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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look40%
Average: 32%
Pretty Bad: 24%
Total Crap: 4%

3 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Brooklyn's Finest
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Cop Outs"
2 stars

There are times when “Brooklyn’s Finest” feels less like a movie and more like a guided tour of the wreckage of a cliché factory leveled by an explosion that left no survivors, especially the screenplay. Instead of choosing just one familiar police procedural to emulate, the screenwriters appear to have taken to heart the words of a cop character from an infinitely better film and have chosen to include elements from EVERY ONE instead. The result is a film that jams together so many predictable plot devices into its two-hour running time that it could almost be reclassified as an anthology and does so in such an inept manner that it often comes across like “Cop Out” with laughs, albeit unintentional ones for the most part.

You may think that I am exaggerating just how derivative this movie is for comedic effect but if you’ll grab your Cop Movie Cliché Checklist--I presume that you have yours handy--I will prove to you that I am not kidding. Does the film have a burned-out veteran cop on the edge--suicidal, alcoholic and literally one week away from retirement--whose plans to simply ride out his final days on the force are upended when he unexpectedly finds himself willing to make an effort to do the right thing for the first time in ages? Meet burn-boy Eddie (Richard Gere), a guy who starts off the day by putting both whiskey and the barrel of his gun in his mouth and who is pretty much the laughing stock of his department. Is there a corrupt cop on the edge who is driven by monetary problems to steal from the criminals he is supposed to be arresting and who eventually gets in way over his head as a result? Meet Sal (Ethan Hawke), a vice cop not above robbing and killing the occasional thug or drug lord in order to scrape together enough money to buy his ever-growing family a house in the suburbs. Is there an undercover cop on the edge who has been in play for way too long who is promised his old life back as long as he completes one final bust that forces him to go up against the only criminal that he seems to have genuinely befriended in his years on the street? Meet Tango (Don Cheadle), an undercover officer who is slowly going nuts from the effort required to maintain his cover. Is there a not-particularly-on-the-edge drug dealer who has just gotten out of prison and who is contemplating getting out of the life for good until he is inveigled to take part in one last score that may indeed be too good to be true? Meet Caz (Wesley Snipes), who is a street-smart drug dealer who recognizes that the younger and hungrier people in his trade are beginning to see him less as someone to be feared and more like an especially juicy target.

At this point, you may be thinking that, based solely on the stuff mentioned in the previous paragraph, that “Brooklyn’s Finest” contains enough stock characters and situations to supply a particularly uninspired TV series for at least one full season but I have only begun to scratch the surface. Is there a steadfast, honest and dedicated cop who is included to assure viewers that all Brooklyn are not corrupt mental cases and to provide an ironic coda when his attempt to do the right thing goes horribly wrong. Is there a sweet-faced (among other body parts) and frequently naked hooker who offers the illusion of a better life to the burn-boy veteran until she becomes pragmatic at just the wrong time? Meet Chantel (Shannon Kane), whom I suspect was described in the screenplay as having “the Eva Mendes part”--alas, it is the Eva Mendes part from “Urban Legend 2” and not “Training Day.” (On the other hand, I was amused by the scene in which she turns out to be the one who presents the retiring cop with a watch in honor of his years of service.) Is there an idealistic rookie cop whose black-and-white worldview is altered forever after being teamed up with the cynical veteran cop? Considering that there are a couple of ways that such a storyline could possibly proceed, the film gives us two of them and puts them through their respective ringers. Is there a loyal, decent and pregnant/sickly wife for the corrupt cop who lands in the hospital at a key point and forces him to act in increasingly reckless ways in a desperate bid to provide her and their enormous family with a better life? Meet Angela (Lili Taylor), who, despite having already borne what seems to be more children than the housewife in the “Every Sperm is Sacred” number from “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life,” is both expecting twins and suffering from a mysterious illness that is threatening the lives of her and her unborn kids. In all fairness, however, it should be noted that this may be the first in which the disease turns out to be caused by wood mold inside the walls of the crap-shack they are living in.

