This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
The eighties loved Banyan Key so much they never left. Either that or Police Chief Matt Whitlock (Denzel Washington) plays a lot of GTA: Vice City and bases his fashion sense on Tommy Vercetti. Anyhow, for someone who’s normally only cast as fine upstanding noble wronged members of the community, our Denzel’s comparatively shady. Drinking on duty, having an affair with a married woman, Ann Harrison (Sanaa Lathan), making vaguely threatening statements at her chump of a husband Superman (Dean Cain). Well, it’s hardly Bad Lieutenant material but it’s a little more colourful than his usual roles.
He steps a little more deeply into corruption after a good deed goes bad. Ann has an apparent relapse of lung and liver cancer, which is a combination that you could do without. After a ‘dying’ gift of changing the beneficiary of her generous life insurance policy into Matt’s name, Denzel decides to ride to the rescue by liberating a sizeable quantity of seized drug money from the evidence locker and giving it to Ann. While he thinks this will be used to free Ann from her abusive relationship with Superman and purchase some whacky new experimental cancer drugs, it’s actually going straight into the ‘rip off Matt fund’. One faked arson using two bodies procured through Superman’s job as hospital rent-a-cop and their co-conspirator’s job in the morgue later and it would seem that Matt’s in a bit of a bind.
Being chief of police has a few advantages and allows him to cover up some of the trails, especially after a potentially tricky eyewitness embarrasses herself by declaring all black people equivalent. Still, he sweats bullets dodging a murder investigation headed by his soon to be ex-wife Detective Alex Whitlock (Eva Mendes) and things start getting hairier when the D.E.A. decide they’d like to get a hold of the cash immediately rather than the few years hence that Matt had been banking on.
Our Matt’s a fighter though, and he’s not going to go down without making a name for himself as a renegade cop on the edge, going after those who set him up and generally getting into all manner of taut and thrilling scrapes and trying to rekindle the relationship with his wife along the way. Well, that’s the plan I suppose. Directed by Carl Franklin, responsible for Devil In A Blue Dress and several other adequately received films, he switches the Directotron on to automatic early doors and leaves it there, ensuring that the cameras are pointed in roughly the correct direction but doing little to enhance a story that isn’t quite as formulaic as its trailer makes it out to be. The main thing lifting this above the baseline made for cable / straight to video market is the performances from a reasonably talented cast, Dean Cain aside.
Washington does a decent job as the set-upon copper. Mendes is perhaps a little too young to be a convincing long suffering nearly ex-wife of Matt. Lathan isn’t quite cut out for the femme fatale role she’s cast in and looks a bit out of place in the climactic scenes. Dean Cain is Dean Cain, and whether you put him in a straggly beard or not isn’t going to make a lot of difference. This is not mirror universe Star Trek.
In truth he ends up in a fairly minor role, which is a good thing. He still isn’t a credible threat, which is a bad thing, hitting the first half hour hardest. Many words can be used to describe Dean Cain but credible is not one of them. I feel cheated by the absence of his name from any of the promotional materials. If you’re going to cast Dean Cain in a film you could at least have the good grace to tell people well in advance so they have adequate time to mentally prepare and try to disassociate the clueless buffoon from his horrendous stint as Superman in the god-awful telly series. This would perhaps make his introduction as a bad guy more effective if you weren’t taken aback and saying ‘Ooh, look, the shitty Superman’ to your friends.
The wisecracking Chae (John Billingsley) provides moral support and the occasional quip as the county’s medical examiner and Matt’s close friend, and does a great job with a limited role. His presence as comedy sidekick only enhances the whole feeling that this is a script someone dug up in a time capsule buried in nineteen eighty three. The locations, the costumes, the action all seem to belong to a different era, so much so that I can only assume the undue prominence given to close ups of shiny new little mobile phones and recent pop culture reference points on background televisions is Franklin reminding us that this is a fresh new film, not a stale old one.
He almost pulls it off, but at best it’s a particularly mediocre film with a lavish cast. There isn’t very much wrong with it, but similarly there’s little spectacular about it. It provides a solid and enjoyable cinema outing for your fiver, especially if you hate Dean Cain less than I do. A mildly thrilling thriller, but it’s no French Connection.
I’d normally put in another paragraph here but exactly what more I can say about something that’s so middle of the road remains a mystery. Instead I’ll point out that our own Disko thought a little more of this film than I did, but he also spent a fair proportion of our time in the cinema thinking about Denzel Washington in a spaceship for no apparent reason. We wish him a speedy recovery.