During every great disaster movie, the audience is painfully aware of the impending catastrophe. In “Titanic,” everyone sat riveted (girls) or bored (boys) waiting for the boat to sink. “The Perfect Storm” kept viewers on edge waiting for the fierce nor’easter that would do away with George Clooney and his men. In the corrupt-cop drama “Dark Blue,” we wait for the city to burn in the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
In an obvious attempt to mirror the character’s moral decay, the entire film takes place in the five days prior to the acquittal of four white officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King. As the film approaches its climax, so do tensions in the city. However, the uninspiring plot development leaves us slightly rocked where we should feel deeply perturbed.
Director Ron Shelton’s “Dark Blue” bears more than a passing resemblance to the classic bad-cop movie, “L.A. Confidential.” Kurt Russell stars as Eldon Perry, an alcoholic detective with a record of violence, shady arrests and trigger-happy incidents. Sgt. Eldon Perry, a member of the LAPD’s elite Special Investigations Squad (SIS), has been given the task of breaking his new partner, Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman) in to the squad. Keough, the nephew of corrupt SIS head, Jack Van Meter (Brendan Gleeson), slowly discovers the ill-kept secret that the officers of the SIS play by the own rules.
No one in the department even comes close to challenging Perry and Van Meter, except for Deputy Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames) who steps up and makes it known he intends to have Eldon’s badge. But the wrangling between Holland and Perry is only a small part of “Dark Blue’s” plot, most of which deals with Perry and Keough’s investigation into a quadruple homicide that occurs in a Korean-owned convenience store.
The murders are the by-product of a robbery that was ordered by Van Meter. Eager to remain clear of any blame, he directs Perry to arrest two scapegoats and make sure they don’t live long enough to tell anyone that they are innocent. Perry goes along with Van Meter, but begins to see that maybe the corruption has gone too far. Making things worse is Keough’s inability to deal with the ruthlessness exhibited by both his partner and his boss.
Unlike the intrigue and winding switchback of mysteries that defined “L.A. Confidential,” “Dark Blue” travels on flat, low ground. After the first five minutes of film, the viewers already know who everyone is, what their crimes are, and how the rest of the drama will unfold. It takes a full 90 minutes of waiting for the city to burn and for the anticlimactic ending to discharge. It takes Keough and love interest Beth (Michael Michele) — who work together to bring down their crooked superiors — too long to realize what the audience has known all along: not all cops are good cops.
Despite the fantastic performance of Kurt Russell, there are many things about the film that make it simply fall short. The random, improbable, connection between Keough and Holland’s right-hand woman, Sgt. Beth Williamson (needed to allow the plot to progress) is one. Another is the over-the-top ending featuring Perry’s confession to a pre-assembled press core at his promotion ceremony.
Overall, the movie is a grim and gritty portrayal of the dark time in Los Angeles’ police history. Filled with corruption, drama and deceit, it is barely interesting enough to make you stay in the theater. The one redeeming feature of the film is Russell’s performance. His rage, cynicism and quest for redemption are not only all believable, but well executed within the constraints of the poor plot. He continues to hold your attention even when the film fails to do so.