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Hollywood Homicide

Copper-toned

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Ron Shelton's Hollywood Homicide is about as breezy a comedy about the murderous underbelly of show biz as you could imagine. The writer and director offers up a pair of mismatched (aren't they always?) cops investigating a hit on a rap group. But these are no ordinary detectives: Joe Gavilan (Harrison Ford) can fly, and K.C. Calden (Josh Hartnett) reads minds like an open book.

Actually, that's untrue; I briefly confused Hollywood Homicide with The Matrix Reloaded and X2. In fact Shelton's heroes are refreshingly down-to-earth and human-sized, foible-ridden and full of doubts and quirks. The grumpy veteran Gavilan has left behind three wives, and is desperately trying to stave off financial ruin by supplementing his salary with real-estate sales. Meanwhile, Calden isn't even sure he wants to be a cop anymore. Off duty he teaches yoga -- he believes in its spiritual trappings -- but what he really wants is to trade in his badge for an actor's life on stage and screen.

Shelton, the man behind Bull Durham and White Men Can't Jump, specializes in humorous studies of male relationships, and he's pretty smooth about it. His dialogue is literate and effortlessly natural-sounding, and unlike most directors of American comedy these days he's content to let scenes play out at their own pace, rather than as though he's desperate for a laugh track to come save him. When Calden sits down to interview habitues of a recording studio, the humor relaxedly unwinds as each reveals his show-biz aspirations. There are also some unobtrusive poetic touches, like the mansion-like house Gavilan can't afford and doesn't need but won't sell because it represents some more hopeful former self.

And -- oh yeah, did you forget there was a crime? Shelton doesn't, not quite, even though the victims are killed in the first scene and remain all but anonymous. But that's Shelton's point: In the busy, dizzy land of Southern California, it's a challenge to stay focused on anything, even a triple murder followed by a hit on the two hit men.

The film's anchor, however, is also its main weakness: Shelton so lovingly details his two heroes' outside lives (Gavilan's especially) that you never much care about the case they're on. He actually jokes about this in the film's absurdly long and involved climactic chase, when Gavilan pauses in pursuit of malefactors to take cell-phone calls about his big real-estate deal. And speaking of jokes: Hollywood Homicide contains three facetious references to police brutality, all suggesting its unlikelihood, which seems rather odd from a filmmaker whose previous feature, Dark Blue, was a serious look at police corruption revolving around the Rodney King beating.

Still, Hollywood Homicide is generally agreeable if you don't mind the casting. Ford's limited and by now very familiar repertoire of facial expressions (four to six, depending on who's counting), and Hartnett's Keanu Reeves-like superficiality, while not exactly off-putting, keeps us at arms' length from characters Shelton clearly wants us to embrace.

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