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Hollywood Homicide

  Hollywood Homicide
Harrison Ford demonstrates why he should have gotten the starring role in "E.T."

© 2003, Columbia
All Rights Reserved

Hardened and wizened Joe Gavilan (Harrison Ford) and his young, pensive partner, K.C. Calden (Josh Hartnett), are two detectives working the Hollywood beat. Since neither is able to keep up with his bills, they take second jobs, with Gavilan an unlucky real estate agent, and Calden a yoga instructor. The duo is called in to investigate the murder of an up-and-coming rap group, which has left behind a wealth of clues and dead bodies. As the team works their way through the case, the real drama unfolds as Gavilan tries greatly to unload a substandard property on whomever he comes into contact with (including suspects), and Calden prepares for his theater debut, hoping to become a Hollywood star.

A better title for "Hollywood Homicide" (IMDb listing) would be "Kitchen Sink," as writer/director Ron Shelton ("Bull Durham," "Play It To The Bone") has thrown just about everything into his film but said title. After digging deep into the corrupt ways of the L.A.P.D. with his February release, "Dark Blue," Shelton has lightened up quite a bit, and now focuses on the comedic side of law enforcement with "Homicide." The film is all over the map, weaving elements of clichéd, worn-out detective drama, romantic relationships, rugged cop action, a revenge story, and broad comedy into one single mix. This doesn't make for the most cohesive film ever made, but Shelton's attempt to rouse the silver screen cop drama from its recent deep sleep hits slightly more than it misses.

Having said that, I should note that the opening section of "Homicide" doesn't give the viewer any indication that the film will amount to anything even a little bit recommendable. Because Shelton is taking on such a heavy load with his convoluted story (co-written by former L.A.P.D. officer Robert Souza), the picture often leaves the audience behind. The core drama is centered around the rap group murders, with Shelton having Gavilan and Calden slinking around Hollywood gathering names and clues. But whenever this plot thread begins to gather steam, it's sidestepped for action, comedy, or whatever Shelton wanted on that day of filming. This can make for a frustrating, uneven filmgoing experience. The film does feature fine writing when it focuses on the detectives' private lives, or their interaction with the outside world, but it's only when Shelton finds some confidence late in the game to take the film down sillier avenues (including a foot chase in a duck pond with rapper Kurupt, and Gavilan trying, without results, to commandeer vehicles on Hollywood Boulevard) that the picture finally comes alive.

Now I understand Harrison Ford is an actor like any other, but I've always found it odd when he attempts comedy. It's like watching a walrus use utensils to eat. "Homicide" is one of Ford's more obvious comedic performances, and he's very game to go anywhere Shelton takes the narrative. Ford's interplay with Hartnett is also surprising, and the two seem a natural pair even with the difference in age and acting styles between them. Ford brings out the best in the normally sleepy Hartnett.

Shelton peppers the cast with a laundry list of celebrities drawn from the music and movie world, including Eric Idle, Lolita Davidovich (Shelton's wife), Master P, Martin Landau, Lena Olin (looking as stunning as ever), K.D. Aubert, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bruce Greenwood, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, Dre (from the group Outkast), and recurrent film slime ball/country singer Dwight Yoakam as a shady cop. It makes the picture much more interesting to have all these faces running through the frame, but Ford and Hartnett are the anchors, and they do a fine job as buddy cops.

Unfortunately for the audience, and the film's overall integrity, Shelton has been forced to cut his film down for PG-13 standards. I'm sure the reasoning is to release a film that Hartnett's core audience (teen girls) can get into easily, but this goes directly against Shelton's hard-boiled vision for the picture. You can tell where the film leads into more explicit realms of sex, violence, and cursing, but each time these situations are presented, the film cuts away rather awkwardly. The version presented here is still tough enough to push the safer rating to the limits, but Shelton has been severely compromised by the financial assumptions of the industry, and his film is diminished because of it.

Thankfully, "Hollywood Homicide" still has enough verve left in it to make the ride an entertaining one. My advice would be to bring a legal pad with you to figure out the mystery, but the action and comedy will do most of the work for you.

Filmfodder Grade: B-

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