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'Brooklyn's Finest' is not so fine

Published:Sunday | March 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Irony underlies the title of
Brooklyn's Finest
, a drama about cops who are anything but fine at their jobs. And director Antoine Fuqua pounds that irony home with a sledgehammer.

Fuqua rounded up a fine cast - Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Wesley Snipes and the director's Training Day co-star Ethan Hawke. They all deliver with a fine sense of urgency and toughness appropriate to the dark story. The production values are quite fine, Fuqua crafting a harsh urban landscape where vice can flourish.

So why does
Brooklyn's Finest
turn into such a bloody mess?

Well, there is the body count, for starters. Fuqua and first-time screenwriter Michael C. Martin, a New York City transit worker who grew up in the Brooklyn borough, seem to think the solution to the city's problems is a dramatic reduction in population.

They kill off lots of people in nasty ways with the remorseless glee of a cruel boy torturing insects.

principal flaw

Brooklyn's Finest
takes to heart the principal flaw of Martin Scorsese's
The Departed
- "We don't have an ending, so let's shoot everybody in the head" - with such frequency and savagery that the violence would almost be comical, if only it were not so repellent.

Martin's screenplay has the basis of three interesting stories about cops in various degrees of distress or burnout.

Uniformed patrolman Eddie Dugan (Gere) is trying to get through his final week before retirement without making the slightest impact, which he clearly has grown adept at as his years on the beat turned him into a lump of passivity.

Murderous narcotics detective Sal Procida (Hawke) will stop at nothing to score cash from drug dealers so he can put a downpayment on a better house for his sickly wife (Lili Taylor) and their growing brood of children.

Undercover cop Clarence 'Tango' Butler (Cheadle) is ready to crack from the strain of running with drug peddlers and torn by a sense of betrayal against kingpin Caz (Snipes), who saved his life while Tango was building his cover in prison.

These men occasionally bump into one another, but
Brooklyn's Finest
mostly spins three disjointed chronicles, the action never adding up to anything more than its grisly parts as gunfire and bloodshed continually erupt around Eddie, Sal and Tango.

relentlessly bleak

Other than a few dashes of humour managed by Hawke, the movie is relentlessly bleak and barbarous, Fuqua grinding viewers down through his cavemen-with-badges depiction of police work.

Hawke, who scored an Oscar nomination as the upright newbie to Denzel Washington's corrupt veteran detective in
Training Day
, clearly relishes this chance to play bad cop, and he is quite good at it. Though Sal's actions are contemptible and absurd, Hawke hurls himself into the part without reservation, capturing moments of paternal pathos amid the chaos he is forced to stumble through the rest of the time.

Cheadle and Snipes form a nice fraternal bond, and while Gere is as earnest as his co-stars, he feels vaguely out of place, cast as the burnout who does not give a damn.

There is nice support from Ellen Barkin, Will Patton, Michael Kenneth Williams, Brian F. O'Byrne and Vincent D'Onofrio, although as with the key players, their performances generally are drowned out by the frenzy around them.

Fuqua made one negligible improvement to
Brooklyn's Finest
since the movie premiered more than a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival. He cut the original ending, a suicide that nudged the movie down to the most abject nihilism.

Then again, at least that ending sent audiences out of the theatre with a shock to the system, something outrageous enough to dull the memory of how pointlessly they just passed the last two hours and change.

The movie now just closes with a clunky freeze-frame after yet another explosion of brutality, which may send you off feeling the need for a drink or a good hosing down by a crime-scene clean up crew.

Brooklyn's Finest
, an Overture Films release, is rated R for bloody violence throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, drug content and pervasive language. Running time: 133 minutes. Two stars out of four.