||Ray Liotta and Jason Patric in 'Narc'|
How can ya not love the winter holidays? Colorful lights strung everywhere. Festive melodies from "Jingle Bell Rock" to "The Chanukah Song" fill the brisk December air. Heck, even Saddam Hussein seems to have a twinkle in his eye. What better time then, if only for the all mighty love of irony, to premiere Narc, a cop thriller so brutal, cynical and just plain not nice it makes Training Day seem like Police Academy 6. "Ho, ho, ho, mother f-er," ya know what I'm saying? Which can be good or bad depending on how you feel about sitting through 102 blood-gurgling minutes of pistol whippings, bystander shootings and assorted shotgun butts to the head. Hey, is this the best Christmas movie ever or what?
Writer/director Joe Carnahan's crimson web is woven amongst the drug dens and chop shops of picturesque downtown Detroit. It's just a crack-vial's throw from Eminem's 8 Mile environs. The picture starring Jason Patric and Ray Liotta revolves around disgraced undercover cop Nick Tellis (Patric). Tellis is brought back to the job to investigate the murder of Michael Calvess, a narcotics officer who was beaten worse than the Detroit Lions on any given Sunday and then shot in the head. Like I said, not nice.
For officer Tellis, however, it's good to be back in action after being dismissed over an arguably justified stray bullet that hit a pregnant woman and killed her unborn child. Life at home with his wife Audrey and new baby son was apparently getting a bit too blissful. Soon, he was haunted by the slain photos of Clavess from the case files. So, to really get things going and the body count climbing, Tellis demands to be teamed with an even looser cannon in the form of Lt. Henry Oak (Liotta). Oak's smash-mouth interrogation style and bullet-headed politics are an ACLU suit waiting to happen. His lack of respect for procedure and love of seeing teeth fly is enough to make even Dirty Harry rasp, "Knock it off, punk!" (as cool as an iced cucumber, of course).
Not that the assorted junkies, drug dealers, wife burners and child abusers that Tellis and Oak come up against belong in a Cub Scout troop either. Eventually, when top brass in the Police Department want to hang Calvess's murder on a dead suspect that both Tellis and Oak know was far too weak and stupid to commit the crime, Narc's case for itself starts falling apart.
Director Carnahan's one-note riff of career criminals running amok on both sides of the law begins to grow as tiresome and murky as the truth about who really murdered Calvess a cop who it seems wasn't so pristine after all. Eventually, it doesn't seem to matter who did it as long as the closing credits finally roll. Hardly a fitting ending for a movie that could have been about redemption, rebirth and a man whose widow deserved more than a wreath and a rifle salute for her husband's sacrifice.
Despite enough firepower, f-words and testosterone to fuel a dozen Quentin Tarantino movies, Carnahan's crew lacks the hint of hipster cool, gallows humor, and glimmer of humanity that would be needed to pull off this sort of thing. When the bad guys are this bad and the good guys not much better, even in the season of miracles you can only expect so much from a movie.
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