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No Escape From L.A.: Kurt Russell plays a cop on the edge in 'Dark Blue.'

Badge of Dishonor

Kurt Russell plays a bad lieutenant-to-be in 'Dark Blue'

By Richard von Busack

PEOPLE LOOK at the movie roles played by Ryan Gosling and Britney Spears and wonder how two former Mouseketeers could have gone so wrong. But when those two were in their playpens, Kurt Russell--well-scrubbed juvenile in such Disney caramel corn as The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes--was already beginning to slouch. Like the archetypal child actor gone bad, Russell gravitated toward jowly, whiskery, sometimes eye-patched roles in Used Cars, the delightful Hong Kong-movie satire Big Trouble in Little China and John Carpenter's Escape From series. In Dark Blue, Russell finally gets a part that broadens those New West slackers he does so well.

Russell plays Eldon Perry, a plainclothes detective with the LAPD's Special Investigation Squad--a cop with some serious bills coming due. The story takes place at the edge of a crisis: the day of the verdict in the Rodney King trial, with South Central L.A. on the verge of erupting. Based on a story by James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential), Dark Blue shows how this cocky cop ends up hiding, drunk and paranoid, in a hot-sheet motel. In a flashback, Perry and his partner Bobby (Scott Speedman) are assigned to find the killers who executed several bystanders--including an LAPD dispatcher--during a routine liquor-store holdup. Eldon and Bobby are on a goose chase, however. The real killers enjoy the protection of Jack Van Meter, the chief of SIS. The sinister Van Meter (played by that leading light of Irish cinema, Brendan Gleeson) is so close to retirement that he's almost got his boat purchased. He's glad to go. His enemy, Assistant Chief Holland (Ving Rhames), looks like a strong candidate for police chief, if he doesn't go to Cleveland instead for a job there. And things are looking so volatile in L.A. that Cleveland may be a step up.

The direction by Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, etc.) provides more proof of his ability to establish solid rapport between characters with a minimum of talk, as well as his fine ear for vernacular. Shelton has never directed an action scene as elaborate as the finale, with Perry careening through the middle of the smoke and flying bricks of the riots in hot pursuit of a killer. He carries this sequence off splendidly--more so than the final valedictory speech by Perry or the problematic scenes of a cop's home life, with Lolita Davidovitch breaking no new ground as the ignored, sad wife about ready to leave.

In many bad-cop dramas, there's no serious alternative to fascist policing. Cops are either bad and brutal, or they're weaklings. Dark Blue hooks you with the scenes of Perry burrowing through the city. Perry's instincts are as right as his methods are wrong. But by returning the story to the churchgoing, incorruptible Holland--played with convincing gravity by Rhames--there's a suggestion of a better way of policing a city as wide and violent as L.A. This policier doesn't kill its own buzz by telling you there's no hope.

Dark Blue (R; 118 min.), directed by Ron Shelton, written by David Ayer, based on a novel by James Ellroy, photographed by Barry Peterson and starring Kurt Russell, Ving Rhames and Scott Speedman, opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the February 20-26, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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