Film Reviews: Wednesday, June 12, 2003
Hollywood Homicide\r\nStarring Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett. Directed by Ron Shelton. Written by Robert Souza and Ron Shelton. Rated PG-13.
Tin Cops

Ron Shelton doesn’t find enough laughs in the uneven Hollywood Homicide.


Ron Shelton has spent most of his career making films about sports. Whereas most directors make one movie on the subject and move on to other things, Shelton stayed with it and flourished, mostly because he was always able to find creative ways around the hoary conventions and stock characters that too many sports movies traffic in. Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump, and the underrated Tin Cup have demonstrated his considerable talents: friendships between male characters, dialogue filled with both snappy wisecracks and lyrical passages, lead actors exhibiting undiscovered edges, and a feel for the relentless drive for self-improvement that fires athletes on all levels.

At the same time, his interest in sports has prevented him from getting his due as a filmmaker, just as sportswriters often receive less respect than their colleagues who write about more “serious” issues. Maybe that explains why his last two films haven’t been about athletes. Instead, they’ve been about L.A. cops. His deliberate approach to the heavy dramatic material of Dark Blue from earlier this year resulted only in a tepid failure. His current film, Hollywood Homicide, is less consistent but much more typically Shelton in its use of comic relief and its willingness to be eccentric. Sadly, neither work shows the filmmaker at his best, nor do they succeed on their own terms.

The movie begins with L.A. detectives Joe Gavilan (Harrison Ford) and K.C. Colton (Josh Hartnett) trying to solve the shooting deaths of four members of an up-and-coming rap group at a club. The quadruple homicide hardly matters at all compared to the two investigators, one a grizzled lone wolf who lives on cheeseburgers and the other calorie-counting younger buck who has so many women that he can’t keep their names straight. Many other cop films have used a similar dynamic, but this movie tries to stir the pot by giving both cops unusual second jobs — Joe is a none-too-successful real estate broker looking for one big score, while K.C. is a yoga instructor who’s thinking of giving up police work to become an actor.

This tactic, like the rest of the movie, only works intermittently. Their second jobs help the cops thwart their interrogators from an internal affairs investigation in one amusing scene. Shelton’s sense of humor peeks through on other occasions, such as when K.C. chases a witness (rap star Kurupt) across a river, and when Joe’s forced to pedal furiously after the bad guys on a girl’s bicycle. Joe’s climactic fistfight is staged realistically, with both combatants exhausted from the chase and swinging wildly at each other.

Yet these are outweighed by the movie’s dead wood. We’re told early on who the killers are, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, it makes the plot machinery seem like a grind. The extended negotiations between a Hollywood mogul (Martin Landau) and a nightclub owner (Master P) on the sale of a house are laboriously unfunny. Various subplots centering on Joe’s sometime girlfriend (Lena Olin), the head of the rap group’s record label (Isaiah Washington), a high-class Hollywood madam (Lolita Davidovich), and an officious internal affairs cop (Bruce Greenwood) fit way too neatly into the main plot. Perversely, Shelton dawdles over them so much that it seems like they don’t fit into the movie at all. These actors are given nothing to work with, although Olin plays a psychic with her own radio show, and her sexy, luxuriant voice brings some welcome erotic heat to this affair.

Shelton has been the only filmmaker to get Kevin Costner to loosen up, and you can see why he might think he could pull the same trick with Harrison Ford, another leading man who’s not known for his comic skills. It doesn’t work, though. The dashing smirkiness that carried him through Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark has aged into a weary sort of bemusement that suits the character when Joe’s checking out crime scenes or lounging around his apartment, but it’s too heavy for this light action comedy. Josh Hartnett isn’t afraid to look ridiculous on camera — among other things, we see K.C. doing a pretty bad Stanley Kowalski in a play — which is a particularly endearing quality in an actor as good-looking as he is. Nevertheless, his machismo is too similar to Ford’s, and the two leads don’t click the way Costner and Tim Robbins did in Bull Durham, or Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson in White Men Can’t Jump.

Whether the problem is the subject matter or the pressure of directing a high-profile midsummer blockbuster, Ron Shelton doesn’t look like himself in Hollywood Homicide. He needs to move on to something else, or the guy who has made the best sports movies in the last 15 years will be in danger of losing his fastball.

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