Playing the director of the film within the film of his great Day for Night, Francois Truffaut talks about the evolution of a filmmaker's ambitions for any particular movie he might labor on. First he wants to make something enduring: a work of art. Then he wants to make something good, something entertaining that will return a profit to its investors. Then he wants to make something safe that won't be sneered at and will at least break even financially. Finally, he just wants to finish. I thought of Truffaut while watching Ron Shelton's Hollywood Homicide because it was made by one of America's brightest, wittiest writer/directors. But I have to feel that this was a movie he was happy just to finish.
A few years ago I heard sometime New Orleanian Shelton give a speech at the Words & Music Festival that was as smart and entertaining as any public lecture I've ever attended. A meta-tation on public speaking, literary achievement and the rules of baseball, the address was at once astonishingly erudite and absolutely hilarious. Shelton's love of sport and gift for comedy have served him well in his scripts for his hits Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump and Tin Cup. He can also be serious; his script for Roger Spottiswoode's Under Fire is as honest and eye-opening a look at war journalism as the big screen has ever produced. In short, Shelton is not the kind of filmmaker we associate with everyday Hollywood formula. Just last week a friend of mine commented on the ending of Tin Cup where Kevin Costner blows his chance to win the U.S. Open. The film's unexpected resolution is a key element in what makes the picture so distinctive. The routine sports story has the main character win the championship. Shelton has mostly dodged the routine.
And then we come back to Hollywood Homicide, an action buddy comedy about two police detectives working on a case involving the murder of an entire rap ensemble. Co-written with retired Los Angeles police officer Robert Souza, this project began with the working title Untitled Harrison Ford Starrer. That doesn't sound very Ron Shelton-esque right from the get-go. So even though he's credited on the screenplay, I suspect Shelton made this movie for hire and punched up the script enough to control his gag reflex.
The story seems all pitch. You've got Ford for the Ford fans and the mature female moviegoers who think he's still hot. You've got Josh Hartnett for the teenyboppers. For that "ripped from the headlines" factor, you've got a story about gangsta rappers and violence in the hip-hop music industry. For the old standby effect, you've got car chases and mano-a-mano climactic fisticuffs. The bullets fly early, but it's not until the good guys and the bad guys begin punching each other in the face that we can actually get anything settled. This really doesn't sound a thing like Ron Shelton, does it?
I don't know who tricked up the plot. For a narrative that's finally a vehicle for producing crashes and smashes, the story here has more complications than it really needs. As detectives Joe Gavilan (Ford) and K.C. Calden (Hartnett) work on the rapper case, they also try to sustain their moonlight careers. Most cops just work security details, leading them occasionally into conflict of interest situations. Joe sells real estate. K.C., meanwhile, teaches some kind of yoga to the world's most beautiful women, many of whom he gets to boink. They just can't control themselves, and, well, why should he? These seem elements enough. But there's more. Suddenly Joe is being investigated by Internal Affairs and because he's Joe's partner, so is K.C. The pretext of this investigation is never made clear, though we're told that the motive is pure revenge. Joe once embarrassed Bennie Macko (Bruce Greenwood), the I.A. officer dragging Joe through the coals, and now Macko is trying to get even. And if that's still not enough, Joe is boinking a radio psychic named Ruby (Lena Olin), who just happens to be Mrs. Bennie Macko. You'd think that would be part of Bennie's revenge motivation, but it isn't.
None of these complications come to very much, and in the end the picture settles for about 20 continuous minutes of chase. An homage is paid to The French Connection or perhaps to movies that have previously paid homage to The French Connection. And it's all ever so ho hum. Still, Shelton is skillful enough a writer and director that he salvages Hollywood Homicide from being an utter waste of time. The picture has a winning sense of fun, and it produces a handful of decent laughs on its road to nowhere. I can't really recommend that you spend money to see this flick, but I don't think you'll be profoundly annoyed if you tune in once it makes the jump to cable.
- L.A. cops K.C. Calden (Josh Hartnett) and Joe Gavilan (Harrison Ford) try to solve the murder of a rap group in Ron Shelton's Hollywood Homicide.