**/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras B-
starring Kurt Russell, Scott Speedman, Ving Rhames, Brendan Gleeson
screenplay by David Ayer
directed by Ron Shelton
by Walter Chaw Lost in the familiarity of critics calling films combinations of two similar films is the truism that, in all likelihood, these films were pitched exactly the same way to stuffed wallets lacking in much imagination. In this spirit, Dark Blue is Training Day meets L.A. Confidential--to that end, Training Day scribe David Ayer wrote the screenplay from a story by James Ellroy, author of L.A. Confidential the novel. In other words, Dark Blue is a chimera composed of the worst parts of a pair of better films--a green rookie/corrupt grizzled vet police thriller set in Los Angeles (Training Day) that, banking on the borrowed gravity of historical events to lend itself a measure of importance, features an evil Irish mentor/supercop responsible for the picture's central crime (L.A. Confidential) and a tired storyline riddled with exhausted characters (a showboat role, a thankless role) and racial conveniences. It's by now fair to wonder if director Ron Shelton will make another Blaze, let alone another Bull Durham.
Sgt. Eldon Perry Jr. (Kurt Russell) is a scenery-chewing big-grinner good ol' boy given the keys to the proverbial kingdom: leather-lined inner sanctums redolent with cigar smoke, racially-flavoured profanity, and the stench of good whiskey. All kinetic charisma and jittery flamboyance, Sgt. Perry is paired with rookie Bobby (Scott Speedman, outmatched in an Ethan Hawke sort of way) on the eve of Perry's promotion to lieutenant and the eruption of violence in a post-Rodney King L.A.. Deputy Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames) suspects Eldon and his superior, Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson), of being crooked and, in one of uncountable contrived monologues (his to a Baptist congregation), pledges himself to unearthing corruption and becoming the first African-American police chief of Los Angeles.
When violence does erupt in the riotous response to King's assailants' acquittal, Dark Blue takes on the apocalyptic feel to which it aspires for the previous 110 minutes; until such time, it's a sometimes-painful look at what happens to a very fine actor when he's forced to work contrary to his best instincts. Russell is workmanlike with Ayer's awkward pronouncements ("Like a bullet, you can't call it back") but genuinely shines in both scenes with his wife (Lolita Davidovich), which convey Perry's sneaky complexity: ferocious sexual jealousy splitting time with a scary fatalism. Long underrated as an actor of presence, Russell's work in Dark Blue represents a great missed opportunity: a performance aspiring for otherness forced back into the warmed-over incestual soup of Oscar aspirants that came before. Going for Ellroy's patented L.A. Noir, the picture by the end more resembles the slickified, message-laden shoot-'em-up of any episode of "Miami Vice".
For all its frustrating shortcomings, Dark Blue only really loses forward velocity (and tries patience) during its podium-aided finale, suggesting that there's not so much separation after all from this kind of testosterone-fuelled cock opera and the typical Sandra Bullock romantic comedy. (The variety of beleaguered bullshit where all can be made right with a public humiliation and an inappropriate speech delivered to a puzzled audience.) Its racial parsing verging on the ridiculous (white cops=bad, black cops=good, Asians=inscrutable) and its showstoppers timed with metronomic cynicism, the picture, for all its furrowed brow intentions, is weightless--Serpico-lite with a raised-eyebrow chaser and enough disturbing violence and ugly-speak to browbeat hapless audiences into, ideally, a fawning appreciation of Dark Blue's alleged gutsiness. Truth of it is, Dark Blue is an overly familiar ditty plucked along a tired string: less L.A. Confidential than The Big Nowhere, the tune sounds familiar, but I don't remember it sounding so thin the first time around. Originally published: February 21, 2003.
by Bill Chambers MGM presents Dark Blue on disc in a Special Edition that maybe doesn't live up to the banner. The DVD-18 flipper contains 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and full-frame transfers of Dark Blue on opposite sides; the image is of inconsistent quality, burdened with grain that translates poorly to TV, but when Dark Blue looks good here, it looks very, very good. As the film was shot in Super35, the widescreen version reveals more horizontal screen info and vice-versa. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, and the surround channels are lively with Terence Blanchard's score. Dialogue can't seem to compete with music and effects at the start of the picture but increases in volume thereafter, while gunshots and percussive instrumentation flex the subwoofer. A sports fanatic, director Ron Shelton contributes an appropriately play-by-play commentary track that increases viewer awareness of the measures that were taken to ensure Dark Blue's all-around authenticity; I'm uncomfortable with the amount of fabricated Rodney King footage in Dark Blue but there's no denying the success of the illusion.
Three featurettes, the "MGM Means Great Movies" promo reel, and trailers for Dark Blue, Platoon, Rocky, and Die Another Day round out the disc. In "Code Blue" (18 mins.), Shelton says the film's original title (courtesy James Ellroy), The Plague Season, was changed because "Plague" anything isn't marketable, but I'm not convinced: The Plague Season sounds a whole lot more appealing to my ears than Dark Blue. Producer Caldecot "Cotty" Chubb has loving words for every cast member and Shelton makes a memorable statement about locker-room ethics as applied to law enforcement, but the politics of shooting on L.A. gang turf were covered better within Training Day's DVD supplementals. "By the Book" (7 mins.) is an interesting rundown of Dennis Washington's sets and Kathryn Morrison's costumes--obviously, the LAPD didn't cooperate with the filmmakers, forcing the production to mock-up police paraphernalia in Adobe Photoshop. Last but not least, "Necessary Force" (7 mins.) hears from technical supervisor Bob Souza, an expert in matters LAPD. Originally published: June 7, 2003.