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Despite the generic title and the predictable formula, Ron Shelton’s rehash of L.A. Confidential set in the tense days before the 1992 Rodney King riots (it’s adapted from the James Ellroy story) throws off the dense funk of authenticity before it collapses into contrivance. That’s due largely to the unwashed performance of Kurt Russell as Sergeant Eldon Perry, this film’s variation on Russell Crowe’s character in Confidential. He’s a point man for the LAPD’s elite SIS unit, with a special talent for ensuring that suspects never make it to trial. On the other hand, his clean-cut, greenhorn partner, Detective Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman), gets squeamish when called on to execute perps and plant evidence, a sensibility complicated when he falls for the African-American assistant (Michael Michele) to the surly police chief (Ving Rhames) who’s investigating the pair’s venal superior (Brendan Gleeson in the James Cromwell role).

Meanwhile, the city braces for the conflagration that’s sure to follow the acquittal of the officers involved in the King beating, a tragedy the film exploits as the bloody backdrop to its bogus complications and phony resolutions — just as Martin Scorsese did with the Draft Riots in Gangs of New York. Russell’s lost cop, however, remains as convincing as a hangover, more wry and vulnerable if less exhilarating than Denzel Washington in Training Day, and Shelton, who gave us Bull Durham, has an ear for raunchy male camaraderie that makes these scumbags entertaining. If only they were playing with bats and balls and not clubs and handguns. (116 minutes

Issue Date: February 20 - 27, 2003
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