Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 14, 2003 6:51 pm 
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Casual laughs and a mad chase

I'm sorry to see the critics aren't generally being very kind to "Hollywood Homicide." It's a lot of fun, its plot is deliciously complicated, its dialogue is witty, and it ends with a chase that qualifies it for the title awarded it by Roger Ebert: "the most exciting film ever made about real estate." How some reviewers can say such an entertaining romp is full of tired clichés, when the same writers have endorsed franchises like Lethal Weapon, is beyond me. Obviously some people just don't get what's going on here. Sure, the police procedural buddy cop adventure is a cliché, and that's precisely why Ron Shelton and his cast are having fun with it. You've got to understand that this is a comedy, and not for one minute a conventional cop flick.

You've also got to enjoy the premises, which are several.

First and foremost, the joke is that LAPD cops take second jobs, or even third ones. Being a cop is, therefore, just another job, and not even necessarily one homicide detective Joe Gavilan (Harrison Ford) and his new young partner K.C. Calden (Josh Hartnett) do particularly well. Not, at least, until the plot starts cooking, at which time they turn out to be capable of the most absurdly wild chases and shootouts and also quite up to catching the villains in their case, rounding up all the bad cops in their district and getting them locked away, and scoring a success or two at their second jobs in the bargain. Josh Hartnett's character teaches yoga to a veritable harem of beautiful babes but like any handsome guy in Hollywood he wants to become an actor. He also wants to avenge the death of his policeman father. Joe's got to try various capital ventures to pay all his ex-wives, and the latest such venture is real estate -- which, as anyone knows, happens pretty much any time of the day or night, just like detective work.

All the fun and originality lie in the way the two sets of jobs and aspirations cross-fertilize and interfere with each other (Joe's accused by I.A. of "commingling funds," which is another, more narrowly mercantile and legalistic, way of putting it). When the two homicide detectives are assigned to a hip hop murder case, K.C. tries to get information by offering to peddle a studio assistant's script ("Nasty," a title the author's pals consider brilliant) to an aging Hollywood producer (Martin Landau) whose house Joe wants to sell to the hip hop club owner. This deal involves a price tag of six or seven million. What with the record exec's "security" wiping out the hip hop killers, Joe and K.C. are pretty busy and the deal to sell Landau's mansion goes sour.

Cell phones play a key role here. Once the final mad chase gets going, the house deal simultaneously picks up steam again -- all through the magic of the portable phone. Joe is the object of an Internal Affairs investigation, and an absurd but hilarious sequence occurs when he and K.C. are questioned in adjoining hot boxes. During the supposed interrogation, Joe does nothing but take cell phone calls pertaining to romance, real estate, and the case they're on, while K.C. goes into yoga poses and gives his female interrogator a massage.

This isn't a serious cop movie, and it isn't one of those frantic Martin Lawrence comedies either. Both Hartnett and Ford wear their roles like an old shoe. There's no struggling for laughs. If some audience members take that as "boring," it's because they aren't paying attention. When the action heats up and the chase gets frantic in the second half and the finale, it's all the funnier because the boys have been so laid back before that. Their first reaction on the scene of the crime, the club where the rappers got shot, is just to stand there and look up and down. Then Gavilan orders a cheeseburger, and K.C. orders veggies on whole wheat, and the characters and their priorities are established.

K.C. doesn't even want to be a cop. Joe is stuck with the job because he's done it for decades, but he's hoping his real estate ventures will get him out of debt. There's no star ego here: Ford the action hero lets himself appear frumpy and befuddled, and Josh allows his modest acting skills to be the object of fun. It's a climactic absurdity that K.C. stars in Streetcar Named Desire to showcase his acting talents: K.C. has the chest but not the passion. It's a laugh to see him scream "Stella!" over and over warming up for the role. But actually he's not bad as a cop. It's he who goes to the morgue to look at the murdered rappers and spots some other stiffs placed nearby, compares shoe sizes and earrings, and announces -- on a cell phone, of course, while trying not to throw up (because he hates being around corpses), "those guys shot these guys."

The cutthroat nature of the recording industry, especially the hip hop branch, is taken literally here when it turns out that the producer has offed the rappers to show what can happen if any others in his stable of "artists" try to walk out on their contract. Another joke is that Ford's character is into Motown romantic stuff (hence the Smokey Robinson cab driver cameo) and doesn't "get" rap, while K.C.'s tastes, if any, must run to make-out music or raga. There's no competition between the two -- that wouldn't be laid back -- but there's the contrast that K.C. has an endless string of gorgeous sex partners (so many he can't ever get their names straight) while Joe shadow dances alone with a glass of scotch and a Motown hit after work or modestly tells his one new girlfriend, psychic Ruby (Lena Olin) "If I take my ginko I may remember to take my Viagra and then I'm okay."

There hasn't been as detached and cool an aging detective since Fred Ward in Armitage's "Miami Blues" (1990). It's all in the spirit of vintage Jonathan Demme (who produced "Miami Blues") and should not be mentioned in the same breath with noisy, macho action flicks like "Lethal Weapon."

Other cameos besides Smokey Robinson: Lou Diamond Phillips as Wanda the cop in drag, Gladys Knight, Dwight Yoakam, Isaiah Washington, Master P, Kurupt, Eric Idle (rounded up for soliciting), Dre and Dr. Dre. I haven't done justice to the women in the movie, of whom Lena Olin is certainly the most lovely and appealing as Joe's new girlfriend and a psychic who is able to use her powers to coordinate shopping on Rodeo Drive with spotting the hit man -- which in turn starts the chase. The plot of this movie is a triumph of intricate contrivance far too ingenious to do full justice to here.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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