Or “Favorite Cop Cliches.” Antoine Fuqua’s film of Michael C. Martin’s script feels like three standard-issue episodes of any police TV drama squeezed together into a feature. If this were indeed the finest that Brooklyn has to offer, the borough would be in deep trouble. Of course, the title is intended to be ironic.
The picture intertwines the stories of three cops, each with his own problem. Sal (Ethan Hawke, chewing the scenery and spouting an accent that wouldn’t be out of place on “Saturday Night Live”) is beset by money troubles. He already has a brood of kids and his wife Angela (Lili Taylor, nondescript) is pregnant again, with twins no less. Their house is too small even now, and to make things even worse its wood-mold aggravates Angie’s asthma. So Sal tries to remedy the situation by augmenting his meager salary by stealing from drug dealers and other low-lifes (and then going to confession, of course—Catholic guilt is integral to such tales). His behavior bothers his buddy on the force (Brian F. O’Byrne, looking genuinely puzzled).
Meanwhile street-smart Tango (Don Cheadle, offering a generalized intensity but not much more) has been deep undercover for a while and anxious to get back to his real life. But through his handler (bland Will Patton) he’s pressured by a hard-boiled FBI agent (snarling Ellen Barkin) to get the goods on his pal Caz (Wesley Snipes, exuding a haughtiness that’s perhaps protective), whom he befriended in prison and has now just been released to take up with his gang again. They pledge that if he nabs the guy, he’ll have a promotion and a desk job.
Finally there’s Eddie (Richard Gere, seeming authentically tired—though whether as a means of characterization or just evidence of lethargy is impossible to say), the veteran who—inevitably—is to retire in a week and so follows the path of caution to an extreme. It certainly doesn’t help when his captain pairs him up with a gung-ho rookie so that he can teach him the ropes. But he has his sessions with an affectionate hooker (Shannon Kane) to keep him going even at times of enormous depression.
And did I mention that all three stories are happening against the backdrop of a major police operation targeting a public housing complex that’s become a focus of criminal activity?
There’s lot’s going on in “Brooklyn’s Finest,” but it never carries much impact, except at those moments when somebody suddenly gets shot (something that happens with such amazing regularity that the trick gradually loses its potency); certainly Fuqua doesn’t manage the level of excitement he achieved in “Training Day.” The three plots generally play out separately, with the picture shifting from one to another and then back again, until the last act, when they’re brought together in a complicated denouement that leaves one of the protagonists an unlikely hero and the other two…well, not. One also notes Martin’s penchant for moments that are like stage monologues, when one character grabs the spotlight and runs off some ripe melodramatic lines (Vincent D’Onofrio, in a cameo, kicks off the picture with one). The tactic would have more punch if the writing were better. Technically the picture is just okay, with dank cinematography Patrick Murguia—or perhaps Brooklyn is just a depressing place.
One can be thankful that “Brooklyn’s Finest” avoids one of the cliches of the genre—the police funeral, always set in the rain, with bagpipes playing and all the department bigwigs, usually including Charles Durning or a reasonable facsimile, among the mourners. But that’s the only small consolation in a cop movie that otherwise leaves no cliché unturned.