercover cop impersonating a streetwalker. His brief, meaningless appearance suggests some ingredient that never developed in what amounts to a very messy pudding of a movie.

            Hollywood Homicide, unsurprisingly, also features in its climactic sequence the now obligatory cop-flick automobile chase through crowded city streets. The chase naturally includes several different vehicles, a number of crashes, the exchange of numerous bullets, and a conclusion that solves most of the detectives' (if not the movie's) problems. Since the motion picture industry has established Hollywood as America's dream capital, a city in which all of us dwell and certainly pay taxes, the landmarks that the cars whiz by recall hundreds, perhaps even thousands of other movies, so it seems perfectly normal that the chase should end near Graumann's Chinese Theater, with a half a dozen TV news helicopters hovering in the air, underlining the location of the title.

            Harrison Ford's homely-handsome face, with its touch of puzzled goofiness, assists him as much in comedy as in his more violent and virile action roles. Further, he generally moves with the absolute ease and confidence that marks the established American male film star. If not their equal, he can at least rank somewhere in the league of such unaffected, easygoing actors as Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper. In contrast, Josh Hartnett seems rather weak and pretty and, though younger and taller than Ford, possesses a good deal less appeal and casts a much smaller shadow.

            The tediously repetitive and ultimately silly plot otherwise overwhelms just about everybody and everything else in the movie, which exhibits a generally spectacular lack of imagination throughout. Ron Shelton has displayed considerable talent in the past, but his last two movies, cop flicks both, suggest a resigned dependence on tired formulas. Perhaps he ought to return to the locker room and the playing field, arenas where his skill and experience shine and the conflicts and characters make their own clear, strong sense.

Hollywood Homicide, starring Harrison Ford, Josh Hartnett, Lena Olin, Bruce Greenwood, Isaiah Washington, Lolita Davidovich, Martin Landau, Keith David, Dwight Yoakam, Master P., Gladys Knight, Lou Diamond Phillips, Meredith Scott Lynn; written by Robert Souza and Ron Shelton; directed by Ron Shelton. Cinemark Tinseltown; Hoyts Greece Ridge; Loews Webster; Pittsford Plaza Cinema; Regal Culver Ridge; Regal Eastview; Regal Henrietta.