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Hollywood Homicide

By now, the buddy cop film has played itself to the point that there's just nothing left to say. (I'm still holding out for an extended look at the animated cat from Last Action Hero, but that's just a sad tattered dream.) So why even bother?

Hollywood Homicide understands that it has nothing new to say about buddy cops. Instead it hopes that by acknowledging its own tired familiarity, we might paradoxically find something fresh. If not fresh, at least entertaining. And occasionally, it's right.

A vehicle like this stands or falls on the charm of its stars. In this case, Harrison Ford lopes along easily as Joe Gavilan, the de facto old cop, and for the most part, Hollywood Homicide matches his rhythms. It cranks up only when it absolutely must, but otherwise is content to just let things happen.

Of course, if you've got an old vet, you've got to have a young guy, too. Gavilan has K.C. Calden (a surprisingly effective Josh Hartnett), his partner for four months who thinks that somehow his side job as a yoga instructor has given him deep insight into the human psyche. Really, though, it's so he can have a lot of sex with hot women, a motivation Gavilan quickly exposes.

Calden has also decided that he'd rather "follow his bliss" and become an actor, which it's pretty clear would not be a great idea. But Gavilan isn't one to sneer, really; he, too, has a second career, as a real estate agent. Even during murder investigations, he's looking to see if he can make a deal or two.

Oh, yes…there's a murder investigation, hence the title. It's about rap impresario Anton Sartain (Isaiah Washington), a much better-looking version of Suge Knight. When some of his acts threaten to break their recording contracts with him, Sartain has them killed through his security chief, LAPD officer Jackson (Dwight Yoakam).

But the plot doesn't really matter much. Writer/director Ron Shelton tells us who is responsible for the crimes quite early and if anything, a little hamhandedly. He's not nearly as interested in original storytelling as he is characterization, and so we get plot points crammed in with no connection. If it weren't for coincidence, nothing here would work at all.

And that may be part of a plan to parody the buddy cop film, but it's hard to be sure. When we realize that Calden's father was a cop killed in the line of duty years before, and we know that we've seen a corrupt cop already, it's easy to connect the dots long before Calden does.

Relationships form completely off-screen; when radio psychic Ruby (the mature and hot Lena Olin) first appears, we have no clue that she's been dating Gavilan for a little while. But there's that coincidence at work again: she left his arch-nemesis (Bruce Greenwood) for him, without knowing there was a connection. "What can I say?" she purrs, "I have a thing for cops."

At other times in the film, characters miraculously possess information, or stumble across exactly the right person to reveal it all, simply because the genre conventions say they should.

It's particularly silly when Gladys Knight cameos as a former Motown back-up singer who explains the plot to Gavilan and Calden. They may be good detectives; we just can't know and Shelton doesn't care.

And so we're back to the charm and the vibe.

One thing Hollywood Homicide does extremely well is capture the feel of L.A. as it wants to think it is. Everybody wants to be something other than what they are. Cellphones ring constantly, interfering with every task. (It's used to pretty funny effect when Gavilan is being grilled by Internal Affairs; with one career on the line, he has to keep interrupting to handle a real estate deal.)

And as anybody who lives in L.A. knows, there's no real rushing to wherever you have to go. Traffic won't allow it. (Yet it still does move magically when it has to in this film - it is, after all, still a movie.)

Let us also be grateful that Hollywood Homicide resists the bane of modern cinema: the sound-bite. Instead, Shelton relies on decent dialogue; let audiences decide if it's worth working into the public consciousness.

Another way that it bucks the trend is in having fairly realistic fight scenes. Shelton stages a climactic fight that really shows Ford's age without being boring. And it leads to a finale that is simultaneously predictable and unexpected.

It's not ground-breaking cinema. In many ways, Hollywood Homicide feels like the backdoor pilot to a decent buddy cop TV show. Harrison, if that Indiana Jones IV thing doesn't work out, you might want to consider it.

There are worse ways to kill an hour a week.

What's it worth? $6.50

Derek McCaw

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