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DARK BLUE

Getting Along

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As bad as we know things are in the L.A.P.D., let's hope Ron Shelton makes things appear way worse in Dark Blue, which takes place in 1992 as a jury deliberates the fate of four cops in the beating of Rodney King, and which climaxes on the riotous day when the four are found not guilty.

Although not too much distinguishes Dark Blue from a very special episode of The Shield, it's still about as B+ as a Hollywood B-movie drama can get. And by having its fictional story of police corruption unravel during this particular moment in history, its thriller elements don't seem quite as far-fetched.

The latent hero of Dark Blue is Eldon Perry (Kurt Russell), a detective who solves crimes for an elite unit of a corrupt and racist Los Angeles police force. He's a third-generation cop, and his fawn-like young partner Bobby (Scott Speedman) is at least second-generation. That means they all know the drill: You shoot suspects first and don't ask questions later. In fact, when we meet Bobby, he's reciting his testimony to a hearing board that's investigating his newly broken cherry. We're not surprised when the board declares it to have been a righteous kill.

That is, four of its five members do. The fifth board member, Deputy Chief Holland (Ving Rhames), is black, honest and suspicious. He also has an offer to leave L.A. and become chief in Cleveland. If he goes, that'll leave things to police commander Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson), a fat, unctuous bastard with elephant ears and a Pacific Ocean of blood on his hands. He's behind a robbery and quadruple murder at a convenience store with a loaded back-room safe. Two of his homeboy snitches -- one black, one white -- did the job on his order.

Shelton (Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump) owes a lot in Dark Blue to his shaggy, strapping, reliable star, who's so charmingly good at this kind of swaggering bravado that it almost seems like skin. Gleeson makes a fine secret Satan, and the enigmatically likable Rhames says a few more words than usual. Speedman, a precariously placid actor, has winsome gaps in his teeth and chin that make him look like the perfect sacrificial lamb to the corrupt machismo of his mentors. The women in the story seem largely incidental -- a typically ineffective Michael Michele plays Sgt. Good Cop -- although screenwriter David Ayer writes one strong dialogue between Eldon and his wife (Lolita Davidovich) that works because the actors give it cred by keeping it real.

The last 15 minutes of Dark Blue take place in an apocalyptic South Central, where Eldon chases the criminals as embittered people loot and burn their neighborhood and stomp the life out of anyone who drives by. It's ugly to watch, and not a flattering portrait of a group for whom Dark Blue obviously has sympathy. But in the shadow of the corruption we've just seen, it's easier to understand why nothing matters when you know you'll just get blamed for it anyway. * * 1/2

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