I could go on--I haven’t gotten around to mentioning Will Patton as the undercover cop’s handler who keeps brushing off his complaints with vague promises for the future, Ellen Barkin as a high-ranking member of the department who cares only about her track record and Vincent D’Onofrio as the guy whose appearance in the first scene is a bit of a surprise since you didn’t see him mentioned on the poster until you eventually realize exactly why he didn’t make said poster--but I won’t because while I have been having a bit of fun here, the problem with “Brooklyn’s Finest” is not that it contains a number of overly clichéd situations. After all, the current “Shutter Island” is one of the best films to come along in a while and it contains any number of overly familiar characters and situations as well. However, in that film, Martin Scorsese embraced the genre conventions he was dealing with while simultaneously approaching them in such a fresh and energetic fashion that he managed to bring new life to clichés that ordinarily would have seemed to be way past their shelf dates. The problem with this film is that neither screenwriter Michael C. Martin nor director Antoine Fuqua (whose “Training Day” is one of the films that is most obviously cribbed here in ways beyond the casting of Ethan Hawke) do anything of interest with the conventions that they are playing with. Martin’s screenplay just piles one familiar situation on top of one another and instead of being gripped by the surfeit of dramatic incidents, most viewers will find themselves either making mental lists of all the other, better crime films that have been ripped off here or noting the increasingly tortured twists and turns the script takes in order to make everything sort of fit together. For his part, Fuqua handles his duties in the most pedestrian manner possible and while he does deserve a little credit for evidently doing some of the shooting in authentically rough-and-tumble areas, even this winds up working against the film because the gritty reality of the locales only serves to highlight the artificiality of a screenplay that will be so familiar to audiences that if one of the actors suddenly blanked on a line, most of them could supply it even if they were watching it for the first time.

That said, it is unlikely that any of the actors would blank on their lines since nearly all of them are playing slight variations of characters that they have already portrayed to greater effect in other films. Although Richard Gere does try hard here, the fact is that he simply isn’t very convincing as a burned-out Brooklyn cop and the notion of once again playing a cynic who learns to care seems to bore him as much as it does everyone else. Likewise, Don Cheadle has done the undercover guy with possibly muddied priorities before to much greater effect in the little-seen “Traitor” and he also gets stuck with some of the very worst scenes whenever he has to meet up with his superiors--as his commander, Ellen Barkin is so over-the-top that she almost seems to be approaching the role as if the whole thing were a parody. As the rogue cop, Ethan Hawke is clearly trying to give us his version of Denzel Washington’s character in “Training Day” but lacks the gravitas to pull it off--all he really does is demonstrate conclusively that he should never under any circumstances portray a character named Sal. The only one who really makes any sort of impact is Wesley Snipes as an older and slightly wiser version of the menacing drug lord role that he shot to stardom with in “New Jack City” and quite frankly, most of that seems to come from his relief that for the first time in years, he is actually appearing in a film that will be making its debut in theaters instead of the shelves at Walmart. He still has charisma to burn and hopefully this means that once he irons out his various legal troubles, he will get serious with his career and return to delivering on the promise that he showed two decades ago before squandering it on crappy vampire movies and action duds.

“Brooklyn’s Finest” has been sitting around on the shelf for a while and when it originally appeared played at festivals about a year ago, it possessed a different ending that apparently did not go down well with most viewers and has been replaced with one that is slightly more upbeat. As terrible as that ending may have been--and while I haven’t actually seen it, I have had it described for me by people who have--it could at least be argued that it made some degree of sense from a thematic sense while the one seen here simply feels like, no pun intended, a cop out designed to put some kind of positive spin on a story for which it is completely ill-suited. Of course, the real problem isn’t so much the ending as it is everything leading up to it--for a film featuring a seemingly endless array of cops on the edge, “Brooklyn’s Finest” demonstrates precious little edge of its own from a dramatic standpoint and no amount of last-minute tinkering can fix that.

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originally posted: 03/05/10 16:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2009 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Venice International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Venice International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/26/21 morris campbell solid if corny cop flick 4 stars
9/04/11 hurdygurdy man Wasn't expecting much but, surprisingly, kept my interest.- and ? Gere not overplayin. 4 stars
5/25/11 millersxing meta-critique of cop dramas? doubtful, but nevertheless entertaining. 4 stars
7/29/10 Corky Drew me in and never let go; terrific acting, especially from Gere. 4 stars
3/14/10 action movie fan great acting and gritty dialouge but needs more cohesive story line 3 stars
3/06/10 mr.mike As I left the theatre , I was thinking..."So What?'...... 3 stars
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  05-Mar-2010 (R)
  DVD: 06-Jul-2010

  11-Jun-2010 (18)

  05-Mar-2010 (MA)
  DVD: 06-Jul-2010

Directed by
  Antoine Fuqua

Written by
  Michael C. Martin

  Richard Gere
  Ethan Hawke
  Wesley Snipes
  Don Cheadle
  Ellen Barkin
  Lili Taylor

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