Rated R - Running Time: 2:00 - Released 10/5/01

I said once that Denzel Washington was getting in a rut playing clean-cut good guys; that it would be nice to seem him play roles with more grit. Well, Denzel must read Film Quips, because he seems to have taken my advice. I'll try not to let it go to my head. In Antoine Fuqua's Training Day, Washington plays a streetwise LAPD narcotics investigator assigned to impart his wisdom upon a fresh new recruit played by Ethan Hawke. In this part Washington is as gritty as it gets, and Hawke is effective as his tough-yet-naive protégé. It is unfortunate that the script by David Ayer is so riddled with pretense, but Washington, Hawke, and their supporting cast do all they can to play through. Moreover, director Fuqua, whose last effort was the overlong and conflicted comedy/thriller Bait, continues to work in the style he loves (big city cop stories), but shows an improved sense of consistency, rendering a tense if implausible story.

Training Day, which features cameos by various black entertainers like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and Macy Gray, all takes place between morning and night on one day in Los Angeles. Jake Hoyt (Hawke) has been given the chance to move to the big leagues of undercover narcotics investigation if he can pass the tests given to him by veteran Alonzo Harris (Washington). Counseling Hoyt to "forget everything [he] learned at the academy," Harris shows him that to be a good narcotics cop, he must resist the impulse to bust every small-time crook on the street and concentrate on catching the "big fish," a practice which includes but is not limited to taking drugs, driving under the influence, conducting searches without a warrant, beating up suspects, and shooting unarmed people. Which is really, if you think about it, a much more fun way to go about law enforcement than bothering with the boring old law. But before the day is over, Hoyt learns that Harris himself is in trouble with some Russian government thugs, and must use ill-gotten gains to get them off his back. Soon (about late evening) he finds himself in an uncomfortable situation where he must choose between his allegiance to his rogue mentor and his integrity as one of L.A.'s finest.

It is ironic (and an unfortunate choice by the good people at Warner Bros.) that this movie should be released now, in this present atmosphere where police and firefighters are regularly being talked about as heroes and the nation's citizens are generally lining up behind them following a national tragedy. It would have played better, say, 10 years ago, right after the Rodney King beating (but before the O.J. verdict), when the idea of a crooked cop, especially in L.A., was more palatable to the U.S. consciousness. Still, mistiming aside, Training Day suffers from a few other flaws as well, primarily in the script. While it may be believable that some big-city narcotics agents occasionally bend the law in order to apprehend a major criminal, this scenario goes way over the top. Washington seems uncomfortable in this role, probably because of the lengths to which his character must go to move from Hoyt's trusted mentor to full-fledged villain status. While a well-trained and talented actor can usually play any kind of part with skill, there are certain script vs. human nature issues at work here that can undermine even the best actor's work. As a result, Washington's performance is overwrought, moreso as the final reel unspools.

Hawke is adequately effective as Hoyt, having his eyes widened by all that he sees and yet learning to make his own judgments independent of what his twisted superior tells him. Overall, Training Day is sufficient entertainment for those who do not wish to think too hard. ***½

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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